The Fool Squad: Fast Friends, Faster Comics

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Lynn Robert Berg is tearing up the stage here as a treacherous king in Shakespeare's "King Richard III," but he's sharing the bill, unwittingly or not, with two court jesters who aren't even part of the production.

They're "The Fool Squad."

For more than 20 years, Tom Willmorth and Joe Golden have been the warm-up act for the Festival.

We met them on a warm August afternoon during Tech Week, when the Shakespeare Festival tech crew was busy installing a marvel of a set that hints at an urban high-rise for a critically-acclaimed re-imagining of "King Richard III."

With the sound of powertools buzzing in the background like amped-up bees, the pair sat back for a no-holds-barred chat about their rightful place in the Boise arts scene.

How the two met is a story in itself.

"We were auditioning for "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," says Golden, "and they cast us in the two un-funniest roles. The director even said, 'I don't want you to be funny.'"

Talk about casting against type, although the director didn't know it at the time.

The two became fast friends, "joined at the funny bone," according to Willmorth.

Golden says the Fool Squad's origin was a happy accident, a very spur-of-the-moment thing during the Festival's production of "Tartuffe."

The one-off performance was such a hit, the guys were asked back the next season for three shows.

And because the summer program can be so varied, the Fools have no shortage of material they can draw from for sketches that make up their so-called "Green Show."

"We try to tap into the mood of the show," says Golden. "If it's an Agatha Christie, we'll do a murder mystery kind of thing."

Golden glances in the direction of the set under construction, sparkling in the sun like an enormous Erector set.

"We were just looking at the set a moment ago," he says. "It has this iron grate in the floor, so we might do a Marilyn Monroe/"Seven Year Itch."

"I might hike up my dress," laughs Willmorth, as he mimes Monroe's dress famously billowing over a subway grate in the iconic movie.

Twenty years on, the Fools are a fixture in Boise, like the Basque Block or the Capitol dome.

Their act is a little Monty Python and a lot of ad-lib.

Golden sums it up without prompting: "We've heard Smothers Brothers in plastic helmets."

Ah, the helmets.

While appearing authentic, they have seen better days. They're entirely plastic and look it on closer inspection.

But in the gifted hands of the Fools, they're more than just props.

Joe mimics Darth Vader attaching his breathing apparatus from the movie: "Shmonk! I am your comedy partner, Luke."

Tom immediately pulls his hand into his sleeve, and adopts the wounded look of Luke Skywalker who has just lost his hand in pitched battle with the Sith Lord.

"Nooooooooooo," he cries. You can't help but crack up at the absurdity.

Their fame grew slowly, but now fans of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival show up extra early in the hope of joining the two clowns on stage.

"They have to be involved, " says Golden. "Sometimes too involved. They're handing food to us, their drinks. Actors from out of town show up and say to us, 'This is bizarre. This audience is out of control.'"

But only someone from outside Idaho would find this strange ritual the least bit odd.

In fact, the two men now market themselves as party favors, true rent-a-clowns who can lighten the mood of any event, including corporate retreats.

Willmorth sees the obvious upside.

"How many cities, metropolitan areas," he says, "have a Fool Squad, actual people who can be satirists to make a city laugh at itself and get paid for it?"

Not many, I'll reckon. And Boise is better for it. Although you can't say the same for Shakespeare.

Somewhere Lynn Robert Berg is gnashing his teeth, and not in a good way.