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Laughter in the Laboratory

November 17, 2002|ANDREW VONTZ

Can a dead gerbil be resurrected? Can subliminal suggestion make people spontaneously expose their underpants? These are just a few of the investigations being undertaken by the sketch comedy troupe The Ministry of Unknown Science.

Founders Jason Berlin, Rico Gagliano, Eric Trueheart and Timothy P. Walker cooked up MOUS at Burning Man 2000 when they decided to apply their backgrounds in comedy writing, design and performance art to the rigorous pursuit of hilarity. Abetted by dozens of behind-the-scenes volunteers, Ministry shows combine live performance with interactive digital video clips to prove a comedic hypothesis. The four lab-coated mad scientists performed their first experiment in April of 2001 and have been gaining momentum like a quark in a particle accelerator in periodic sold-out performances around Los Angeles.

The "scientific comedic think tank's" bold inquisitions have tackled subjects as base as underwear and as metaphysical as one man's personal relationship with Jesus--who happens to be his roommate. Mind control is a favorite methodology. For the underpants project, the Ministers hypothesized that subliminal messages could induce audience members to display their underwear. Using "top secret" mind-melding techniques, they whipped the crowd into a mass display of tighty-whities and boxers, crowning the proceedings with an appearance by the "god of underpants," a 20-foot-tall pair of skivvies.

Truehart, Gagliano and Berlin work as film and TV writers while Walker, a former manager of creative affairs and an art director at Hearst Entertainment, acts as the troupe's producer. "Our goal is to give science to the largest number of people possible," Berlin says. On Nov. 30, the Ministry will appear at the 29th annual Loscon, the Los Angeles Science Fiction and Fantasy/Literary Convention at the Burbank Hilton. For the 9 p.m. show, dubbed "The Bakula Episode," the Ministers will attempt to induce audience members to see hallucinogenic images of whomever they truly love most.

But even as they seek cathode-ray supremacy, the Ministers hope to launch vectors of laughter in more intimate venues. "We're looking for a bris," Gagliano says. "But they're kind of hard to book."


The Ministry of Unknown Science,

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