“You know, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic back in the day.”
As Eugene Pack finishes that sentence, a chill runs down his spine. “It puts all this pressure on you!” he exclaims. A playwright, comedian and director, Pack wanted to stay creative during the quarantine and thought of the crazy notion that one of the great classics was written during a similar situation. But instead of writing one gargantuan tome about a warring family and a fallen legend, Pack went in a more modern direction. “I decide to put out a podcast,” he says. The Pack Podcast, featuring short works by Pack and starring several high-profile actors, is the basis for The Pack, an evening of Pack’s shorts benefiting Guild Hall, streaming on Sunday, August 16.
“I thought it would be a win-win situation to create something for the Guild Hall audience and create this event of entertainment and comedy for people,” says Pack. “It’s been a dream for me.” Guild Hall audiences, of course, know Pack from his star-studded Celebrity Autobiography shows and various plays that have been performed there over the years. Pack, who splits his time between California and New York, has a long history of working with the actors in The Pack, including Hamptonites Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin, John Leguizamo, Blair Underwood, Sherri Shepherd and many others. “There’s a whole troupe involved of wonderful people and everything stopped in March,” says Pack. “I thought, ‘How are we going to keep doing this and keep putting out material?’ So we decided to put out a podcast and every week we have one of my new short comedies out there and it’s raising funds to the Actors Fund and Feeding America.”
The Pack, though, is not audio-only. “It’s not really a play reading,” he says. “We want to think of this as a short comedy festival with some great talent lending their creativity and hilarity to this. I guarantee they’ll be entertained by it.” The A-list cast makes this an extra-special treat. “One thing that’s thrilling about all this…I am putting this together and [some of the actors] never worked together before,” says Pack. “John Leguizamo and Matthew Broderick have never worked together before. For them that was a blast. It was fun for me to see that in action. Blair Underwood and Sherri Shepherd have worked with me audio-only, so they always wanted to work with each other. And in the final piece we had generations of Saturday Night Live, Rachel Dratch, Cecily Strong—who taped this the day she was nominated for an Emmy award, and I thought that morning she was nominated for an Emmy, ‘Is this over?’—but she’s a pro. We had Andrea Martin, she got to work with Cecily and Rachel. It was fun to connect these people.”
Pack is coy on what the three short pieces are about, but promises they’ll be funny and sweet. “I really feel like these pieces are funny and relatable and there’s a seriousness to it, too—something heartfelt at the heart of them that gets under your skin. The reality of it. I want people to experience this as if they’re real and you buy into it and you have the experience with these actors. Hopefully there’s a heart to it that you’ll see.”
Sherri Shepherd’s View
For Sherri Shepherd, working on the Pack Podcast and The Pack was a no-brainer. “I’ve been working with Eugene and Dayle [Reyfel], who are wonderful people,” says Shepherd. “We just all like working with Eugene. This is the first time I have worked with Blair. We know each other and we’re fans of each other’s work and you had me sold at Blair Underwood! We first recorded it and he came back and said he wanted to do a virtual fundraiser for Guild Hall and would we film ourselves. How much fun would this be? Eugene writes these little vignettes that are little slices of life with the human condition, and it’s so yummy. And Eugene was looking for a way to give back to actors and writers who are unemployed. You get to use your imagination. I don’t want to give away what it’s about, but Blair and I are on a phone call that everyone can relate to.”
Shepherd was in the middle of the Ladies Night Out comedy tour with Kym Whitley, Loni Love, Adele Givens and NeNe Leakes when the quarantine hit. “It was heartbreaking,” she says. “So I was so happy when Eugene called and asked me if I would be part of the Pack Players. I started doing more Zoom stuff with him. People are clamoring for content and people are sitting at home in quarantine and so many people aren’t able to go out or they’re essential workers, God bless them, so what do you do? So it’s an escape.”
During the quarantine, Shepherd has also started a podcast, Two Funny Mammas, with Whitley. “We bought a couple cameras from Wal-Mart and did a ‘Red Paper Plate Special’ which was a take on Jada Pinkett Smith’s ‘Red Table Talk’ scandal, and we broke it down,” says Shepherd. “We’re at 183,000 views! We just finished up today our 14th episode.” And Shepherd still holds a special place in her heart for The View, which she co-hosted from 2007–2014. “I still love watching it. I text Whoopi [Goldberg] and Joy [Behar] nonstop. Sunny [Hostin] and I have been friends for a long time. I think The View will live long beyond whoever’s sitting at that table.”
Shepherd hopes viewers will find a lot to love and laugh about in The Pack. “It’s funny and it’s poignant,” says Shepherd. “Theater is so important. We cannot let theater go, especially in this time of craziness, we need light.”
For tickets and more information, visit guildhall.org.