Beth Lapides is following the signs. On the freeway. In the paper. She's interpreting street signs, "For Sale" signs, and "Open," "Closed" and "Be Back Soon" signs. Of course, the "50% Off" signs. And, most important, signs from the universe. They're telling her to evolve. That change is good. And to extend the run of her comedic one-woman show.
So she has. Lapides' show, "100% Happy 88% of the Time," which plays Wednesday nights at the Improv Lab Theater in West Hollywood, quickly sold out its first six weeks. So she and the show's producer, her husband Greg Miller, doubled its run, which now extends through Dec. 15.
Which is fortunate. Because "100% Happy 88% of the Time" is a warm and fuzzy frenetic treat: a campy mix of old-school cabaret song and dance, autobiographical storytelling supported by kitschy family slides, and a cutting-edge multimedia display projecting a mash-up of paranormal/metaphysical/new age-y ideas. If you can imagine that. All conveyed by Lapides with a sunny, chirpy outlook on the end of the world. Really, it's an uplifting show — perfect for the holidays.
"A lot of people are surprised to find comedy connected to this spiritual side," said Lapides over lunch at Buddha's Belly in West Hollywood. "You know, ancient healings — but not just making fun of it. It's the lighter side of enlightenment. People say it's a tonic for our times."
The road to enlightenment has been long and circuitous for Lapides. Originally from Connecticut, she and Miller have been fixtures on the L.A. comedy scene for two decades. They co-created the long-running variety show "Un-Cabaret" in 1991, which ran for 17 years in L.A. and was a pioneering force in the city's nascent alternative comedy movement. Lapides anchored the show as host, opening with 20 minutes of standup each night, while a roster of about three dozen comics took turns appearing onstage with her, three to five per show. Julia Sweeney developed her "God Said, Ha!" at "Un-Cabaret." David Cross and Bob Odenkirk generated much of their "Mr. Show" material there. Kathy Griffin, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Taylor Negron, Michael Patrick King, Andy Dick and many others cycled through. "Un-Cabaret" became an outlet for performers who were frustrated by the more rigid setup/punch-line format of mainstream comedy clubs.
"It was just a very vital time," Miller says. "Beth uncorked this bottle that had been pent up. 'Un-Cabaret' really felt like we had a fire hose, and turned it on, and there was this release of pressure."
During those years, Lapides did a smattering of TV shows and indie films, also hosting two radio shows on Comedy World Radio. Plus a book here, a podcast there, and a whole lot of Flow Yoga. Life was … fine. But then, in 2006, the universe booted Lapides and Miller from the safety of its warm, cushy lap when they came home one afternoon to find a not-so-nice sign tacked to their front door: an eviction notice.
"When you go through the hard times, that's when you grow. I wanted to find a way to make that the best thing that ever happened to me," says Lapides. "And then I realized: we're all being evicted now — from our jobs and houses and lifestyles. The collective eviction. How can we make the end of the world the best thing that ever happened to us?"
Again, she and Miller followed the signs — this time, along the 10 freeway toward Palm Springs, where they relocated. And in the peace and quiet of the desert, Lapides wrote a new show for herself, one about — what else? — signs. And crisis. And change as the only true catalyst for evolution. Together with the venerable Mitch Kaplan, who used to be musical director for Sandra Bernhard among others, Lapides co-wrote all the original music and lyrics for "100% Happy 88% of the time." The show is her first foray into singing onstage. And more than anything, it's meant to be an uplifting, optimistic tale in less-than-certain times.
"I'm so committed to the silver lining, I'm actually wearing it!" Lapides jokes onstage, wearing a silver slip of a dress.
Lapides now has her eye on the holy trinity of goals for staged comedy shows: "A bigger theater, then go on tour, then a comedy special on TV," she says. Plans are in the works for a special New Year's Eve rendition of "100% Happy" at M Bar, with expanded music and surprise guests. And she'll continue to teach singing and comedy workshops to help aspiring performers develop their seventh sense — "their sense of humor," she says.
Despite her repertoire of healing crystals and medicine men, when asked what sign it was, exactly, that led her to choose Buddha's Belly for our meeting, Lapides draws a blank. "Honestly?" she chuckles, "I had another meeting down the street."