Steve Farrell has that most sought after and least acquired of all attributes in show business: stability. He's been married to the same woman for 28 years. The theater group he formed almost 17 years ago continues to sell out shows -- mostly due to the popularity of the Fertle family. These characters made their first appearance that same year in the variety comedy show A Fertle Holiday, which has become an annual tradition.
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Though set in the fictional Dumpster, Texas, the Fertles are based on Farrell's own inbred family from Chariton, Iowa. "I have 15 aunts and uncles," says Farrell, who once tried to count the number of first cousins he had, but gave up around 70. Texas audiences seem to relate to the Fertles' small-town shenanigans. "Fifty miles outside of Moscow, you'd probably find the same thing," he says. "I think it's global."
Farrell has spent much of his career performing with his wife, Vicki, and his college friend Rich Mills (who had a brief stint as restaurant critic for the television show PM Magazine). In 1977 the trio founded The Comedy Workshop, the club that eventually became the spawning ground for Sam Kinison's famous Outlaw Comics.
A Fertle Holiday
Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt
Opens Friday, November 23 and runs through January 12. 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturdays. $16. For tickets, call 713-522-7722.
The three formed the variety group Radio Music Theatre in 1985, mixing comedy bits with music and sound effects in the spirit of old-time radio shows. They had some national success as well: In addition to some film shorts for Saturday Night Live, most famously "Panjo the Giant Dog of Tokyo," they created two popular off-Broadway shows before deciding to permanently put down roots in the Swamp City. "We asked ourselves, do we want to live in New York and do off-Broadway shows for whoever will hire us, or own our own theater?" Farrell says.
Radio Music Theatre continues to tape a weekly one-minute comedy short syndicated on national radio, and after 13 Fertle family offshoots, the group's popularity shows no signs of waning. So it looks like yet again Houstonians will spend their holidays with family.