When we think of the people who are in the improv community, performers, teachers, directors and even the people who run the theaters come to mind. But there are other people who may not possess those same talents who also have a special place in the community.
Ken Manthey was one of those people. Ken died this week.
When Ken first showed up at The Annoyance Theater’s dingy, original theater on Broadway back in the late ’80s, he was at least ten years older than all of us and he had real, adult day job, booking Disney films into movie theaters.
He would show up on the weekends and watch shows, sometimes four in one night. He sat in the first row on the aisle. That was Ken’s seat and he was so protective of that shitty yellow plastic folding chair that he put his jacket on it to save it. He was proud of being the Annoyance’s Number One Fan. After the show he would go down to the bar with the rest of us derelicts. Sometimes he would drink too much and end up sleeping on the couch in theater.
Then after watching Co-ed Prison Sluts close to a million times and working the box office, he became an actor in that show. In those days, you got cast by hanging out and being a nice person. Ken did both. He played the Warden, which was a thankless part. He only had a couple of lines at the top of the show and a couple of lines at the end and an hour-and-a-half to kill in between, during which he would sit at Mick’s wooden desk and count the money from that night’s box office.
As my friend Gary Rudoren reminded me in his Facebook post this week, Ken “would go from working the box office right into playing the Warden in ‘Co-ed Prison Sluts,’ and I realized he was probably the only actor to be on stage with hundreds upon hundreds of dollars in his pocket.”
Ken was not much of an actor. He was stiff. His delivery was always the same — flat and self-conscious. When he did get a laugh, you were never really sure how. Susan Messing called him “our Larry Bud Melman.” She was right. But he was not there to become a star, or to be in a hit show, or to get more stage time. Like most of us, he was there to feel like he belonged, to have a sense of community, to be part of something. He found his family at The Annoyance.
I am lucky to be in Chicago where there are lot of people who contribute to this community in their own way. I think of Jerry Schulman who photographs every important comedy event and improv show that is going on in the city. And Tom Vencill who has come to countless Improv Nerd shows and holds the record for attending Messing With a Friend the most number of times. There is Adam Jacobs who audio record shows live improv shows. These people are often taken for granted, but they are as much a part of the community as the performers, teachers and directors.
We need all sorts of talents in our community, and sometimes we only place value on what happens on stage, but when I heard about Ken’s passing, I was reminded that we also should be grateful for all of the people who contribute to the community in their own way.
(By the way, the Annoyance will be holding a memorial for Ken on Sunday, July 30 at 3 p.m. for all of those who wish to attend.)
Who in your community makes contributions that go unnoticed? We’d love to hear about them.