On the prowl again

Rani Gupta

As a Northwestern student 27 years ago, Paul Warshauer created a performance group to challenge the well-attended Waa-Mu show.

This weekend Warshauer returned to campus to see how that vision has grown into a legacy of laughter for NU students.

Mocking Waa-Mu’s name, Warshauer named his student-run show, featuring comedy, dance and music, “Mee-Ow” after the school’s feline mascot.

This year’s performance, called “Les Mee-Owserables,” runs through Saturday at McCormick Auditorium.

In 1974, the show included many types of media, including songs, dance, skits, satire and even an attempt at laser holography.

However, by its third show, Mee-Ow had evolved into its present, comedy-centered form, said Rick Kotrba, a member of the original cast who lives in the Chicago area.

The two original cast members said they initially had hoped to attract some Waa-Mu members, but a negative ad in The Daily alienated Waa-Mu members and marked the beginning of a rivalry between the two groups.

“We never tried to nurture the adversarial atmosphere,” Warshauer said. “But we knew it was inevitable. I think some people were jealous that it was a free-form show.”

Although the directors had to cut some acts, Warshauer said that the debut Mee-Ow Show “tried to give everybody a shot.”

“Everybody felt that they got their two cents,” he said.

Warshauer said Mee-Ow appealed to students who might not get involved in traditional productions.

“These were off-beat, talented people,” he said. “They were irreverent, clever, satiric and creative.”

But Kotrba said, “They were not always the best-looking kids.”

“I don’t know,” Warshauer countered. “We had some pretty people.”

Despite long hours of preparation, the first show was beset with difficulties.

“It was ghastly long and it was pretentious,” Warshauer said.

Because Norris University Center was new in 1974, Mee-Ow had to pay to wire lighting in McCormick for its debut, an expense that put the group $1,700 over its budget.

The debut’s title, “Just in Time,” referred both to its time-traveling theme and the feeling that the group just barely put the show together, Kotrba said.

“Some of the professors thought it was the blind leading the blind,” Warshauer said. “But we pulled it off.”

“We did?” Kotrba said.

Warshauer said that the real legacy of the show was not the show itself, but the group of people involved.

“The process of bringing all the people together far outweighed the schmaltzy production we ended up with,” Warshauer said.

Some past members of Mee-Ow have gone on to prominent careers in comedy, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, former “Seinfeld” co-star, Brad Hall, a former “Saturday Night Live” regular and Gary Kroeger, former host of the “Newlywed Game.”

Kotrba worked in comedy for five years after graduating from NU while Warshauer took up writing and directing for theater.

The two have seen a handful of shows since leaving NU, most recently in 1999, when they celebrated Mee-Ow’s 25th anniversary.

Warshauer said he is “delighted” with Mee-Ow’s evolution into improv and sketch comedy.

“Sketch comedy is what really appeals to college-age kids,” he said. “They don’t want that Waa-Mu stuff – that’s for old people.”

The pair said they are looking forward to seeing Saturday’s Mee-Ow performance, although they said deserved preferential treatment as the show’s creators.

“People really should call us and say they can fly us up at their expense,” Warshauer joked. “First class, of course.”