It was more than 14 years ago that writer, filmmaker, and performer Dennis Hensley pitched The MisMatch Game as a fun way to raise some money for the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
He had no idea it would turn out to be such a long-running hit.
Since 2004, the zany game show featuring impersonations of everyone from Barack Obama and Bea Arthur to Pee-Wee Herman has been held two to three times a year and raised more than $150,000 for the Center. Its next run at the Center’s Renberg Theatre is on Saturday, July 28, and Sunday, July 29.
“I can’t believe we’ve gotten away with it for as long as we have because it’s really irreverent,” Hensley says. “I’m thrilled it’s still going strong. I don’t get tired of it and people seem to be excited when it comes time to do it again. People need to laugh right now, it’s a stressful time in the world.”
Among the well-known MisMatch Game alums are Kate Flannery (The Office), Melissa Peterman (Reba, Baby Daddy), Jack Plotnick (Girls Will Be Girls), Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Willam Belli (RuPaul’s Drag Race), among many others.
In the game, contestants chosen from the audience attempt to match celebrities' answers to "fill-in-the-blank" questions which are written down on cards. The performers typically display razor’s-edge improv skills and the result is often racy, anarchic, and politically incorrect.
“The actors really like it because they get a chance to really shine and be funny and kill,” Hensley says. “But it’s not a ton of pressure on them. If an answer bombs, oh well, you keep moving on. It gives them a structure to build their comedy on, but it gives them a lot of freedom as well. It’s great when the panelists interact with each other and develop these ongoing resentments and crazy things like that.”
There have been times when Hensley, as host, has literally had to lie down on the stage because he is laughing so hard. One such time was when Lenk, portraying a craft-obsessed Zoey Deschanel, pulled out a sewing machine to create a pillow—during the show.
“I knew she needed an outlet for something, but I didn’t know she needed a sewing machine,” Hensley remembers. “She literally started making a pillow. It was so inspired. I still laugh thinking about it. I don’t even try to keep my composure. I usually am doubled over or I just lay on the ground and laugh.”
The answers are sometimes so hilarious that audience members will bid on a card and some have sold for more than $100. Any bid of $20 or more entitles the audience member to a prize which are usually free tickets to a local theater show.
“They bring in a nice little chunk each show on top of the ticket sales,” says Hensley who personally writes each question for every show.
The classic TV game show Match Game aired in various incarnations from 1962 to 1991 and was recently revived in prime-time by ABC with Alec Baldwin as host. Hensley points out that his Match Game parody was introduced a full five years before RuPaul’s Drag Race introduced its popular The Snatch Game to viewers which quickly became a highly-anticipated episode by fans.
“It’s the exact same thing so when it became part of Drag Race that was a little bit of an ouch,” Hensley admits. “It’s the one challenge they do every season so it’s become sort of iconic on their show.”
Belli introduced his hilarious characterization of Jessica Simpson at The MisMatch Game then went on to do it on Drag Race. He returns to the Renberg as Simpson for the July 29 show.
“A lot of the things he’s done on Drag Race he’s done on the stage here at the Renberg Theatre,” Hensley says. “It was kind of like he had done the JV squad and had gone on to varsity in television. That was really exciting watch him do that.”
The cast on July 28 will include Julie Brown as Melania Trump, Jackie Clarke as Liz Taylor, Drew Droege as Tanya Roberts, John Hill as Kira from Xanadu, Daran Norris as Julia Child, and Felix Pire as Ricardo Montalbán.
In addition to Belli as Simpson, the July 29 cast will feature Jackie Beat as Bea Arthur, Danny Casillas as Reba Areba, Cher Ferreyra as Jennifer Tilly, Sam Pancake as Charles Nelson Reilly, and Chris Pudlow as Pee-wee Herman.
General admission tickets for MisMatch Game are $15 and may be purchased online at lalgbtcenter.org/theatre or by phone at (323) 860-7300. Net proceeds from all ticket sales will support the full range of free and low-cost programs and services offered by the Center.