On the mercilessly cold night of February 16th, I found myself in Queens, maneuvering through a long, black patch of ice like Howard the Duck in a drunken trance. It was the slippery slope I chose to walk just so I could catch a group of comedians, in a blacked out room, thrashing the Saved by the Bell episode “Running Zack,” which was thematically retitled to “Racist Zack” thanks to Coree Spencer and Taylor Gray. I was Bayside Myself.
I first saw comedian Coree Spencer doing her stand-up act at a free Sylvan Production apartment comedy show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last summer. Not only did I love her routine, but I admired the manner in which she casually delivered a viciously quick-witted verbal backhand at a potential heckler in the audience. The crowded apartment bellowed in synchronized laughter and the heckler wisely chose to keep his yearning for crowd participation in check.
Well, since then, I’ve been stalking Spencer on Facebook, a turbulent experience altogether if, like myself, you decide to keep up with her notoriously comical status updates. Her latest profile picture confirms just that. Captured vividly in her eyes, flirting with the line between apathy and insanity, is the unabashed attitude in her comedic style, which is only slightly averted with the burning joint in her mouth. But, the unavoidable, grandstanding item in this selfie has to be the blue corkscrew glass dildo in her hand, accompanied with a suitable caption that reads: “me with my boyfriend.”
Still, funny pictures aside, I was able to keep up with Spencer’s professional shenanigans on Mark Zuckerberg’s cash cow, and that led me to discover Bayside Myself — the irreverent showcase that gives comedians a chance to reenact popular episodes of Saved by the Bell.
These humorous live stage readings are the unruly lovechild of Spencer and her friend, Taylor Gray, a self-described comedy nerd with a love for 90’s teen television shows. Recently, the duo took the show on the road, selling out tickets at SF Sketchfest 2014, the San Francisco comedy festival.
In New York, the flashbacks to Bayside High School take place at the Long Island City comedy haven the Creek and the Cave, just off the Vernon-Jackson stop on the 7 train, every third Sunday of the month.
I was warned in the show’s description that lines would be changed and lines would be crossed. Good, I thought. For someone like myself, I found it appropriate and comforting, because I like crossing the line, it’s in my blood. Seriously, I wouldn’t be here if my parents didn’t cross the border.
“Gooooo Bayside!” That’s all I heard from backstage, before I saw a scene from a certain childhood movie emerge onto the projector screen, playing as a part of an introductory montage clip. It was the one with the seductive, free-spirited Native American girl, who made it a point to befriend and recondition her historically inaccurate love interest, an English captain, whose name was so generic it still makes me yawn.
Thinking back on the “Running Zack” episode, it is quite hilarious how inadvertently racist it was, especially when you consider that the entire plot was literally centered on a race. Those teen sitcom writers of the 90’s were quite transcendent, weren’t they?
Once everyone hit the stage, we were introduced to the cast of comedians and who they’d be playing on stage that night, something they themselves didn’t know until minutes prior to the reading.
Brett Osinoff played Zack Morris, Nate Fridson played Slater, Marcia Belsky played Screech, Myq Kaplan played Lisa, Myka Fox played Jessie, Chris Shmullivan played Kelly, Scotland Green played Mr. Belding, Spencer played Miss Wentworth and Katharine Heller played Chief Henry. Gray narrated the story and set the mood for this satirical journey into underlying racism in the 90’s.
There was something truly cynical about Myq Kaplan, a 35-year-old white male, playing the role of a black teenage female who discovers, with a cheery outlook, that she’s a descendant of slaves.
“After Abraham Turtle escaped from slavery (Turtles all the way up) he became a conductor in the Underground Railroad,” said Kaplan.
“They had subways during the Civil War?” asked Belsky who perfectly nailed the obnoxious role of Screech.
Turning to Belsky, Kaplan channeled the vivacious, black teenage girl deep inside of him, a la Miley Cyrus, and fully immersed himself into the role of Lisa Turtle, he quickly responded: “This is why I hate you.”
If Kaplan seamlessly fell into his role without a hitch, then Keller, a white female writer, actor and comedian, should not have had any trouble transitioning into a witty Native American man on the verge of an unexpected death.
“Hello! Chief Henry? I’m Zack Morris from Miss Wentworth’s class,” said Osinoff in the initial meeting between Chief Henry and Zack.
“You’re not here for gambling? Okay,” responded Keller.
She continued to shine as Chief Henry, with a little assistance from Fox, as Zack questioned why The White Man could not get along with the Native Americans.
“Why can’t the lion get along with the zebra? Why can’t the TMZ get along with the Kardashians? And, this is a real line: Why can’t the Arabs get along with the Israelis?”
“Timeout, I can field that,” yelled Fox. “No, I’m kidding. I’m a Jew, but I don’t keep up.”
The sixth episode of Bayside Myself came to end with a celebratory tossing of the script, which stood as a symbol of what this monthly parody is all about.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives; Photographer: Enrique Grijalva