American comedy duo The Pajama Men have been bringing their absurdist brand of narrative sketch bewilderment to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for years now. As festival veterans, we asked them to share their reflections, recollections and recommendations, as well as declaring once and for all why they prefer 'pajamas' over 'pyjamas'.
How would you describe the Pajama Men experience to someone who's never seen you before?
‘We play lots of characters and tell jokes in the context of an anarchic story. We ride the line between (self-proclaimed) expertise and absolute stupidity. Watching our shows is like being on a wooden roller coaster that you think might break apart but (usually) holds together and at the end, depending on who you are, you either think, "Man that was great!" or, "Yeesh, I feel a bit sick now."’
You’ve been coming to the Fringe for a while – do you reckon you have a core, reliable fanbase built up by now, or do you have to win over a new audience every time?
‘We often hear stories from people who have been watching us for years bringing their friends or family who have never seen us and feeling very anxious that they won't like it. Usually it works out ok, but probably because people don't normally tell us, "I brought my mom and she HATED you." Even though that could've been the case. So to answer your question: both.’
Which of you smells best?
‘Mark was once able to smell a donut through steel so I guess he's best at smelling if that's what you mean.’
A lot of Fringe performers bemoan the expense/stress of putting on a show at Edinburgh – is that something you guys worry about?
‘Yeah for sure, but I try to keep a certain amount of perspective. It’s a theatre arts festival, not the Edinburgh Deployed to War Festival.’
As old hands at the Festival, do you have any advice for newcomers?
‘The festival will be a lot easier if you're not hungover the whole time.’
How much time do you have for seeing other shows? Are there any shows you’re particularly excited about this year?
‘Not as much time as I'd like, but we do find time to see a fair amount of shows (more than two, less than 50). Really excited to be presenting Graham Clark again this year, that guy makes me cry-laugh. Can't wait to see Sam Simmons’ new show, and Ronny Chieng's. There are a couple plays we're excited about as well: “The Christians” over at the Traverse, and “Derby Day” at the Gilded Balloon.’
Name your favourite sea creature(s).
‘Cuttlefish. They can take the shape and colour of anything and have super advanced vision. So they can turn into a seaweed covered rock, look in the mirror and go, “Hey, I look great.”’
You’re doing two shows this year – your new show, ‘2 Man Three Musketeers’, and ‘Pterodactyl Nights’, a sort of ‘best of’. How do you go about picking out the best bits – is it based on audience response or is it your own personal favourites?
‘I guess its a little weird to call “Pterodactyl Nights” a "best-of" show because some of it will be improvised, which is either putting an incredible amount of stock in our improv skills or not enough stock in our written material. It’s a show we've sewn together using bits we love to do, plus a lot of stuff that hasn't been in any of our other shows and, like I said, a lot of improv. I imagine the set list will change from night to night as well.”
Your shows usually follow a narrative arc – how well do the sketches hang together when cut up into individual parts?
‘They don't. It's total chaos, which is really liberating.’
How do you feel about the Chuckle Brothers, both in reality and as a concept?
‘Way too high-concept. Two brothers that make you laugh called "the Chuckle Brothers"? I'm lost. That's like two guys who wear pajamas called "Pajama Men". In reality the Chuckle Brothers are great, but I have to admit I'm working with the limited amount of research I'm doing right now on the internet.’
‘2 Man 3 Musketeers’ is, according to the blurb anyway, based on Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Three Musketeers’. What made you decide on this show to adapt, aside from the inherently silly title?
‘We were approached by Second City (a North American comedy institution) who wanted to know if we'd be up for writing a version of this ol' classic. The show sounded like a really fun thing to create, plus Second City had really helped give us our start, so we were like, yeah, totally.
‘”2 Man 3 Musketeers” is a far cry from the original. It's been pretty interesting shaking this novel up in our snow globe skulls.’
In a lot of your interviews, talk of TV and film work gets bandied about. Is that still something you’re pursuing? And would it effectively be ‘The Pajama Men’ on TV/film, or some sort of unrelated side project?
‘Yes, we certainly are! We're working on both a TV series and a film that we are incredibly excited about. The series would be a little more familiar to our audience as we'll be playing multiple characters, some of which have appeared in our live shows. But neither the film or TV show would be considered an "unrelated side-project" because anything we work on together we jump into with all of our feet.’
Finally: Americans prefer the spelling ‘Pajamas’ while Brits opt for ‘Pyjamas’. In a battle to the death, which word would win?
‘Not to put to fine a point on it, but people are typically told to bring their “A” game not their “Y” game.’
Pajama Men: 2 Man 3 Musketeers, Assembly Roxy, Aug 7-30 (not 17, 24), 8.20pm. Pajama Men: Pterodactyl Nights, Assembly George Square, Aug 14-15 & 21-22, 10.50pm.