“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” - Erma Bombeck
“And that’s what my contention is: that satire is tragedy plus time” - Lenny Bruce
Tim Tyler is a life-long Browns fan, and his antennae are uniquely tuned to the tragicomic horrors of following Cleveland's pro football team. Following this year’s sold-out premiere of his play, “DawgPounded”, Tyler was mostly concerned with whether rumors concerning Danny Shelton’s knee injury were true. After I assured him that they were not, Tyler breathed a sigh of relief common to all Browns fans dodging another improbable bullet that could have made their experience even worse. If you’re reading this site, you can undoubtedly relate.
This is Tyler’s second year writing and directing the show, which was so successful in 2014 that it’s being brought back for twice the number of performances this year, featuring much of the same cast, but with brand-new material created specifically for 2015. The play is at the intimate Kennedy Theatre through August 8th and then moves to the Hofbrauhaus from August 15th through September 26th.
Focusing on the week-by-week experiences of Paul (Tom Hill) and Otto (Greg Mandryk) as they suffer through the Browns’ soul-crushing 2014 season, the play comedically examines the Browns history, with flashbacks to their last championship in 1964, The Drive, Art Modell’s betrayal of fans in 1995, and the horrific expansion era since 1999.
Few episodes of the long-litany of fan disappointments are spared from skewering, including those of a more recent vintage: New sections of the play include mockery of Ray Farmer’s texting and, in one of the show’s highlights, the inevitable disappointment in 2014’s quarterback savior, Johnny Manziel.
While reliving those painful shared experiences through song and comedy, the play stays true to the ever-optimistic heart of Browns fans, finding hope in “next year” (Browns fans love of the NFL Draft is referenced several times) and their unique ability to have some level of faith in their team despite all available evidence.
“We like to think of our show as a therapy session for diehard fans,” relates Hill, “Browns fans seems to have an unbeatable optimistic (masochistic) streak that gives us that ‘wait til next year’ sense. So I think the fans who see it will continue to believe in ‘next year’”.
DawgPounded delivers on its promise though Paul and Otto’s often-hilarious reactions to the twists and turns of the 2014 season, with both actors serving as able representatives of the audience’s own feelings.
It is 1987. Fresh off our honeymoon, my wife and I join a group of life-long friends and Browns fans to watch the Browns take on the Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
As the Browns go up by a touchdown with little time left on the clock, the Broncos mishandle the ensuing kick-off and are stuck having to drive 98 yards in what is undoubtedly a futile attempt to tie the score. Shots are poured, “we’re going to the Super Bowl!” rings through the air.
Then, the inevitable.
It is 2015. Twenty-eight years later, the DawgPounded cast reacts as an ensemble to each play in “The Drive”, their reactions closely matching those of my friends and I from our shared trip getting dragged up and down the stairs by John Elway. Eerily matching, in fact. It’s in capturing accurately the emotions of Browns fans that DawgPounded has its strongest appeal, explaining why so many viewers from last year’s edition have returned for a second viewing.
Looking back through the haze of nearly thirty years, enough time has passed to be able to laugh at ourselves in the shared experience.
The essence of being a Browns fan.
Even semi-fictional plot arcs need a nemesis to bring the action to life, and DawgPounded finds its villain in “Pittsburgh Pete” (Don Jones) who arrives at inopportune moments throughout the play to torment our heroes with constant references to the Steelers’ success. The crowd often responds to Pete’s appearance with raucous booing.
In perhaps the play’s most controversial bit of dramatic license, “Pittsburgh Pete” is portrayed as a modern Homo Sapiens, albeit one speaking with Pittsburgh’s painful colloquial debasements to the English language, rather than the banana-smashing Cro-Magnon man that all Browns know Steelers fans to be.
“Actually Don Jones, the actor who plays Pittsburgh Pete, is a diehard Browns fan who makes the drive from Canton to Cleveland to be in the show,” explains Hill. “Sadly, he had to get a lobotomy to bring his IQ down to the proper level to be a Steelers fan”.
The dramatic challenge of showing Pittsburgh fans without resorting to a deep-dive down the evolutionary ladder aside, the play is accessible to viewers of all stripes, although being a long-suffering Browns fan certainly helps. Incidents like “Red Right 88” are referenced, but never fully explained, a testament to the sheer bulk of material the Browns have handed Tyler over the years.
The cathartic value of DawgPounded is, of course, in its reliving of the Browns recent history but, more importantly, our reaction to those events. By turns optimistic, cynical, preternaturally angry and decidedly self-effacing, our experience as Browns fans has (assuming you’re still along for the ride) made us a unique fan base among NFL fans.
It’s impossible to imagine the Seattle Seahawks or Kansas City Chiefs putting together a successful play featuring mostly their reaction to losses, team theft, and other bits of excruciating news. DawgPounded is something uniquely Cleveland. It simply couldn’t exist in any other environment and is well worth your attendance if you have the opportunity.
Browns fans are, if nothing else, singular in their devotion and ability to withstand misery. And that deserves to be celebrated.
DawgPounded is at Kennedy’s Theatre through August 8th and then moves (appropriately) to the Hofbrauhaus from August 15th through September 26th. The show has been consistently selling out, so we recommend that Browns fans get their tickets early.