I’ve got this weird anti-sketch comedy bias in my head, and it’s really got no foundation in any kind of fact. In reality, I kind of dig sketch. I studied it a bit in graduate school (grad school part one, that is), and while I wasn’t great at writing it (I have a hard time with jokes–most of the humor in my plays comes from character and develops over time), I had a really good time watching the process of putting it all together. And I still dig SNL, even if the only time I really watch these days is when Justin Timberlake is on. Seriously. I think he’s kind of the most genius sketch performer of our time, and I said that way before Dick in a Box. But for some reason, when I hear about sketch shows, I kind of cringe. Maybe I expect juvenile humor from folks who are trying too hard. And maybe sometimes you get that. Okay, maybe often you get that.
On Monday of last week though, I went to Maude night at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and even though it was a long, long, long night of sketch, I kind of dug the damn thing. Maude night basically consists of four sketch teams doing 30 minutes of live (and some pre-recorded) material (with some long breaks mixed in there). The reason we were in attendance was the ridiculously funny Christine Nangle, who writes for the group 27 Kidneys, but there was my dilemma–see, The Nang is super funny person (and on her blog), but who knows how that will carry over to sketch? And she was writing, not performing–what if she had incapable actors? It’s a tricky thing, going to see friends’ work for the first time.
But we settled in (I was with Kool K and Joanne, who I don’t have a good nickname for yet), and we watched the first group, and they were pretty damn funny. Good start. And then the moment of truth–27 Kidneys gets ready to start up, and they cover the stage in Obama paraphernalia, and I’m thinking “this could either be awesome, or this could really suck, and then what do I say?” Needless to say, it was pretty awesome, and not in a way I could have possibly imagined; a Hillary Clinton-remix of the opening song from Beauty and the Beast is a hell of a way to kick off your sketch show. And it was the whole damn song.
But we weren’t out of the woods yet–Christine was one of a bunch of writers for the Kidneys, so we couldn’t be sure that when we were laughing, it was actually her who was making us laugh. When the show was over though, she informed us that she had indeed written my favorite sketch, which was about a safe sex educator and involved some kind of cobbler covered in mayonnaise and vienna sausages which was pummeled by the Incredible Hulk (in theaters now). Good, and relieving, times.
None of which is the point of this post, which is becoming a recurring theme–I start out intending to write about something, but it takes 500 words (525, says my word count) to even get to what I’m actually attempting to get to, and those of you who have seen or read Welcome to Arroyo’s (which, by the way, is being published next year in the first critical anthology of hip-hop theater, which means I’m a pioneer of a whole effing genre, and I will soon have the documentation to prove it, thank you very much) are undoubtedly beginning to understand where the character Lelly Santiago comes from, and why she talks about sushi in such a ridiculously roundabout way, and this is also why I am not good at sketch comedy.
The last group of the evening (at Maude night–jeez, stay with me) was called…hmm…I can’t remember. Ah yes–Stone Cold Fox. They happened to be incredibly funny all in all, starting off with a sketch in which John McCain brags about his ability to crash airplanes, and then carrying over into a recurring sketch about the CEO of the Cadbury Egg Company and his inability to grasp the importance of Easter to his company’s bottom line. Really smart, high-quality stuff, and it got some of the best laughs of the night, even from a crowd that had been there for almost three hours at that point.
And now, here’s why I actually wanted to write this post.
So Stone Cold Fox had this one video clip that was a fake ad for, I believe, a “monkey punch-porium.” Basically, this was a place where one could pay their money and punch a monkey. Clip after clip of cute monkey popped on the screen, and a superimposed boxing glove would whack them. And you know what? The monkeys proved to be the only sacred cows (mixed animal metaphor) in the entire show. The audience did not laugh. And this audience was ready to laugh at anything. There was just that kind of silence that you only get when topical humor hits the wrong nerve with your audience, and they’re not exactly offended, but they just don’t want to follow you down that road.
I kind of wanted to yell “TOO SOON!” (as best seen when Gilbert Gottfried joked about 9/11 at Hugh Hefner’s roast right after 9/11, leading Gilbert to tell “The Aristocrats” joke, and indirectly leading to the movie of the same name), but I couldn’t think of any recent monkey punching incident that could be inspiring the reaction.
People just love their monkeys.
And yes, I wrote 931 words just to write that sentence.