Love and Laughter: With Merry and Standish
● By Melissa Mendonca
The Comedy of Merry and StandishNovember 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
1990 was a good year for Manton's Liz Merry and Aaron Standish. After four months of dating, the two tied the knot and embarked not just on a marriage, but a creative venture in comedy that continues to bring North State audiences out for laughs.
In those early days, Chico had a healthy comedy scene, though Standish says, “There weren't women in the comedy group until Liz suggested she could do it.”
With a knack for musical and sketch comedy, Merry had proved her gravitas for the grittiness of the scene by yelling, “Wake up and smell the basement!” when a drunk audience member threw a beer bottle at Standish during his first show at the iconic Chico bar, Duffy's. The basement she referred to was the performance space his group had previously maintained for friends. Not only did Merry put the man in his place, she passed a hat and got the group paid.
Standish, a descendent of Puritan captain Miles Standish, began his comedy career at Mercy High School in Red Bluff with friend Steve Ferchaud, doing parodies of the Batman TV show. “It was a Mercy High School teacher that looked over our first script,” says the 1980 graduate. “He was working at Lassen Lumber at the time and helped us build our sets. Then he was so nervous he didn't come to our show.”
Merry, a Brooklyn born and Bronx-raised rabid Mets fan, found her way to Chico after detouring from the Grateful Dead concert circuit and staying a week in the college town. “I felt like I had found my home, and I had,” she says. She soon got involved in musical comedies at Butte College and the Butcher Shop backyard theater. She was waitressing and singing rock and roll at a Chico restaurant when she met Standish. “We were sort of in the same Chico tribe,” she says.
Twenty-five years later, the duo has opened and sold Wild Oak specialty shop in downtown Red Bluff, where people continue to buy tie-dye t-shirts, records and incense. When they passed on the business to its new owners, they also passed on sketch bits, which get incorporated into an annual Hootenanny at Red Bluff 's State Theatre that celebrates the store's anniversary. A mix of stand-up and sketch comedy as well as music and multimedia, Merry Standish productions have become must-see events for Red Bluffians eager to see which local and national personalities will make their way into the show as a source of laughter.
“Writing in other people's voices is something we both enjoy doing, if we can find that voice,” says Standish.
In recent years, Red Bluff 's State Theatre, a popular venue for the duo's shows, has reclaimed its place as Tehama County's cultural and performing arts center through the dedication of a multitude of community members. Merry and Standish were at the forefront of these efforts, raising $10,000 in two weekends of shows. Proceeds met match requirements for a grant and ultimately set the theater on its way to community ownership. “We are very proud to have that on our resume, to be part of the rebirth of the State Theatre,” says Merry. “It's still a point of pride,” adds Standish.
While interest in comedy has waxed and waned over the years, the duo is inspired by a resurgence in the last three years. “There's a huge burgeoning stand-up comedy scene,” says Merry. “Huge.” As godparents of the scene, the pair are excited about new directions they can take their own work with the infusion of young, new talent.
“Aaron's been doing these stand-up comedy showcases at Duffy's, which is like the Holy Grail, because it's the coolest bar in Chico,” she adds. “And they're packed.” Indeed, the showcases attract a range of talent and audience members all out for laughs and local comedic perspective. Described by Merry as an autonomous collective, the emerging comics are “Infusing us with more talent and we do more shows because we know people will show up,” says Standish.
While the duo love working with new talent, they also enjoy a riotous relationship with veteran San Franciscobased comic Will Durst, who wandered in to the State Theatre one day on his way through Red Bluff. That impromptu visit led to a meeting with Merry and Standish and shared shows in Red Bluff, Chico and Manton. “We don't do clubs, he doesn't do clubs,” says Merry.
They do, however, do local comedy reviews that keep the North State laughing with original, often irreverent, views on life both local and national.
Sunday, Nov. 15, 7pm
337 Main St., Chico
Saturday, Nov. 21, 7pm
Manton Corners, Manton