Cable cult couple #1

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March 8, 2004 // UPDATED 9:26 am - April 25, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

An out temp and a local chanteuse make music, chaos together

Josh Margolis says that when he mentions "his TV show," or talks about himself as the character "Josh," his dates think he's crazy. While the 30-year-old has been writing, directing and producing his own films for years, he confesses that he often forgets his own lines for "The Josh and Sandi Show," which airs Sundays, 8 p.m., on local cable access Channel 17. Some bar-goers probably thought the same when he tried to persuade them to play "Josh and Sandi's favorite game," Twister, at Grumpy's Bar and Grill, 1111 Washington Ave. S., where the sitcom screened for six weeks last fall.

The show features hopeful artist-roommates "Josh" (Margolis) and "Sandi" (Erin Muir) who host their own talk show -- amid/despite chase scenes, scientific "pee counters" (Josh is subjected to a "pee count" because he frequents the bathroom so often), Twister competitions (Margolis is obsessed with Twister, among other things), "projectile babies" (in the last episode, babies and plasma bombard Sandi) and plenty of jabs at Judaism, Christianity and Dress Barn.

The show is chock-full of local faces and places. Muir, "Sandi," lives near Loring Park and can be heard every weekend at Le Cirque Rouge de Gus, 327 2nd Ave. N., and occasionally at other local venues/Margolis-Muir hangouts, including the various Dunn Bros. Donny West, the show's "Diana Ross," performs regularly as legendary "Lady Patra" at the Brass Rail, 422 Hennepin Ave. S.

Margolis said people often ask if he was stoned when he was writing the script. However, Margolis insists drugs have nothing to do with his show, which he funds entirely through his clerical temp work wages earned in various Downtown and other offices.

"I can't sit down and write something that isn't really meaningful. Does that destine me to obscurity?" Margolis asks.

Costumes come from thrift stores; the makeup: Cover Girl and Maybelline. The dozen or so cast and crew -- who range from 18 to 50 and were selected from over a 100 people who auditioned to play roles almost for free.

Like an afterschool project, they filmed the series on evenings and weekends. Before shoots at various locations (including Downtown and Boom Island), they snacked and played Twister. Everyone had other, "real" jobs.

Despite a meager budget, Margolis inspired a loyal following. He says it's because he fed the crew, but camera operator and Loring Park resident Ron Quigley, 32, credits Margolis with more than that, "When we shot together, it was part therapy and part work. It's kind of infectious . . ."

'Going to hell'

Reviewers have called the show bizarre, neurotic and anti-Semitic (Margolis is Jewish), outlandish and funny. Some actors complained that they didn't want to be part of a production that featured a gay lead ("Josh"/Margolis is gay). Still others find the episodes confusing and amateuristic.

"The acting is terrible. I couldn't watch it," said Christopher Heilman, 22, who saw part of the series at the Grumpy's premiere.

However, when freelance writer and reviewer Owen Romo, 26, stumbled on Margolis' work after channel surfing one bored "fateful" night as he called it, he was moved. "What I love about Josh's comedy is that it's more than just a spoof. He's able to see beyond the spoof to its ridiculous, natural end. I had to write him and congratulate him on such an amazing viewing."

Margolis often receives such fan e-mail. Muir said the show has "a bizarre cult following," and that she's writing an essay about her experiences being recognized and written to as a Public Access TV Star. "Some letters are very nice, some very dangerous . . . apparently I'm going to hell," Muir said.

Margolis' writing is inspired by an heavenly view of TV Land. "Everything I thought was real, I learned from a TV show," he said. His characters are "trapped in a sitcom and are disappointed when things don't turn out the way they wanted them to," said Margolis, motioning with his hands as if shaping a ball of clay in front of him.

When the two characters can't afford to pay the rent (since Josh squandered it on ridiculously pricey collector's items, like a stuffed giraffe), they attempt to raise money via a sham telethon: "A Tchotchke for Every Child." (Tchotchke is Hebrew for knick-knacks.)

"Every day a child goes home tchotchke-less . . . studies show that children who don't have tchotchkes have low self-esteem and an inability to fit in with their tchotchke-owning peers," purrs Margolis. The duo provides entertainment between satirical pitches: in the song "Hold It In" happy-go-lucky Josh and Sandi sing about "problems you must hide, just hold it in . . . "

In another episode, a Jew for Jesus knocks on the door and Josh says, "Beyond my Jesus night light, I'm not really into Jesus." But that doesn't mean he isn't into Jewish/Christian boys; later, there's an onscreen kiss between Josh and the door-to-door Jew for Jesus.

Mocking the actual hostility the show encountered, a following episode features an anti-gay protest. A rioter shackles herself to Josh, but he gets even: he makes her escort him to the bathroom.

'What if you were in my movie?'

Muir/"Sandi" met Margolis five years ago in response to a flyer that read, "What if you were in my movie?" The two met, clicked and soon Muir was cast as the title role in Margolis' "Joanie" movies, featuring the reclusive tchotchke-obsessed Joanie who seeks refuge in a menagerie of worthless souvenirs including Furbies and owl figurines.

Muir has been in 20 independent films altogether and is currently writing a Fringe Festival play, "My Life as a Phone Psychic" in addition to a screenplay about a female DJ. "Sandi" is her eighth role with Margolis' production company, Silogram Productions (Margolis spelled backward).

"'Sandi' is based a little on me, Jennifer Lopez and Laura Ingalls Wilder," said Muir, who describes herself as a spiritual-pseudo-intellectual-conspiracy theorist. "Josh is someone Sandi uses not to pursue her dreams. She kind of abuses him, innocently."

According to Margolis' conception of the character, "Sandi has self-esteem problems. She hangs out with underachievers, people who idolize her. She's afraid to break out. She's an overachiever."

"All of my characters have disorders," he added, "my movies are for people who feel alienated."

Vocalist Donny West, a.k.a. "Lady Patra," plays Diana Ross in "The Josh and Sandi Show." Margolis added the female impersonator in late after West hand-delivered a headshot and resume.

West, who turns 50 this year and works full-time at Fairview Hospital, has mimicked Diana Ross since he was 19. He also writes poetry and wrote a book about his life, "This Is Lady Patra, North Secret of My Song," which many cast members purchased when he brought it to the set.

"Josh can be bizarre, but he's such a sweetheart. He's so funny. He really gave me an opportunity. I hope I did it justice," West said.

West is sure to be featured more in the next season of "The Josh and Sandi Show," which Margolis is currently working on. The ambitious filmmaker is dreaming up more action scenes, more on-location shots (including liberal usage of the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden) and even contemplating bringing the show to a real apartment.

Recently, a Manhattan cable network picked up "The Josh and Sandi Show." And it's just become available for home rental, on DVD, at Cinema Revolution in Uptown, which specializes in obscure DVDs. A Chicago producer even recruited Margolis and Muir for scenes in "Space Daze," a Westbridge Entertainment movie to be released in theaters this summer.

"The Josh and Sandi Show" is currently seeking a publicist.