A Washington Post Preview: Laughter on the 23rd Floor

Keegan Theatre’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a Neil Simon play based on Simon’s experiences as a joke writer for 1950s NBC variety show “Your Show of Shows,” opens Saturday.

For the uninitiated, “Your Show of Shows” “would have been one of the earliest predecessors of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and sketch comedy,” director Colin Smith said.

Though the play is a comedy about comedy, Smith described the show as focusing less on sketches than on a kind of pressure-induced panic. “They’re faced with the possibility of their show ending,” he said. “Shorter time frames, lower budgets, all these things that put pressure on them.”

Not to mention the ’50s wasn’t America’s edgiest, most open-minded decade. “Especially for the time, coming after World War II,” Smith said, the play “commented on politics in a time when people were less apt to question the government.”

Bradley Smith, a self-proclaimed “comedy aficionado,” plays Val, a character based on Mel Tolkin, who was the head writer for NBC’s sketch-comedy show “Caesar’s Hour” and “Your Show of Shows.”

Tolkin sounds, for the more modern comedy consumer, a little Liz Lemon-y. “He’s trying to herd all these cats in one room, to harness all this anarchic comedic talent and focus it, in a way,” Bradley Smith said, “to come up with a show every week.”

Bradley Smith said he’d been studying up on “30 Rock” because the themes of the shows are so similar, but, “I’m not sure what it really did, except foster my crush on Tina Fey.”

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