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Annual Philadelphia show salutes seminal TV comedy

Now in its sixth year, 1812 Productions’ This Is The Week That Is has become a cherished Philadelphia theater tradition. Described by 1812 artistic director Jennifer Childs as “the Carol Burnett Show meets The Daily Show,” This Is The Week That Is takes on local and national politics with satirical wit and musical numbers. The script changes yearly—even nightly—but the result is a consistently acclaimed evening of laughs.

This Is The Week That Is 1812 Productions image

"It is our hope that we honor Mr. Sahl, Mr. Gregory and TW3 with this show," says Jennifer Childs, director of 1812 Productions' This Is The Week That Is

The show takes its name from a groundbreaking TV fake news program that aired in Britain and the United States in the early 1960s: That Was The Week That Was (or TW3 to its fans). TW3 was hosted on both sides of the Atlantic by David Frost, a fake news anchor who went on to be one of the most respected serious interviewers in the Anglophone world (his post-impeachment interviews with President Nixon were the subject of the play and film Frost/Nixon). Using satirical humor to expose government hypocrisy, the show flaunted media conventions and is seen as a seminal program in political humor. Writers for the British version included future Monty Python stars John Cleese and Graham Chapman, future Poet Laureate John Betjeman, and comic genius Peter Cook. The American version was also star-studded: performers included Henry Fonda, Henry Morgan, Gene Hackman, Gloria Steinem, and Tom Lehrer.

“I am a huge fan of Tom Lehrer,” says Childs, who directs the current production. It was his musical parodies that led her to That Was the Week That Was.  “We styled our opening number much like theirs,” Childs says, “verses that could change week by week depending on what was going on in the news and that had the ability to have other musical jokes or one-liners in between the verse and chorus.”

Childs and her collaborators also embraced TW3‘s variety elements when creating the 1812 show. “The style and content of the show was hugely influential (both the British and American versions),” she says. “I liked the fact that it combined sketches and songs with fake news.  I liked the fact that while there was a main news anchor, the show was still an ensemble and provided opportunities for people like Henry Fonda to guest star.”

From David Frost to Jon Stewart, humor has been a powerful tool in bringing political truths to light. In addition to studying old TW3s, Childs and her co-creators had the opportunity to meet with satirists Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory while preparing their production. “They really schooled us on creating political humor,” she says. “Mort Sahl said simply, ‘you have to tell the truth, and make it funny.’” 1812′s This Is The Week That Is continues a proud tradition of political humor, and most importantly, it makes it funny.

This Is The Week That Is runs through December 31 on Plays and Players main stage at 1714 Delancy Street, Philadelphia. Call 215.592.9560 or visit 1812Productions.org for tickets.