Vermont comic aims to have the last laugh
Around the time slapstick comedian Tom Murphy turned 60 he had a dream. There he is, aged 86, on stage, and ready to delight with his typical repertoire of tricks and flips. But, he finds, his joints and muscles aren’t quite up to the acrobatics.
The dream, or perhaps nightmare, Murphy jokes, sparked his newest one-man show, “Laugh ‘til You Die,” premiering with four performances this weekend at Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater. Murphy also leads a two-hour workshop on Saturday as part of the final weekend of “Winterfest 2013.”
“I’m having a hard time adapting to being 60 when last week I felt like I was 22,” said Murphy, whose brand of comedy follows in the slapstick vein of Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges.
After nearly four decades of performing comedy acts, Murphy was forced to reassess his physically demanding career when he sustained a neck injury a year and a half ago.
At a doctor’s recommendation, he took a few months off. It was a dramatic change of pace from an international touring schedule that had rarely allowed him longer than two consecutive weeks at home in twenty-five years. During that time, Murphy started thinking about how his act might need to change as he ages.
“All those years of comic — we’ll call it ‘abuse’ — caught up with me,” said Murphy. “All of a sudden, between the age 60 and the injury, I was old.”
“Here’s a physical comedian who has to be able to fall down and get back up again, repeatedly in all different ways to make us laugh,” said Kathleen Keenan, producing artistic director of LNT. “He’s trying to come to grips with how can he can keep doing what he loves to do now that he hit the big six-zero?”
Murphy, who lives in Waterbury Center, began developing “Laugh ‘til You Die” after attending last year’s “Winterfest” at LNT. He expects to take the show on the road. It is the fourth and final performance of Winterfest 2013, which this year has featured all new theatrical works.
“Laugh ‘til You Die” comprises a series of sketches: Murphy’s 86-year-old self, an evangelical preacher for the art of slapstick, and the debut of Murphy’s latest skill, plate-spinning.
Murphy moved to Vermont in the 1970s with aspirations to be a freestyle skier. A college gymnast, he is a natural acrobat, but he didn’t think of the theatrical potential of his skill until watching at street performer during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Inspired, he drove down to Harvard Square in Boston to put on his first slapstick act.
In quick succession, Murphy made the leap from street performing to touring his show around college campuses. In the early 1990s, he had an offer to take his show to Germany, which he jumped at, despite not speaking a lick of German. From there, opportunities to work in Europe kept coming.
Murphy, a former teacher at the Ringling Brother’s Clown College, also brings his acting workshop, “The Innate Comedian,” to Montpelier on Saturday. While the workshop can be beneficial to actors of all levels, Murphy has found that “The Innate Comedian” is useful even to non-thespians.
Over the course of improvisation drills, Murphy helps participants identify the things that are inherently funny about them. “It’s a way to look at stuff we hold inside of us that we don’t ever let out because of social norms and expectations.”
“It’s great for folks here in Vermont to get a chance to see him because he’s often touring,” said Keenan. “It’s amazing the talent and skill that are hidden away in the Green Mountains.”
When Murphy took his one-many show to the New Victory Theater on Broadway, he had a sold-out run. The New York Times called him “a sure-fire cure for the blahs.”
Lost Nation Theater
Lost Nation Theater presents Tom Murphy in the premiere of his “Laugh ‘til you Die” Feb. 21-24 at City Hall Arts Center, 39 Main St. in Montpelier, part of Lost Nation Theater’s “Winterfest 2013.” Curtain is 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, $10 under 12.
Murphy will present his acting workshop, “The Innate Comedian,” 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday at City Hall Arts Center. Admission is $35.
For tickets or information, call 229-0492, or go online to www.lostnationtheater.org.
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