The nationally syndicated comedy show “Speechless” puts a performer on stage to give an improvised presentation on a topic chosen by the audience, using a set of five Powerpoint slides that have yet to be seen.
“The presentations tonight will be more pointless than powerful,” host Erin Jean O’Regan said in her introduction for the Jan. 18 rendition of “Speechless.” She started the evening with some call-and-response prompts to acclimate the audience to shouting suggestions for the presentation themes.
“Name a part of the body.”
“Phallus,” one audience member said.
“Name your favorite part of the body.”
“Phallus,” he reiterates with neither more nor less enthusiasm than before.
“What’s the name of the street you grew up on?”
A cacophony of answers. Amidst the clamoring of voices, phallus man in row two said “Lobotomy Street.”
Another audience member toward the back of the room shouted “sandwich” to each warm-up question; his unwavering tenacity and steadiness of purpose never faltered throughout the night.
Courtenay Hameister, former Live Wire! host and self-described “professional nervous person,” opened the evening with an improvised presentation from the perspective of a Corgi winning the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Jokes about Corgi legs and dog sex from a dog’s point of view went over well with the crowd. The judging panel awarded high marks to Hameister’s use of absurd slides before calling up the next contestant.
Comedy Sportz player Jamie Montgomery took the stage to present as a human resources director at SeaWorld. In assessing Montgomery’s performance, panel judge Andy Lindberg described it as “the SeaWorld equivalent of an AA meeting.”
A mustachioed man from the audience then introduced himself as Christopher and volunteered for the third spot of the night. His presentation from the perspective of a younger, bullied brother attempting to “definitively prove that Mom and Dad love [him] more,” elicited great laughter from the audience. When confronted with a seemingly irrelevant pie chart graph he quipped, “Your brain—it’s blue and it really bums us out.”
When O’Regan brought up Emily Hemson for the fourth set of the night, a spin of the digital wheel yielded “product launch” as the presentation format. The request for audience suggestions played out the same familiar, yet funny exchange as before.
“What’s something in your garage?”
Indistinct yelling. Then, “sandwich.”
“What’s a product that doesn’t exist yet?”
One voice rises above the many to cry out words of wisdom: “sandwich.” Truly a man with very specific culinary and comedic tastes.
After the brief and final sandwich detour, Hemson began her extemporaneous presentation on the product launch of Bluetooth toilet flushing. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” she asked rhetorically to open the act, “if you didn’t have to tell the people you care about that you were pooping?”
Adam Pasi, the fifth and final contestant, took the stage next. To questions about whether he had ever witnessed or given a Powerpoint presentation, Pasi responded in the negative. People believe all kinds of outlandish things, but an adult man who has never seen or used Microsoft Powerpoint? Inconceivable.
Pasi emerged the winner for his presentation of a formal toast on the occasion of an ex-girlfriend’s wedding.
Shelley McLendon, founder of The Siren Theater, created all the Powerpoint presentations for the evening. She opened the comedy venue in October 2015 after recognizing a need for affordable and comedic live theater.
“We try to keep shows cheap—$15 or less —so that it’s affordable for everyone,” McLendon said.
After years of working with other local theater groups, McLendon set her sights on opening her own space, Bad Reputation Productions. After seeing San Francisco productions of Speechless, McLendon obtained the rights to stage productions of the show in Portland, which she has been doing regularly for two years.