Animals have been outdoing their comedy scene partners for years — think the San Diego Zoo lady’s incontinent horned toad on Johnny Carson, Hammer the Pitbull bowling an attack on Letterman, or Tracy Morgan yelling at a parrot in “Saturday Night.” Live”. (“That bird is a liar!”) The only problem – sometimes the animal steals the whole show.
Recently, human comedians Charlie Sosnick (twenty-four, with a nose ring and a T-shirt advertising the Lemon Ice King of Corona) and Michael Kandel (twenty-nine, goatee, button-down) discussed this dilemma at Lucky Dog Bar, in Williamsburg, for their monthly comedy show, ‘Petting Zoo’, which features a rotating lineup of comedians trying to stage their sets while handling exotic animals they’ve just met. Until now, the menagerie included boas, corn snakes, a blue-tongued skink, a teju (“just a big lizard,” according to Kandel, and “trainable as a dog,” per Sosnick), a bearded dragon, geckos, tarantulas, a stick insect, a ferret, chinchillas and a pigeon.
“The dove is acting strange,” Kandel said, adding mournfully, “I used to love the dove.”
“Pooped on a guy at the last show,” recalls Sosnick. “He took it like a champ.” He continued: “We have a surprise animal tonight – by far the most dangerous we’ve ever had on stage.”
“We haven’t had any accidents, though,” Kandel said.
“I was bitten once, but it was a very small” – boa constrictor – “bite,” Sosnick corrected him.
Kandel and Sosnick were both members of a stand-up group at the University of Pennsylvania called Simply Chaos, though they don’t overlap. When they hooked up in New York after graduation, they decided to launch a comedy show with a shtick, “because no one else would come,” Sosnick said. (One rejected idea involved a magician.) Inspired by Jack Hanna, she googled zookeepers.
“We’ve found all these people who, like school meetings, have,” Sosnick said. “And that’s how we found Ranger Eric” – Eric Powers, driving from Long Island with a van full of cages and crates.
“Ranger Eric’s animals are just from people on Long Island who get them, and then they get too big and they don’t want them anymore,” Kandel explained.
“This boa that we have now belonged to this guy who went to jail and had this big animal collection and just let them go,” Sosnick said. A neighbor discovered the snake in his barbecue.
“And now it’s a star,” Kandel said.
“People want to see bites, poop, a drop,” Sosnick said. “Dropping is bad. Dropping is the biggest way to lose the audience. We’ve never had a bad drop. We had a chinchilla jump.”
“Animals have never been harmed,” Kandel noted. “The last show, the pigeon actually laid an egg backstage.”
The duo stepped into the ninety-one-degree (cold-blooded-friendly) night and went to a performance room with no air conditioning. (The next “Petting Zoo” show is on August 5, at the City Reliquary, and it’s, for better or worse, outside.)
When Ranger Eric, wearing a camouflage fishing cap and tan safari shirt, arrived with his entourage, Sosnick tried to confuse the distracted comedians backstage. “What we need to clarify first is who wants the big boa,” he said. “To be honest, it weighs a lot.”
Rufat Agayev, a comedian in a Yankees T-shirt and Nascar hat, stared warily at the giant snake. “I mean, I would, but I just got rid of a back injury last week,” he said.
“Ranger Eric will help you, say in the corner,” Sosnick said. “So if at any point you don’t feel comfortable, or if you’re really nervous…”
“Like in a sketch group!” exclaimed the comedian Sara Hennessey. She played with the bearded dragon (billed as “very chill, very easy”), but her crop top was too skinny for him to cling to. “He can scratch the shit out of your arms,” ranger Eric warned. She ended up performing with a pigeon named Lovey, who sat on her head for the biggest applause of the night.
The surprise guest, a tiny alligator, emerged from his portable dressing room (a cat carrier) and comedian Rachel Coster greeted him with a coquettish “Hey, Mommy!” (She landed onstage with the sixty-pound boa, Julius Squeezer.) Ranger Eric deftly tied a band around the alligator’s jaws, then handed it to Agayev, who quietly asked, “Sir, am I holding it tight?” , a number of times before the reptile peed on the carpet. Agayev later took the stage with a graceful corn snake over his shoulders.
“Is anyone listen?” asked Sosnick. “This always happens. Can we just pop the lineup?” (Kandel whispered, “He goes into Howard Hughes mode for every show.”)
The tarantula was removed from the program due to humming fans. “She does not like wind,” Ranger Eric said.