Ronna And Beverly Bring Their 'Anti-Press-Junket' Chat Show To London
“Being a guest is what it must feel like to be kidnapped, bound and gagged, and interrogated for 30 minutes,” said NKOTB singer Joey McIntyre. "I loved every minute."
Friends star Matthew Perry was heard wailing halfway through, “I didn’t think this could get any worse.”
So why are stars queuing up for a very singular chat show experience, at the hands of two indomitable Jewish doyennes – fifty-something mothers ‘Ronna and Beverly’ (played by established US comediennes Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo)?
Think Mrs Merton, Dame Edna, Alan Partridge, with a very Jewish-American twang. The show has been growing since its inception three and a half years ago, when Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm persuaded the feisty pair to dispense with their show and just “talk at him”.
Self-confessed Anglophiles, Chaffin and Denbo have taken their show to Edinburgh, broadcast their podcast internationally and have a lot of respect for British humour “when you say the opposite of what you mean”.
Guests on their US show have included Stephen Merchant and Russell Brand, and London will see subjects including Bradley Walsh and Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens signing up for “the treatment”. Chaffin and Denbo sit down over a spoiling of cream tea (extra portions of both) and a cocktail to explain what they can offer their subjects.
“We offer the anti-press junket,” explains Denbo (‘Beverly’). “We don’t get these people on a promo tour. We don’t have a TV show (yet!), so there’s nothing to plug. And we don’t need them to be charming, as we’re kind of satirising how celebrity is seen when actually they’re just real people.
“All these ‘stars’ have got family members who have known them all their lives, and that’s what we’re trying to replicate,” adds Chaffin. “For the audience, it’s a chance to ask the questions that we’ve actually always wanted to ask – like sitting on (Mad Men) John Hamm’s lap and asking how he smelt. Let’s face it, we all want to know!
“And it’s also like watching a car crash, sitting on the edge of your seat, not knowing what’s going to happen. And of course we don’t know either.”
With this amount of tightrope walking, I’m wondering, has it ever been awkward or gone horribly wrong leaving a deafening stone silence?
"One time we had a columnist (unnamed)," remembers Denbo, "and he tried too hard to sass back at us, which meant it went a bit flat. Because these characters are older, and demanding of respect, as the audience instinctively realises.
“We’re serious performers,” adds Chaffin. “No one asks Oscar the Muppet why he lives in a trash can and is made of green felt. No one sits and points out to Dame Edna that she has chest hair. That would be a real party pooper, and ruin the fun for everyone.
“But that’s very, very rare. Normally, the audience falls in love with the hearts of us trying to help our guests, and the poor man at the centre of it.”
‘Ronna and Beverly’ are grounded in the childhoods of both women when, as Chaffin remembers, they were “to put it politely, exposed to the same type of women throughout our formative years, ladies endowed with self-importance and entitlement, but with wonderful hearts and wit, which made for a chaotic life of storytelling and bewilderment”.
Denbo has pinned it down to “two kinds of matriarchs in every family... the one that judges every single thing you do and will raise an eyebrow over every move you make, and there’s one who will embarrass you at every opportunity”.
With a grin, they add, “But Ronna and Beverly are genuinely trying to help. We told Matthew Perry he should give up his film career and go back to Friends. He thanked us and said he’d think about it.”
How can we resist?
Ronna and Beverly are at the Soho Theatre in London tonight and tomorrow - click here for ticket information
WATCH Ronna and Beverly give actor-director Eli Roth their special brand of hospitality: