Mary and Joe on a recent episode, with comedian Nick Naney in the back. All photos by Erin Cesaro. 

         Mary and Joe on a recent episode, with comedian Nick Naney in the back. All photos by Erin Cesaro

The Forecast Says Cartoon Monsoon

by Gili Malinsky

Past the friendly forest

Through the swamp of snacks and sweets

Stands a paper mache club house

By the beach of toys and treats

Follow the smell of fun and games

By the light of the smiling moon

Because boys and girls

The forecast calls

For a big cartoon monsoon!

So begins an episode of children’s show Cartoon Monsoon. The theme song’s video features a paper mache clubhouse rocketing through space and two of the show’s protagonists, Mary and Joe, in cartoon form. The show’s performed monthly at Williamsburg’s subversive comedy basement The Annoyance Theatre. And, actually, it’s not a kids’ show. It’s an adults’ show based on the television we grew up on like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and SpongeBob SquarePants, but murder-y and sexy and with its own grunge. Cartoon Monsoon follows Mary, Joe, Steve and Puppet (an orange puppet played by Tim Platt), all living in a clubhouse above a toxic waste dump (or a nuclear missile testing range or a native American burial ground, depending on the episode…) and going on adventures like Christmas shopping at the mall and being abducted by aliens. There are indie cartoons and “commercial breaks” interspersed between bits, and guest appearances from the city’s many underground comics. The show manages to both poke fun at these kids’ shows and the hipster culture it grew out of, and create a world entirely its own.

         Tim Platt as Puppet.

         Tim Platt as Puppet.

“They have the kindest crowd,” says comedian Anna Drezen, who once performed on Cartoon Monsoon as a teacher struck by hazardous liquids. By which she means their growing fanbase will follow their storylines anywhere.  

Creators and cartoon lovers Joe Rumrill and Mary Houlihan conceived of Cartoon Monsoon in early 2015. Soon after their first conversation, Houlihan submitted a basic idea (“cartoon show with Mary and Joe,” she says) to Philadelphia’s $5 Comedy Week festival, and the two were accepted. But, of course, they then had to flesh out a concept.

“I think at first it was going to be just us doing comedy in between cartoons,” says Rumrill. “We talked about showing old cartoons. Classic cartoons. And then that turned into doing a Mr. Rogers-y type show.” And like Mr. Rogers, the two would have guests, roping in friends to write bits and perform in this world they were building. That show was a success, and Rumrill and Houlihan decided to expand the concept and find a place to perform regularly. Their UCB Spank (when shows try out to have a regular spot at the theater) didn’t work out, but the Annoyance was thrilled to accept them.

“You definitely need for a show like Cartoon Monsoon [to have] an aspect of thinking that you [could] be watching it on television,” says Steven DeSiena, who joined the cast when they started their run at The Annoyance and plays (you guessed it) Steve. The latter being dark, dank and narrow, the space fit. 

DeSiena was originally brought in to do music, adopting the sounds he remembers most vividly from Saturday mornings as a kid: those of Nintendo. Throughout the show you can hear video-gamey notes from his corner. The character of Puppet came on in the very first show, Platt having learned puppeteering for improvisers and realizing he could apply the skills (and the puppet he got from the class) to this world. Each character has its die-hard elements that are still loose and elastic. The nature of Joe and Mary’s relationship is always unclear (they refer to each other as best friends), Steve is a playboy millionaire who just comes to hang out, Puppet is a serious Christian. Regardless of plot points and character traits, expect absurdity, childlike wonder and heart.

“It’s mental,” said audience member Mayan Bymel after attending their Cartoon Monsoon Christmas. It’s mental, but it works.

Check out Cartoon Monsoon this Friday April 1st, 9:30pm at The Annoyance and see what delicious and dirty adventures the whole gang is up to...