When you think of a storyteller, what kind of person do you imagine? A grandparent in a rocking chair by the fire? The flashy office raconteur who's the life of every corporate party? How about when you imagine a comedian? Is it always a stand-up comic in front of a microphone? Or think of an actor in a play. Does that person always play made-up characters and read from a script? Sara Barron is all of these things, and none of them. In People Are Unappealing, her solo-performance piece playing at the People's Improv Theater, Barron spends an hour making the audience laugh by recounting—with quirky and sardonic wit—five stories that feature her as a character.
The first opens with a young Sara discovering her parents in the middle of an intimate moment. This opener quickly sets the tone for the evening: we're in for brash and bawdy humor, delivered with good-natured self-deprecation. Young Sara becomes teenaged Sara, and her early childhood shock turns into adolescent awkwardness. She gets through it with the help of her best male friend, from whom she's been inseparable for years. Eventually, the two friends grow up and apart; he moves to Los Angeles and falls in with a crowd of déclassé minor celebrities like 'N Sync's Lance Bass and Tara Reid.
Story No. 2 involves an adult Sara sharing an apartment with a friend on the Upper West Side. It's a luxury building, and their upstairs neighbor is a Famous TV Star (she never tells us his name). She and her roommate become friendly with Mr. Famous TV Man, and one night, after the three have a few beers together, her roommate urges her to get out "the porn." Now, the show is bawdy but not terribly explicit: "the porn" refers to an embarrassingly lame erotic story written by a 12-year-old Sara. The two women like to read it now and giggle over how silly and bad it is. However, their fun forever changes their friendly relationship with Mr. Famous TV Man.
In the third story, an adult Sara is randomly offered a job at the downtown bar Coyote Ugly, where she meets a woman who dreams of being famous and on television. The woman decides the surest route to fame and TV exposure is to audition for a Jerry Springer Show episode on amateur strippers. Because she's quite good and quite attractive, the woman wins a callback audition and takes Sara with her. Ultimately, she is awarded only first runner-up, which is not enough to get her on TV. But Sara's open-mouthed, gaping reaction to her friend's performance is deemed to be TV-worthy. Jealous over Sara's resulting appearance on Jerry Springer, the woman refuses to continue their friendship.
Sara's next work-related debacle takes place in a restaurant owned by a Food Network celebrity chef (another name changed to protect the "innocent"). She's offered the opportunity to wait tables at a private dinner for her favorite rock band, coyly referred to as "R.E. Lem." The band's lead singer, "Ichael Ipe," had been a hero to her, until this night.
The final story involves NYC's most overexposed "celebutante": Paris Hilton (I'm not sure why her identity wasn't carefully guarded). After being regaled with tales of Paris's bad behavior by a mutual friend, Sara is able to spend an evening on the town with Hilton. It ends badly.
Obviously, it's no coincidence that all of the encounters Sara has with fame and famous people are disastrous. These unpleasant celebs and desperate hangers-on are the "unappealing people" in the show's title. She ends the evening with a rant against them, in a bid for solidarity with the audience, and states that celebrities are no better than regular people; they just have "better advertising."
In all, People Are Unappealing is an entertaining way to spend an hour. Barron understands what's funny and makes the most of it, getting big laughs in all the right places. Other than a stool holding a few props, there's no set. Well-timed images projected on the theater's rear wall function as props and help to underscore her comic timing.
Barron is a vivacious performer, dancing around the empty stage during the musical interludes between scenes. She's mastered the material: her delivery is confident but not overly rehearsed. Best of all, she's absolutely believable as both a character in the tales and the narrator of them. You can never quite tell if she's working from a script or if her stories are completely true. But they're so engaging that you find yourself hoping that they are, and not minding if they're not.