Chihuacolypse Now

The Feral Chihuahuas celebrate their ninth anniversary this year. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

The Feral Chihuahuas celebrate their ninth anniversary this year. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

You may have forgotten, during your holiday revels in December, that the world was supposed to end in 2011. You might recall that The Finale was supposed to have been last October, a few months after The Rapture, which also never happened.

Well, in case these events actually did happen and some of us missed them, the Asheville-based sketch-comedy troupe The Feral Chihuahuas is here to remind us with a planned trilogy, “The Chihuacolypse.” The first installment arrives at Asheville’s BeBe Theater this month.

“This was an idea that we tossed around several years ago, with the impending end of the Mayan calendar and the sort of subconscious apocalyptic fever that’s playing itself out in many ways in our culture,” says Tommy Calloway, one of the Chihuahuas’ founders. “For some reason, Western culture is inexplicably obsessed with predicting its own demise.” It’s a subject ripe for parody – and right up the Feral Chihuahuas’ alley, given the group’s talent for poking serious fun at the zeitgeist. Recent targets have included social networking, gay marriage, Ken Burns documentaries, and autoerotic asphyxiation.

“Our favorite targets are the absurdities of American culture,” says Calloway. “And there are no sacred cows.”

In service of that pursuit, the group’s six members have dressed themselves in everything from chicken suits to pirate uniforms, have swung away at each other with fake swords, knives and two-by-fours, donned an impressive collection of wigs, and sent one of their number dressed as a fly into the streets to punch-dance his way around Asheville.

The Feral Chihuahuas celebrate their ninth anniversary this year, with more than 150 performances in the Asheville area to their credit and a lengthening catalog of filmed sketches. Their first performance space in 2003 was a converted two-car garage fondly remembered as “The Shed.” But the fanbase soon grew to such proportions that neighbors’ complaints sent the Chihuahuas to the black-box theater 35 Below and on to other venues around town, from small bars and auditoriums to proper theaters with proper seats. Their reputation for pushing the right buttons (or wrong ones, depending on your point of view) got them an invitation to the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, the country’s largest showcase for sketch comedy in the town that gave birth to Second City and SCTV. They also appeared at the Black Box Comedy Festival in Atlanta and at Shadowbox Live Sketch Comedy Festival in Columbus, Ohio.

Outside the limelight, though, things aren’t all laughs. “I think that comedians are much more serious than most people think,” says Calloway. “The constant examination of all that is around you can surely be depressing in some regards. My wife sometimes describes me as brooding and dark in certain moments of my life, and perhaps I am, at times. Yet, onstage you may never know that about me. That’s probably true of many comedians.”

Unlike the approach of their improvisational kin, the Chihuahuas’ brand of sketch comedy relies on scripted ideas developed by the group, in the interest of a consistent performance from show to show. “But there are moments when we do a bit of improvisation on stage,” notes Calloway. “A crowd may react strangely to something, and there is an opportunity to add something to a scene or a moment. And there are dropped lines that happen, too, and that may call for some on-your-feet thinking to keep the pace and humor going.” The group long ago grew used to walkouts at many shows – mainly, says Calloway, from older, offended audience members. “But I’ve never received a direct complaint about material being too offensive … except, maybe, from my wife. We’re not simply shock-value, over-the-top type performers, and deep down, it’s always about putting on a good show.”

Rimas Zailskas

The Chihuacolypse trilogy will begin this month with “Harbinger I: Rise Of The Stache,” which takes the increasing popularity of male facial adornment as an ominous sign. Summer will bring the second installment, “The Age Of Aquarinuts,” which notes with dismay the extravagant popularity of the Broadway revival of Hair.

The final show, in December, remains unnamed. Should the world actually end, refunds will not be offered.

“Our goal is to create humor that’s still funny ten years from now,” says Calloway. Hopefully, we’ll all still be around to enjoy it.

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