Theaterdelphia: 50 shades of funny in 'Grey' spoof

Comedy writer Jon Blair, the guy behind "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody," says the sexy book was just asking for a spoof.
Comedy writer Jon Blair, the guy behind "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody," says the sexy book was just asking for a spoof.
Posted: June 14, 2013

THANKS TO the millions of (mostly) female readers who have made it a publishing-world phenomenon, E.L. James' 2011 novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, has become a pop-culture touchstone. But there are those who have found the overheated tome - about a relationship between a naive young woman and an older businessman that plays out in the realm of extreme sexual practices - a bit hard to take seriously.

Among them is Jon Blair, a Toronto-based comedy writer who is part of the creative team responsible for "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody," which on Wednesday begins a four-night run at the Kimmel Center.

Blair, a staff writer on the Canadian Broadcasting Co.'s comedy-news program "22 minutes," was taken by surprise when "Fifty Shades" exploded upon release. "You heard about it everywhere you went. All of a sudden, it was the biggest thing. It lapped 'Harry Potter' as the biggest book . . . I was like, 'What's going on?' " he admitted during a recent phone chat.

Then, "I got asked to write the show and to check out the book, and I actually sat down and read it over a long weekend. I took it on vacation - sitting on a dock reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I was like, 'My God, this is just asking for it!' "

What grabbed Blair was what he found to be the book's hard-to-buy premise and characters. "As a book, it's just so unreal," he said. "I know it's supposed to be fantasy, but the aspect of what's happening is so unreal. And to have a book with that subject matter be so much in the forefront of everyone's mind, and to be on the night table of every bedroom . . . this is asking for it.

"Not only because it's so unusual, but because it's everywhere."

On the other hand, what Blair saw as the novel's faults provided him plenty of fish-in-a-barrel targets.

"It was definitely easy to write comedy about it, [thanks to] both characters in the book," he offered. "She's so over-the-top Snow White, and he's just this unreal, psychosexual Wile E. Coyote of a man. It's really easy to write a sketch about that."

Still, there were creative hurdles to be jumped.

"The problem," he explained, "is that the narrative of the books is not really beginning, middle, end. It's like beginning, continue, stop. So actually writing a show that begins and has a middle and end like a story does was a little bit tougher. We all spent a lot of time moving around a bulletin board full of note cards.

"But in terms of writing jokes about it, once you get going, and once you've been living with the book a weekend or so, the jokes start to come pretty easily."

According to Blair, if the book's author has a problem with "SPANK!" she's thus far kept it to herself.

"We haven't heard a thing," he said. "Realistically, if she can hear us down here from the top of her pile of money, she hasn't said anything."

Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce streets, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 7 p.m. June 21-22, $47.50 and $37.60, 215-893-1999,

Daly news


Television stalwart and Tony-winner Tyne Daly ("Cagney & Lacey," "Gypsy: A Musical Fable") is performing at the Bucks County Playhouse in the world premiere of "Mothers and Sons," the latest effort from the ultraprolific Terrence McNally, whose credits include "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," "Master Class," "The Full Monty" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

The drama, which runs through June 23, tells the tale of a woman (Daly) who lost her son to AIDS, and the changes she and her son's lover have experienced since the tragedy. It also features Tony Award nominees Manoel Felciano ("Sweeney Todd") and Bobby Steggert ("Ragtime").

Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope, 8 tonight, 4 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Tuesday, 4 p.m. Wednesday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, $57.50, $39 and $29, 215-862-2121,


Phone: 215-313-3134

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow


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