2007_03_iep.jpgEvery third Saturday, Glennis McMurray and Eliza Skinner join forces as I Eat Pandas, a musical improv group that takes suggestions from audience members and creates musicals - yes, with the singing and the dancing, the drama and the comedy. Before their performance this weekend at Mo Pitkins, we asked them a few questions.

Okay, first things first: Why are you called I Eat Pandas? Do pandas seem very tasty to you or something?
E:First of all, it sounds pretty impressive. Eating a panda? Well, that's something isn't it?

Secondly, I think of it as a twist on all the "I Heart (NY / My Dog / Whatever)" crap out there. We love so much harder and more viciously that it becomes eating. We will love you so hard it will hurt, especially if you are a panda.

I Eat Pandas is improv meets musical theater, where audience members suggest for you to create a musical around. How did you decide on this approach?
G: We have a very specific form where we do a 25 minute, 15 minute and then 5 minute musical, all based on the same suggestion but all different. We started using that theme based off the format of the 3-on-3 competition at the UCB theatre which is where we first performed. It worked really well for us because, as you can imagine, doing a 60-minute musical would blow our voices out. This breaks it up nicely.

What are your backgrounds? In comedy and music?
G: I took classes at UCB and have had a few private lessens in singing but nothing extensive. I think I learned to sing just by doing.

E: I grew up obsessed with musical theater. By the time I was 13 I had been in 10 musicals and a couple of operas. When I started doing comedy it came along with me, it's the way I know how to communicate - in song. It can be irritating.

What was a difficult audience suggestion that turned out unexpectedly well?
G: I wouldn't say it was necessarily "difficult" but the suggestion I remember most was "pregnancy test" and in our final musical I peed on Eliza. The audience couldn't get enough.

E: That was great. Wait - let's be clear here, it was mime peeing. You didn't actually pee on me. And it was a split screen view of it, so it was a nice stage picture.

Who are some of your favorite comedians? And what are your favorite musicals? Influences?
G: I develop crushes on almost every girl to ever set foot on SNL. The cast right has some amazingly talented ladies. I also love Madeline Kahn, Gene Wilder, Eddie Murphy, Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Benny Hill, Tracy Ullman & Carol Burnett (to name a few). My favorite musicals are Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line and Annie. I want to combine those three musicals someday and make one super duper amazing musical monster.

E: Oooh, Glennis took all my comedians! Good list! I'd also add Miss Piggy, Monty Python, Jennifer Saunders, and Catherine O'Hara. I'm bananas about Jennifer Saunders and Catherine O'Hara. They're both so smart with their work, and they give their characters such real hearts. My favorite musicals are Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line, Little Shop Of Horrors, and Into The Woods. I feel like I should pick a smarter Sondheim musical as my favorite, but I love Into The Woods. I also love Starlight Express - they're on roller skates!! And there is racial tension between train engines! That's good stuff. Sexy trains.

You also teach musical improv workshops. Does this work even for the comically deficient or tone deaf?
G: Musical improv is a lot about selling it so I don't think it takes amazing comedic ability or a perfect voice but it is improv first so some background in improv helps. Add on great comedic timing and awesome voices and it just makes it a tastier, creamier cake. With chocolate icing. And sprinkles. With milk on the side. I'm not talking about improv anymore.

E: You don't have to be able to sing, you just have to like singing. I think that unless you have mental or physical problem, there is no such thing as tone deaf - or lack of a sense of humor. Everyone is at least a little funny, unless they are crazy or retarded in which case they're hilarious.

And here are some questions about NYC
What do you think the funniest place in the city is?
G: I think the funniest place is Christopher Street (where I live). Every day I walk down it there people are performing their tight little asses off. It's more entertaining than any show you'll pay for in NY. Except ours.

E: I'm a sucker for a dog park. I like the Washington Square dog run - dogs and junkies are an unbeatable comedy team.

Where do you like to enjoy music?
G: My favorite venue in the city is Town Hall. I always feel like I should have a dead animal around my neck and a cigarette on a holder. Very fancy.

E: The Living Room and Rockwood Music Hall are both great places to aimlessly stumble into. If I don't have anything to do at night, I'll take a chance and check out some new music, usually free.

Favorite place for a bamboo fix:
G: My grandma used to make a mean jar of pickled bamboo.

E: Veselka.

Best subway line:
E: "Is this seat taken, hottie?"

G: I have to stay loyal to red line but can I just put it out there that I love the subway? Not having to drive is maybe the best thing of all time. I love the subway!

Better headlines: The Daily News or NY Post?
G: The Post, hands down. I love me a good pun.

E: Post. Everything after the headline sucks way worse though.

Yankees or Mets?
G: I'm a football gal. Go Giants!

E: Mets! They are scrappy!

I Eat Pandas is performing at Mo Pitkins tomorrow at 10PM.

Photograph by Chad R. Nicholson