Since theater is meant to stimulate questions, here are a few inspired by "The Performers," a new comedy about the porn industry.

Who on the chart of humanoids are these people? Why are we supposed to care about them? Does anybody really think they are funny? Finally, what in the world are they doing on Broadway? (Or, if they belong there, what does that say about us?)

There must be a way to say this without sounding prim. "The Performers," which finds a game but miscast Henry Winkler and a sweet Alicia Silverstone in Vegas at the Adult Film Awards, is not shocking because of the nonstop use of playground dirty words or because of its unblinking attitude toward its tired subject matter.

It is shocking because it is so idiotic. This is the Broadway debut for playwright David West Read and director Evan Cabnet, a team whose sensitive and provocative "The Dream of the Burning Boy" introduced them at the tiny but fertile Roundabout Underground. Such devolution is also shocking.

Described in press material as a romantic comedy, this is a more explicit update on what, in the unlamented heyday of the dinner circuit, was called a sex farce. Earlier than that, this was burlesque. Even as a 10-minute burlesque skit, however, the material in this 90-minute embarrassment would seem skimpy.

Besides the alleged thrill of hearing semifamous people talk raunch, "Performers" has a slick production smarter than its mentality. It has Broadway's most endearing and intelligent hunk, Cheyenne Jackson, as Mandrew, the idealistically ambitious porn star who, not incidentally, spends almost of the first third of the evening in a loincloth.

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Mandrew is married to Peeps, a similarly committed co-worker whose idea of jealousy is when he kisses another woman and when her colleague (Jenni Barber) gets humongous fake breasts without telling her. Ari Graynor plays Peeps with such heartfelt, sublime vulgarity that we can only wish her better.

On the weekend of the awards, Mandrew's high school buddy (poor Daniel Breaker) arrives to write a feature on him -- "Porn Star Makes It Big" -- for a New York tabloid. The journalist brings his high school sweetheart, now his fiancee (Silverstone). Soon the innocents will wonder if they are missing something.

Winkler -- rumpled lifetimes away from The Fonz -- plays aging superstar Chuck Wood. If you can picture that, you don't need me.

WHAT "The Performers"

WHERE Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.

@Newsday

INFO $34.50-$137; 212-239-6200, theperformersonbroadway.com

BOTTOM LINE Shocking for the wrong reasons