A good comedy has to have just the right touch.
Which brings us to "Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody."
Six months ago, there was no "Spank." There was, however, a huge buzz about "Fifty Shades of Grey," the popular erotic novel by British author E.L. James that tells of a handsome young business magnate and a college graduate who explore the boundaries of dominance and submission.
Of course, once something becomes topical, someone has to step forward and poke fun at it. Like so many great comedies, "Spank" began with the simple premise of "Wouldn't it be funny if ..."
"One of the blessings of the 'Spank' project is that it came about just at the right time," said writer Jim Millan, whose resume includes "Kids in the Hall," "Larry King Standing Up" and "Mythbusters Live."
"In August it didn't exist. Then, after Labor Day, everybody was sitting in my backyard in Toronto and we started reading ideas for sketches and jokes. By mid-September, we had a script that people were very excited about. In October, we were on stage and audiences were loving it, producers were flying in from all over the place to look at it. And that was all in five weeks. It was a whirlwind."
Now the whirling winds have brought "Spank" to Pittsburgh, where it opened Thursday night at the Byham Theater, Downtown, for a three-show engagement. You can catch it tonight or Saturday at 8 p.m.
Speaking over the phone from Detroit -- where he already is working on his next production -- Mr. Millan makes a point of spreading credit for "Spank" to others who had a hand in it.
"We're blessed to be working with people who are among the best in their fields, all of whom just happened to be available," Mr. Millan said. "There are some real professional people involved, so once we outline the way it's done and give it a proper development period, we keep building on the best ideas and taking away the ones that aren't as strong. I would say it's been fortuitous. The right people, the right subject matter, the right approach. And it's struck the funny bone of the audiences. From the beginning, we were playing 800, 900 seats.
"'Spank' is a top-to-bottom hilarious show that has sparkling performances and is consistently being received by audiences with standing ovations. And it doesn't get any better than that."
While the book it targets is fairly edgy -- Mr. Millan described "Fifty Shades of Grey" as "an overheated Harlequin romance" -- "Spank" doesn't push the risque envelope too far. Besides, he said, the American public has been watching sitcoms about sex for generations.
"Initially, the response to 'Spank' was from a lot of women who read the book," said Mr. Millan. "Now, husbands know about it and they're enjoying it, too. You don't have to have read the book to appreciate the parody. It's a date show."
Audiences aren't offended by it, he said, because they pretty much know what to expect when they buy a ticket to a show called "Spank."
"People choose material they're interested in," he said. "People who like this book or people who like live comedy. There's no nudity, but certainly there's adult jokes."
Mr. Millan also makes the point that he and the team are "not ridiculing the book."
"We're a parody," he said. "Just like the author, we like the idea of celebrating fantasy. We embrace that adventure, but then we pursue a departure point to have a lot of fun. We're not commenting on what this says about society or women. We're saying there's a lot of comedy, a lot of fun to be had in the battle between the sexes."
The Pittsburgh cast features Anne Scheffler in the role of E.B. Janet, the writer of the story; Danielle Trzcinski, who plays the naive Tasha Woode; and Patrick Whalen as Hugh, the hunk of a heartthrob.
"He is handsome and he can dance," Mr. Millan said of Mr. Whalen. "And when he comes out, the women scream like they're girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Women love him.
"After the show, the cast comes out and mingles and meets with the audience. And it's unbelievable how many of the women want to take a picture with him and ask to be tied up in it."
Ah, the Cultural District.
"We didn't come to Pittsburgh to teach anybody anything," Mr. Millan said. "It's just laughs and, boy, are we going to have a good time."
Tickets are $35.50 and $45.50 and may be purchased at the Box Office at Theater Square, online at www.TrustArts.org, or by calling (412) 456-6666.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/