(Host) Brattleboro comics Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns have been working – make that clowning – together for thirty years this spring.
They’re celebrating that anniversary this weekend with performances of their most popular shows.
VPR’s Susan Keese recently went backstage to talk with the comic duo.
(Video Clip) "Howdy Buckaroo…So You think you can outdraw me? Put in a Quarter and see…"
(Keese) Peter Gould figures he and Stephen Stearns have done their coin-operated quick draw cowboy skit in every school in Vermont – and in 41 other states and several different countries
(Gould) "4,000 times I’ve done that skit and never come out on top"
Stearns, a big man, plays a mechanized penny arcade cowboy in a ridiculously oversized 10 gallon hat….
Gould, the smaller of the two, never says a word, but he never stops slamming quarters into the imaginary slot.
(Machine digests quarter)…"So! You think you can outdraw me, Hunh?… One… two…
(Keese) And although the game is rigged against him, Gould never stops thinking up hilarious, hopeless schemes for outsmarting the machine.
(Stearns) "Three! Blam blam "
(Keese) Much of what’s funny about Gould and Stearns is their physical comedy: acrobatic sight gags, perfectly timed gestures and elastic facial expressions.
It’s comedy in the style of the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.
Both Gould and Stearns started as mimes. They got to know each other studying in Maine with Tony Montanaro, a disciple of the famous French mime Marcel Marceau.
When Montanaro learned that Stearns was a trained Shakespearean actor, he suggested he use his voice.
(Stearns) "So we became Two Men Talking Mime."
(Keese) That was their original billing as they started touring.
Stearns says they had no trouble coming up with material.
(Start concertina low)
Stearns "We’d just get in front of a mirror and start to sway back and forth and we’d that looks like a ship. Let’s do a piece about a ship…"
(Keese) That’s Gould on the concertina. (continue music til he stops)
(Stearns) "Awk Awk "(Gould) "What’s that?"
(Stearns) "It’s a seagull.. All hands on deck!"(sound of hands) "No no not your hands on the deck"
Gould: "Well you said all hands on deck"
(Stearns) "All right everybody fall in"
(Stearns)" No don’t fall in, it’s an expression"
(Keese) There’s also a more serious side to Gould & Stearns, that’s revealed in Gould’s two-person play, a peasant of El Salvador.
(Gould) "It’s about an old man whose life is okay in the mountains of El Salvador. But it’s a hard life. And he gradually watches as his whole life… comes crashing down all around him because of forces that he can’t understand or know about."
(Keese) The play has become one of Gould and Stearns’ best known works.
Over the last decade or so, Gould earned a Ph.d. and started writing novels.
Stearns began doing theater with young people. He launched the New England Youth Theater, in Brattleboro, where Gould is on the faculty.
And that’s where the two, who are also still touring together, will celebrate their anniversary.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.