For 10 years, Seattle’s late-night theater scene intermittently featured a very odd star, a slightly deranged, elderly Southern lady from small-town Kentucky. This was Carlotta Sue Philpott, the host of a cabaret/improv/talk show/occasional train wreck called Carlotta’s Late Night Wing Ding. (Full disclosure: I was the Wing Ding‘s producer/director for two of those years, 2001 to 2003.) Over the course of several different runs and formats, the show developed a bizarre ensemble, including a Zeppelin-obsessed would-be roadie, a German hausfrau with a chest like a battleship, a blackballed librarian who seated audiences by height, and Carlotta’s banjo-playing, hyperactive son, named “Slaw” after her husband’s favorite salad. Guests ranged from Sunny Kobe Cook to Artis the Spoonman, with the show’s underlying aesthetic reflecting vaudeville—if you don’t like what you see, wait a few minutes.
Carlotta was in fact the alter ego of improv artist Troy Mink, who drew on his own small-town Kentucky upbringing to bring her to life. Wearing a ratty wig, huge glasses, and some truly hideous dresses, Mink would disappear entirely into his creation, less a drag act than a form of inspired possession. It was anarchic, dangerous, and fun, and attracted a rabid following.
But somewhere between staging a Carlotta musical last October and a 10th-anniversary show in the spring, Mink decided it was time to place his most famous creation in semiretirement. “Carlotta’s is no longer the same show to me,” he says. “Everyone who made that show has moved on,” and he felt it was time for him to move on, too, though to where, and as whom, was unclear.
But then a chance trip to a local speakeasy, one of the newly fashionable undercover booze joints that’s sprung up recently, provided inspiration for his new show, Pubertee’s Pub. “I loved the naughtiness of the experience,” Mink says. “It was like being over at your friend’s house late at night when his parents are home. You’re having a really good time, and part of what makes it fun is feeling like you don’t want to get caught.”
That’s quite a contrast from the cozy couches of the old Carlotta’s show, where audiences were given cookies and popcorn and felt like they were in their grandmother’s living room. Mink’s new host, Phil Pubertee, is a Cockney emigrant who also wants to make his audience comfortable—by getting them to drink. A lot. “If you’re a recovered alcoholic, this might not be a good show for you,” he say, laughing.
Carlotta fans may not recognize any of the new characters, but they’ll appreciate the continuation of Mink’s bizarre and un-P.C. humor: There’s an Indian taxi driver with a DUI who walks his fares home, a K-Mart checker–turned–blackjack dealer, and a shadowy producer who runs an escort service on the side. “He’ll be giving lots of instructions on what to do if the cops show up,” explains Mink. “We’ve got a scene from Death of a Salesman ready to go if anyone gets suspicious.”
The show, directed by comedy vet Troy Fischnaller, features a rotating series of musical guests, and, like Carlotta’s, changes each week. And unlike the speakeasy Mink visited, the show is completely legit—the performer even got his service license so he can legally serve booze from the stage. “Some people will probably wonder about the actor playing my son—he looks to be about 16, so they might be nervous about him getting them a drink. But he’s 24, I swear!”
Mink admits he’s not sure if Pubertee’s will gel or where it will go, but he’s excited about the chance to interact with his audiences in a completely different persona. “I wear a fat suit that adds about a hundred pounds to my appearance. But Phil’s not so much imposing as accommodating. That’s the one place where he’s most like Carlotta. You feel like he’ll do anything to try and make sure you have a good time.”