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New and Improv : Doug Cox and John Moody under the influence of their Groundlings days in 'Which End's Up?'

January 14, 1994|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times

STUDIO CITY — If you like the Groundlings, you might want to check out what some of their alumni are up to.

"It's like a Groundlings revue, except that there are just two of us," says Doug Cox, co-author and co-star--with John Moody--of "Which End's Up?," opening Jan. 21 at Lionstar Theatre (formerly Company of CharActors theater).

"John and I were in the Groundlings for a combined 25 years, so you'll see a lot of that influence," Cox said. Two of their popular Groundlings characters, Skip and Duffy, will be on hand, in a comedy roster that includes improv, audience participation and set sketches, some performed with interactive videotape.

"One piece we do with the video is 'News Now,' a spoof of Channel 4 News, recapping the same stories all the time," Cox said. Also on tape are "Meet the Nation," satirizing the Sunday morning political-pundit shows (Cox refers to his on-air role as "some hack from the Clinton Administration") and "Phone 'n' Fish," a commercial for an all-in-one cellular phone and fish rod.

"When you're flying with an improv, it's so exciting," says Maryland native Moody, who teaches a weekly improv class in Hollywood. "There's the element of danger. You're walking the wire, starting to fall, trying to right yourself. It's always possible you'll reach that nirvana."

Moody says he does not consider himself one of the chosen few. "I really feel most people can do improv. You've just got to work at it, prepare yourself."

The pair met when Moody joined the Groundlings in 1980; as a writing team, their work includes a screenplay (the "Dirty Harry" satire "No Smoking," which was bought by New World and is currently, Cox notes, "in development oblivion"), comedy material for Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson, and four episodes of "Pee-wee's Playhouse," for which they received two Emmy nominations. On his own, Moody penned the 1992 stage comedy "Cable Guys," which played at Burbank's Third Stage.

Neither performer came to Hollywood with the intention of acting. Illinois-born Cox is a 1978 graduate of USC Film School. It was a college classmate who introduced him to the Groundlings.

"I started hanging out there, taking classes," Cox recalls. "It was so exciting being in front of an audience every week--not inhibiting at all. The whole thing was 'Let's go out there and make this work.' His 1989 departure from the group came with no hard feelings; he still occasionally performs there on Alumni Night. "You get burned out, want to do something different. So I went to Oxford for a year, studying Shakespeare and Chekhov--just learning for the fun of it. It was great."

Moody majored in political science--and, he says, "being a hippie, protesting the Vietnam War"--at the University of Maryland, before detouring to Aspen for a few years, arriving in Los Angeles in 1976. After three years working in the clothing business, Moody came upon the Groundlings, promptly quit his job and started taking classes at the theater. "When I first saw them, I thought, 'This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,' " he says earnestly. "It looked like more fun than I'd ever seen before. It was so free ."

Where and When

What: "Which End's Up?"

Location: Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd. (above Jerry's Deli), Studio City.

Hours: Opens Jan. 21, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, until Feb. 26.

Price: $12.50.

Call: (818) 955-8647.

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