Poking fun at a friend, colleague or family member in a public setting is sure to get the laughs. But roasting an entire city?
Enter writer/producer Brian Kahn and director/producer Mike Collins. Kahn, a partner at the law firm McGuire Woods, and Collins, the 15-year veteran radio host of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, accomplish the task with aplomb. Their “Ninesense!”, the ninth Charlotte Squawks, runs through June 29 at Booth Playhouse.
Kahn gave an inside peek at the process of creating “Squawks.” Answers have been edited.
Q. How did Charlotte Squawks come about?
We got started in about 2003 as a fundraising charity for the public TV station WTVI. We were terrible at raising money, but apparently we were entertaining. The Blumenthal picked us up after a few years, and it’s been going ever since as a semi-professional performance.
Q. What does the writing process look like?
Six months out I start writing, and three months out, when the songs are in pretty final form, Mike and I meet to decide who will sing what, which numbers will make it in, and which won’t. It sort of depends on what’s needed for the show, fast or slow tempo pieces, what’s topical, etc. Things can quickly become old and stale. This prevents me from writing too much too early. The best number in this year’s show is something I wrote halfway through the rehearsal process. Someone wanted another song, and so I wrote it. The title of the song is the punch line, so I won’t give that one away.
We need topical stuff about Charlotte, local stories. There’s a great song this year about the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, set to a “Bye Bye Birdie” song. There’s a song about my wife, Raizel, “Kid Drop,” which is set to the Macklemore song “Thrift Shop.” It’s about her daily suburban life with lots of kids. (Kahn is the father of four boys – 6-year-old triplets and a 2-year-old.) One is about the post-convention DNC let-down, “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty and the Beast.” There’s “Gangnam Style” turned “Governor Style” for Pat McCrory.
Q. Are any topics off-limits?
We have to be careful about language and a little careful to not be too slanted to one side or the other. We pride ourselves on hitting all groups and making fun not only of Republicans and Democrats or lawyers, but of everyone.
Q. Do you perform?
I don’t anymore. There’s lots going on with my family. And the technical aspects take up so much time. To be honest, the people we have in the show are so amazing. I could hang with them the first couple of years, but not anymore.
Q. How do you and Mike Collins split responsibilities?
He directs it, I write it. Along with Musical Director Jeana Neal Borman and Choreographer Linda Booth, we’re in charge of all creative aspects.
Q. Is this a paid gig?
I get a small stipend. It’s a neat thing. I wouldn’t do it for the money. It’s one of these shows in the community that’s been able to attract some of the best local talent. We’ve raised the bar each year in terms of performance and adding fun creative things.
Q. Do you ever take audience requests and suggestions?
Last year I threw out on Facebook what should the title be for this year. “Ninesense” came from a suggestion on Facebook. Fans give lots of song suggestions. No one has sent me a whole song yet, but I’ve been hoping they would!
Q. Why is it good for Charlotte to poke fun at itself?
Charlotte has a reputation for being an uptight town, which may be overstated. Every year we come out here and push the envelope more, and people love that. Everyone has this notion that Charlotte is a button up city. When we come out and do things like this show, it proves that’s not the case.
Q. It’s the big 10th anniversary next year – anything planned yet?
The idea has been raised to do a look back at some of the best songs over the first nine years, though each year we want to do new things and poke fun at the folks that are currently in power. So, it will likely be part greatest hits, part new material.