Here's one for the record books: A Disney entertainer of several years' standing is leaving the company voluntarily, with a bright future ahead of her and nothing but good things to say about her time on rodent-infested property.
"I've been so blessed through this entire process," says Jen Kober, whose tenure as a popular improv comic at the Comedy Warehouse on Disney's Pleasure Island came to end with her final show Feb. 23. "If I complained, I'd be a dick."
Odd biological metaphors aside, her point is well taken. A native of Lake Charles, La., Kober was living and working in the comedy hotbed of Chicago when Disney invited her to join its Lake Buena Vista team in August 1999. In the ensuing two-and-a-half years, her penchant for quick-witted improvisation and character work attracted a strong following, particularly among the cast members who make Thursday-night trips to the Warehouse a traditional, shall we say, outing. ("How many gay-boy employees can you have as fans? Never too many," Kober philosophizes.)
However, it was the diversity of her tourist-heavy audiences -- "ages 18 to 80, British to Bithlo" -- that truly inspired Kober, as well as the opportunity to hone her craft on an 80-shows-per-month basis. Though that schedule didn't leave much time for outside pursuits (other than a split-bill revue with comic Jill Shargaa at last year's Orlando International Fringe Festival), Kober was still able to develop her magnum opus, "Junk in My Trunk," which she premiered last month at the Quad C Theatre in Plano, Texas, and will tour across the U.S. and Canada for the better part of this year.
The show, which begins a three-week local engagement March 8 at The Parliament House, is "an improvised rock & roll comedy extravaganza," Kober says. She plays seven different characters, including a cosmetologist who dreams of becoming a Tina Turner impersonator and a 6-year-old girl who was kidnapped by Led Zeppelin. In the Orlando version of "Junk," Kober and her four-piece band are joined by such guest players as Jen Bascom (one of the star's Warehouse cronies) and Steven Lewis, a stand-up comic from Nashville, Tenn., who will be her opening act.
"The funniest thing about him is that he doesn't have all of his teeth," Kober raves.
The prospect of national touring took precedence for Kober over extending her Disney contract, and at the end of April, she will bid farewell to her Orlando digs. Headed at first for Louisiana, she expects to be based in Austin by August. But she hopes to be back as a visitor on the House of Blues stage during June's "Gay Days" celebrations, and her fans can look forward to seeing her on TV's "Whose Line is It Anyway" -- if they're willing to wait a while. Last December, Kober learned that she had passed her audition for a guest shot on the ABC-TV series. But new episodes won't be shot until the one-and-a-half seasons' worth of material that is already in the can has been aired.
"Orlando was such a great, great place," Kober reflects. "I'm unemployed by my own choosing. I want to be my own boss now."
Eight performing groups will appear on the stage of SAK Comedy Lab during this year's Fringe Festival (May 10 through 19). Though the honor of treading the boards at the 189-seat theater -- the largest and best-equipped of the venues available to the festival's dozens of participating troupes -- now carries a $250 price tag, SAK remained popular enough this year to attract applications from 18 interested parties, says Chris Gibson, the Fringe's new executive producer. A public lottery whittled that list of hopefuls down to seven. (The SAK regulars are assured access to their home turf as a thank-you for giving up a good chunk of their lucrative performance times to others while Fringe is in session.) The seven winning groups are all locally based, Gibson says, though national and international applicants did take part in the lottery. Consider it good karma that the OOPS! Guys, Fringe veterans who have remained sanguine about fitting their hugely popular act into one cramped venue after another, will be allowed into SAK this year. One troupe that won't is Farrago, the ambitious new project launched by a cabal of local theater luminaries -- including SAK's lead actress Megan Whyte and technical director John Valines. That even these well-placed insiders came out on the losing end of the lottery appears to be compelling proof that Gibson is running a profoundly ethical ship.
Is this what happens when I call a movie "eagerly awaited?" The drama "Dunsmore," which was to be the closing-night feature in this year's Valencia Film Celebration at Valencia Community College, is not finished and has been pulled from the program. Its Saturday, March 2, slot will be filled by a series of shorts produced by Valencia students and alumni ... The University of Central Florida's Broken Speech poetry series has slams planned for March 14, 21 and 28 at Guinevere's coffee shop. "Broken Speech on the Road" is what they're calling the series. (It beats "Kerouac Takes the East-West Expressway.") A May 9 slam, also at Guinevere's, will determine the membership of the team "Broken Speech" is sending to next August's National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis, Minn. ... The evolution of the Back Booth didn't end with the club's recent move from east Orlando to downtown. Word from the top is that the BB will soon expand its focus by presenting some nonmusical, winkingly avant-garde events. The plans I've heard, though still unofficial, sound like a welcome throwback to the loopy undertakings that were the province of the club's precursor, Java Jabbers Coffeehouse. (Remember the "Drunken Spelling Bee?" Not if you were there!)
Experimental-arts maven Pat Greene reports that he has been retained as an unpaid gallery director for the fourth-floor space above OVAL on Orange -- the studio area that used to house the outspoken young artists who ran afoul of OVAL's senior membership and subsequently lost their lease. Greene, who contributed a purposefully unerotic video installation to the recent "Nude Nite," says that visual art is just the beginning of the cultural menu he hopes to bring to the Orange Avenue venue. Among his more unconventional ideas: a trade show that would spotlight trends and developments in the surveillance business. Don't laugh. Now that those police security cameras have finally gone up at the corner of Orange and Pine, a live feed might be just the job to get his party started.