LITTLE ROCK Little Rock-born Matt Besser is known for his zeal for the Arkansas Razorbacks almost as much as he is for his impact on modern comedy. With his podcast Improv 4 Humans on the Earwolf comedy podcast network, Besser shares stories and experiences from his life that usually mention growing up in Arkansas before he moved to Chicago and founded the landmark sketch group Upright Citizens Brigade.
The UCB has spawned and fostered many comedic institutions, including a TV show on Comedy Central that ran for three years, theater/schools in New York and Los Angeles, and dozens of highprofile alumni, including Saturday Night Live alumni Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell and Fred Armisen as well as Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter.
Another feature to come out of UCB was the sketch show/comedymusical Freak Dance: The Forbidden Dirty Boogaloo that began as a stage show in 2001 and turned into a feature film directed by Besser and Neil Mahoney.
Calling Freak Dance a genre parody movie spoof in the same vein as Dance Flick or Scary Movie would be a mistake, although the film has plenty of references to dance movies. Besser mentions drawing inspiration from films like Footloose, Breakin’ and its sequel Electric Boogaloo, in addition to recent dance-centric movies like You Got Served or Step Up. Let me repeat, the film is nothing like these, mostly for the fact that it is actually really funny.
Freak Dance follows an upper-class ballerina, Cocolonia (ahybrid of Boogaloo’s Coco and Purple Rain’s Apollonia, played by Megan Heyn) running away from her uptight mother (Poehler) to join a ragtag group of hip-hop dancers from the wrong side of the tracks. The story’s conflict is introduced when the Building Inspector General (Besser) declares the community center, Fantaseez, unfit for habitation, and a rival dance crew challenges the Fantaseez crew to a dance-off.
Obviously the plot really isn’t important and is only a launching board for the film to repurpose cliches into hilarious set pieces, such as when Cocolonia and her love interest, Funky Bunch, butcher a pig in a meat locker. (Besser said one of the pros to making a movie version was that they could use a lot more blood than in the stage version.) For a visual, think of a tender moment between Patrick Swayze and JenniferGrey in Dirty Dancing, with a cleaver and pig carcass substituting for a fallen tree in the woods.
Shooting the musical as a film also allowed for use of special effects, like in the opening number, where the Fantaseez dance crew pop-nlocks its way through a hospital, infecting the staff and patients with dance. The film highlights this magical transference with bright red and green glows that produce a nostalgic ’80s vibe without being cheesy, due to the quality of the effects.
“We made a choice that it was going to be kind of like Xanadu, where there was just this magic in the world of dancers,” Besser says. “That it was just accepted that dancers had magic. That wasn’t fully realized on the stage.”
When asked about the division of labor between himself and his co-director, Besser says he worked more with the actors while Mahoney was responsible for filming and editing.
The film recently toured 10 cities, starting in the South (Besser wanted to screen in Arkansas but it didn’t work out) and was released on DVD and Video on Demand on Tuesday.
The DVD comes with special features, including deleted scenes, a commentary with Besser and Mahoney, and a fun anti-dancing public service announcement. You can find more information about the film at freakdancemovie.com.
Levi Agee is a programmer for the Little Rock Film Festival. Email him at: