Dangerous Neighbors

The History of Dangerous Neighbors

It's not easy being an aging, dysfunctional, low-budget sketch comedy troupe, but Dangerous Neighbors somehow manages to pull it off year after year with its usual aplomb. But how did it all start?

In the early 1980s, budding comedy writer Bill Burman teamed up with Santa Cruz actor/writer Christopher Palermo and musician/actor Eric Conly to form the sketch comedy group Flesh City. Their wild, high-risk shows (one included an audience participation séance summoning the spirit of Dan Blocker, the deceased actor who portrayed Hoss Cartright on the TV show Bonanza) garnered local critical acclaim. City on a Hill's Jason Roberts said, "At its best, Flesh City is as good as the original Second City or Firesign Theater."

After a few shows, the members of the group went off to attend college, pursue fruitless spiritual quests, and get actual jobs, but the trio would reunite in Santa Cruz in the early 1990s to form the nucleus of Dangerous Neighbors. The name came from a sketch in which a man who has been avoiding a quirky neighbor for years is confronted by him at the Post Office, only to discover an intense connection based on their mutual irritable bowel syndrome.

Their 1993 and 1994 shows were lauded by audiences and critics alike. "The sketches are wickedly funny, definitely not politically correct, and mostly comprise irreverent looks at our wacky world, with particular attention paid to the lower intestinal tract," wrote Ann Bennett, writer for the Register Pajaronian. Good Times' Charles De Wald said, "They claim to be from another planet, but they all look and act more like future stars of Saturday Night Live."

A succession of hit shows followed. Between theater productions, the Neighbors performed in nightclubs, and were regulars at UC Santa Cruz College Nights, where they performed for hundreds of students over the years. In 1997 Santa Cruz theater luminary Suzanne Schrag joined the Neighbors for their show Between Heaven and Hell. Schrag, a veteran of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and a founding member of the highly regarded theater company Friends of Gus, has won virtually every theater award possible in the Santa Cruz area (among them Ann Bennett's pick for Best Actress 1999 and Best Actress 2000, and the Santa Cruz Sentinel Gail Rich Award), and has been an integral part of the group ever since joining.

The group's 1998 show, Inferno of Love, was also a hit with audiences and critics. "Besides excellent dialogue, Inferno stands out for stellar performances by all seven actors — especially producer Eric Conly," wrote Metro Santa Cruz's Mary Spicuzza. In 1997 Conly had been selected as one of five artists to watch by Metro Santa Cruz, which called him a "theatrical mastermind with comic timing galore."

Throughout its existence, the group has been fortunate to have the extraordinary talent of songsmith and performer Bob Vickers, whose hilarious tunes have ended many a Neighbors' sketch. Vickers, former drummer for the Orange Peels and a multi-instrumentalist, has an uncanny ability to write lyrics for some of the impossibly bizarre scenarios hatched by Burman's warped mind. A multinational oil company executive becomes a Marxist terrorist after a political argument with his liberal son, then is converted to Taoism by a hippie blender salesman in time to enjoy a peaceful Christmas? No problem, Bob's song "A Taoist Christmas" is perfect for the occasion.

After several successful shows in Santa Cruz and San Francisco in the early years of the new millennium, members of the group took a hiatus to dabble in parenthood, divorce, higher education and psychotherapy, but they made a triumphant return in 2011. The Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote, "The writing, the acting, the timing by all these performers is superb." The Neighbors have appeared in the first two Santa Cruz Fringe Festivals, and somehow, have not worn out their welcome. Fringe Director Dixie Lee Mills called their work "political, timely, and funny sketch comedy."