Too often a word or phrase is adopted into a vernacular and relentlessly abused to the point that it loses all meaning and takes respite in the dark crevices of our brains, safe from all light and common sense. Such was the case for the term “cult comedy,” which never stood a chance amid the surge of acclaimed sitcoms that began to air just a handful of years ago. Ever since, TV critics have branded the phrase on any funny show with a unique style of humor and a poor Nielsen rating. So forgive me for ringing out a waterlogged expression, but I need to bestow the title of cult comedy on a legitimately deserving show: “Archer.”
I didn’t distinguish fans of the retroanimated FX series as a cult until Jan. 11, when “Archer Live!” swept into Philadelphia and took residence at the Theatre of Living Arts for two of the most relentlessly nerdy, and fun, hours of my life.
Before the show, some 300 fanboys and fangirls waited in the pouring rain outside the venue, eagerly anticipating the real, flesh-and-bone voice actors behind Archer’s band of animated field agents and pencil-pushing office personalities. Soon enough, the doors opened, the geeks took their seats and the lights dimmed.
Lucky Yates, the voice of Doctor Krieger, introduced the show, asking audience members trivia questions and rewarding them with pens with loose caps that “slip off for no reason,” alluding to an “Archer” gimmick. The night would grow exponentially nerdier from here.
It took a while for the main cast to make its way to the stage. Maybe they were rescuing a fellow cast member from imprisonment in a pirate fortress in the South Pacific. Or perhaps they were bailing out one of their mothers from a sticky situation involving the Italian prime minister. You know, it probably had something to do with Burt Reynolds. Whatever the reason, the anticipation was building to critical mass.
Thankfully, the moment came in which Yates introduced the other cast members, each receiving a moderate amount of applause as they appeared from stage right and took their seats onstage. Out walked Aisha Tyler (voice of field agent Lana Kane), Amber Nash (voice of ISIS Human Relations Director Pam Poovey) and Chris Parnell (voice of ISIS Comptroller and occasional agent Cyril Figgis). Fans greeted Parnell by shouting “Dr. Spaceman! Dr. Spaceman!,” recognizing him as the incompetent physician from “30 Rock.”
All hell broke loose, however, when Yates announced that H. Jon Benjamin, voice of superspy Sterling Archer and the undisputed voiceover god, was coming onstage. The Trekkie-like fans were prepared to meet their messiah and were utterly confused with what they saw. It was Sterling Archer in the flesh — tall, dark and handsome with hair “you could barely get a comb through” and a jaw line that could cut a diamond.
Any real “Archer” fan knows that some of the voice actors resemble their characters (Tyler, Parnell and arguably Jessica Walter) and some just don’t. Benjamin, the bald, stout, Jewish hobbit, shares only one feature with Sterling Archer: the low, manly grumble of a lumberjack. So no one in the audience was fooled by this imposter, but he tried his best to sell it.
The man walked around stage and moved his mouth as the real H. Jon Benjamin spoke for him through a mic from backstage. Half the crowd seemed amused, but the other 50 percent were visibly peeved, waiting to meet their idol. After the skit was exhausted, Benjamin ran in to a roaring cheer from the crowd — their king had arrived.
The rest of the night was jam-packed with sneak peeks and details about the fourth season of “Archer,” banter between cast members, a few live script reads and several episodes in which the cast fired a loaded T-shirt gun at the audience backed by Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”
The audience got involved, too, as the actors invited fans onstage either to read scenes with them, kiss Benjamin on the mouth or get pelted in the stomach by the T-shirt gun. But the Archer enthusiasts gladly took the abuse, glad to have any interaction with the people behind one of the most perpetually badass shows on television.
Season 4 of “Archer” premiered Jan. 17 on FX. The new season promises more of the typical antics of the past three seasons, plus Anthony Bourdain as a guest star, Malory Archer getting married, and a crossover episode with Benjamin’s other animated series, “Bob’s Burgers.”