Braithwaite has his own personal Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen (or, Andy Richter and Jimmy Vivino if you're under 50): Howie Brown and Alex Bechtel. "We're billing it as a one-man show with three people," Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite worships at the altar of late-night legend Johnny Carson, so "Heeere's Tony!" borrows liberally from that venerated talk show. Each night, there will be a monologue, skits, and a revolving door of guests. Braithwaite will also participate in a talk show rite of passage by hosting various animals from the Philadelphia Zoo. He's even bringing back Carson's beloved "Carnac the Magnificent" for cameos.
Braithwaite fits the talk show host mold. He has a deep, assured voice and a deadpan similar to his idol Carson's. He even physically fits the bill. Braithwaite looks like a softer version of Keith Olbermann, if the recently-axed "Countdown" on MSNBC was a little more "Daily Show" than pointed analysis.
Despite his love for Carson and the format, Braithwaite laments the current slate of talk show hosts - calling out NBC's Jay Leno, specifically - who rely heavily on pre-interviews with celebrities that almost guarantee boring aired conversations.
"One of the great charms of Johnny's show is spontaneity. Guests came on to have fun and hang out, more than just specifically to plug their latest project. When they were finished, they would move down the couch and stay for the other guests and that doesn't happen regularly," Braithwaite said. "That kind of spontaneity that we lack now, that type of spontaneity, has a home in the live theater."
But there's one major problem with spontaneity: What if it's awful? It's a very real concern for Braithwaite who has no idea what kind of material he'll get from his guests. Some, like the Philly Fan (aka Barrymore Award-winning actor Tom McCarthy) or opera singer Justin Hopkins, could play along. Or, they could crash and burn, bringing Braithwaite along with them.
But that's all part of the fun for Braithwaite. He's used to dealing with volunteers (or "involunteers," as he calls them) from the audience in shows he's played in, like 1812 Productions' "This Is the Week That Was." He sees it as his job to put each guest in his comfort zone and bring out the best in him.
Even if the guest isn't doing him any favors in the charisma department, Braithwaite can still look to Carson. "That's part of Johnny's great charm: Trying those jokes and watching them bomb and then working with the bomb, having a cover for the fact that the joke didn't land," Braithwaite said. "Even if it doesn't work, it does in a way remind the audience that we're flying by the seat of our pants without a net here."
"Heeere's Tony!", Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, through Feb. 20, Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., $27-$33, 215-654-0200, act2.org.