A parody of DIY home improvement shows, the new web series "Rick and Len Fix Sh** in Your House" brings to mind an unholy mix of "This Old House" and "Duck Dynasty."
Faux testosterone is the main ingredient, with Rick as the overly confident, easily flustered alpha male with prominent teeth and a goatee the consistency of steel wool. His partner in ineptitude is Len, the laconic lady killer with oversized glasses and a dark mustache that curls around the corners of his mouth — a mustache on its way to becoming a Fu Manchu if it had more ambition. The accents here are of the non-specific good ol' boy variety. Texas? Arkansas maybe? And when they have occasion to high-five one another, a guitar riff plays and suddenly they're in freeze-frame over a star explosion graphic, because, of course.
Written by, produced by and starring longtime Chicago improvisers Robyn Scott (Rick) and Lisa Linke (Len), select episodes of "Rick and Len" will screen Friday as part of the Chicago Comedy Film Festival at the Showplace ICON. (All 10 episodes can be found at rickandlenfix.com.)
Initially the characters were an off-hours joke between the two performers. "Then on one of our travels for BizCo (the Second City division that provides corporate entertainment) we were sitting on a plane together and thought, what if we just started writing their back story? What if we were to write this as if these were episodes?" Scott said. "And it became these vignettes of Rick and Len attempting to fix (expletive) in people's houses and not doing it well. It's a parody of a bad public access TV show — so a parody of an already bad show." (The bombastic theme song is courtesy of Second City musical director Joe Drennan.)
Per Linke (who moved to Los Angeles four months ago for the usual reasons; more TV and film opportunities): "We showed up the day before we started shooting and surprised each other with our looks, and I'm not going to lie to you: Robyn Scott opened that door and I did not recognize her. She looks like a Neanderthal Willie Aames when she becomes Rick. And that wig I wear is a woman's frosted wig, but I wear it backwards to get that lovely little peak in the front."
They financed the series themselves for about $15,000, a tiny portion of which was used to transform their bodies. "Lisa and I are curvy ladies, so we used those Velcro braces that people use for back support. We'd do that a couple times around our boobs and then our hips. And whatever's left in the middle would poke out. It's uncomfortable, but also really helpful because once we get in those jumpsuits and we've got our headpieces all together it's impossible to not to become these characters."
That became a surreal experience: "Any time we would take a break in filming, it was almost impossible to start talking normally," said Scott. "There's a real transformative process. Not to sound artsy or anything, but it really does something to a woman when you bind your body up and your face isn't recognizable as female anymore. And it was hard for other people to talk to us as Robyn and Lisa, even just calling us by our names. Once we were in costume, we were those guys."
Or as Linke put it: "It was strange for me to hear Robyn's voice come out of Rick's face. It was incongruent and I didn't like it."
Cross-dressing aside, these are legitimate, fully fleshed out characters. That's a very Chicago approach. (Mark Campbell is the show's director.)
"We're really inspired by people like Tracey Ullman and Amy Sedaris," Scott said of performers who "disappear into all these different characters without using any prosthetics other than maybe fake teeth and a weird wig."
Though they never had the need to walk around town in character, they did make an appearance as Rick and Len earlier this year at the UIC Pavilion for the Windy City Rollers. "There we were in character, in costume," said Scott. "And as we're standing around, people are mistaking us for very creepy looking janitors."
Perhaps the ultimate compliment: "This drunk girl was hitting on me," Linke said, "and didn't realize that I wasn't a man."
The Chicago Comedy Film Festival runs Oct. 4-5 at the Showplace ICON. For a complete schedule go to chicagocomedyfilmfestival.com.
Film writer Robert K. Elder talked with 35 directors (from Danny Boyle to Peter Bogdanovich) for his new book "The Best Film You've Never Seen" about their favorite obscurities. Elder comes to the Oak Park Public Library 7 p.m. Tuesday to show clips and talk movies. Go to oppl.org.
Docs at the Box
It's documentary week at the Music Box Theatre, with a lineup that include "Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself" (2 p.m. Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Monday); "The Trials of Muhammad Ali" from Chicago filmmaker Bill Siegel (7 p.m. Saturday); "Bettie Page Reveals All" (3:30 p.m. Sunday, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday); "Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie" (7:30 p.m. Tuesday) and "Our Nixon" (5:30 p.m. Tuesday, 9:45 p.m. Thursday). Go to musicboxtheatre.com.
Last of the noirs
The 1959 bank heist "Odds Against Tomorrow" stars Harry Belafonte as a vibraphone-playing nightclub singer and degenerate gambler who happens to have some of the juiciest dialogue this side of Tarantino. It screens Saturday and Tuesday at the Siskel Film Center. Go to siskelfilmcenter.org/odds-against-tomorrow.