Duck’s Breath premieres new live comedy film in KVMR benefit in Nevada City
KNOW & GO
WHO: KVMR 89.5 FM & the Nevada Theatre Film Series
WHAT: KVMR Benefit Premiere of “Duck’s Breath Grand Finale” Film of comedy troupe’s last stage shows
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday (one showing only)
WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., downtown Nevada City
INFO: Call 530-265-9073 or visit kvmr.org
A special KVMR 89.5 FM benefit showing this Sunday of the new film “Duck’s Breath Grand Finale” won’t have the fancy trimmings that usually accompany a movie premiere.
“The price of red carpets has gone through the roof, and you just can’t find those huge spotlights around here at all,” quipped longtime Duck’s Breath manager Steve Baker, also the Program Director at KVMR. “So black ties are optional.”
But it will be the first public screening of the comedy “duck-umentary” film featuring the 40th anniversary shows of Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre, the self-described semi-legendary San Francisco screwball comedy quintet that also achieved notoriety on National Public Radio.
In addition to footage from their 2015 final show at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, the movie has archival material from vintage sketches, plus short interviews with troupe members.
“Whether it’s a sneak preview, a test screening or just a badly kept secret, Nevada City seems a perfect place to match wits with a smart film audience,” said the film’s co-director/co-producer Bill Allard (of Duck’s Breath). “It only worked out once (1984) that we got to play here live so we’re making up for that.”
The premiere — or whatever you call it — screens 7 p.m. this Sunday as part of the Nevada Theatre film series in downtown Nevada City.
Allard, his son Richard (the other co-director/producer) and Baker will be on hand for a post-movie Q&A; another troupe member may also be there.
Once called “an American Monty Python” by Newsweek Magazine, Duck’s Breath originally started in Iowa City in 1975 as a lively “new vaudeville” act featuring recycled costumes, odd props and flying non sequiturs as the group spawned such one-act shows as “Gonad The Barbarian,” “A Midwestern Night’s Dream,” “Senseless Cruelty: A Ravioli Western” and “A Cliff Note’s Hamlet.”
Landing in San Francisco in 1976, Duck’s Breath became part of San Francisco’s fabled ’70s busking scene regularly appearing at such locales as The Cannery, Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.
They soon made their way into headlining Haight clubs and later The Boarding House, Great American Music Hall and eventually onto the national touring scene.
“Outrageously funny … their humor is cerebral and imaginative,” said The Washington Post when the troupe played a top D.C. club not too long after they began regularly contributing sketches and satirical commentaries to NPR’s “All Things Considered” throughout the ’80s.
Two members also created the “Ask Dr. Science” series of “misinfotainment” that aired on over 200 public radio stations during a marathon 20-year-run.
“There is a thin line between ignorance and arrogance,” Dr. Science said, “and only I have managed to erase that line.”
In fact, a Fox TV kids television version of “Dr. Science” won an Emmy in the late ’80s for best local television series in Los Angeles but lost out to “Cops” when Fox had to decide which of the two series should go national.
“We even got a rave review in The Village Voice, except few children or TV executives apparently read The Voice,” Baker said.
The new film concentrates on a rapid-fire series of Duck’s Breath short sketches.
The quintet contort themselves into famous works of art from “The Birth of Venus” to “Nude Descending A Staircase,” perform a used car opera to impress a skeptical customer, turn a simple box into a multi-use product on late night television and commit a non-stop, nonsensical array of other absurdities.
Randee for president
And then there’s Randee of the Redwoods, the askew hippie folksinger and early MTV icon, who was the cable music network’s official 1988 Presidential candidate. Yes, really.
“Not to be missed in this movie,” Baker said. “And that’s no hype.”
Besides Allard, troupe members include Jim Turner (Randee), Merle Kessler (NPR and KVMR’s ascerbic mile-a-minute sneer artist Ian Shoales), Dan Coffey (Dr. Science) and Leon Martell (the beleaguered art instructor and Caffeine Zombie).
“Sometimes, it was just the luck of the draw,” Baker said. “We had a song — ‘Herb Caen Blues’ sung to the tune of ‘Cocaine Blues’ — that became a hit on KSAN so fast we didn’t even have time to make a single out of it.”
“We came to California in search of fame, fortune and middle age,” he said. “So far, we’re one for three.”
Oh, and it’s “minnows and garlic,” according to Kessler, whenever asked what Duck’s Breath smells like.
On The Air is a weekly irreverent look at Nevada City’s volunteer-driven, eclectic community radio station at 89.5 FM and streaming at kvmr.org. Complete KVMR schedule available at the station’s website, http://www.kvmr.org.
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