"Minnows and garlic," answers Steve Baker, although the question hasn't been asked yet. When your comedy troupe is called Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre, you're certain the question is bound to surface sooner or later.
"Just think. We could have been called the Iowa Writers Theatre Ensemble," sighs Baker, the group's general manager. But Duck's Breath signified, in addition to nothing at all, that the young comedians were zany and irreverent.The name emerged in 1975, when Duck's Breath's members were graduate students at the University of Iowa. Now, 14 years later, the San Francisco-based group has gone on to achieve a sort of cult following among audiences who like their comedy satirical and silly. Duck's Breath is probably best known to listeners of National Public Radio.
The group's Utah fans will be happy to learn that the troupe will be back in Salt Lake on Jan. 27, and that the group's first movie will be featured on Jan. 24 as a non-competitive part of the United States Film Festival.
The world premiere of "Zadar! Cow from Hell" will be held Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater in Park City. Four of the five troupe members will also perform before the showing.
The Jan. 27 date will be at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus. It will mark the first time the troupe has performed live outside California since it appeared in Salt Lake in November of 1987. Duck's Breath also appeared at the Utah Arts Festival in 1986.
The Jan. 27 appearance will kick off a three-part "Month of Comedy" that will also include the Feb. 10 appearance of Second City Comedy, the traveling version of the famous Chicago improvisational company. The final show will be Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, at the Capital Theater on Feb. 25.
All this hilarity begins on Tuesday with "Zadar! Cow from Hell," which Baker describes as a great family movie. "Well, maybe not for every family," he concedes. "But it's as relatively darn wholesome as you can get." Except for that lapse in the title, the movie deserves a "G" rating, he says.
The low-budget movie is a spoof about the misadventures of a low-budget movie company trying to film a horror movie ("Zadar! Cow from Hell") on location in Howdy, Iowa. The cow, a very large scary one, apparently never materializes, although the filmmakers try to do what they can with a battery-operated toy cow and, later, a cow costume.
During the 14 months since Duck's Breath last appeared in Salt Lake City, the troupe has also completed a pilot for PBS called "Dead Pan Alley." Yet to air nationwide, if picked up by PBS it would be a late-night comedy series - "more adult and more odd than the film," says Baker.
The group's Jan. 27 appearance at Kingsbury Hall will include new material plus some old favorites such as Randee of the Redwoods (Jim Turner), the aging '60s Deadhead who is a regular feature on MTV; and Ian Shoales (Merle Kessler), the acerbic, fast-talking social commentator featured regularly on NPR's All Things Considered. Troupe members Bill Allard and Leon Martell will also be in town, but Dan Coffey (Mr. Science) will stay in San Francisco to be with his newborn baby.
What with new babies and new films and TV pilots, the past year has been a good one for Duck's Breath. The members even were honored by their alma mater as Distinguished Alumni. Not bad, says Baker, for guys who were once considered the oddballs of the theater department.