Saturday, June 28, 2008

Review- Gentleman's Hour

I do not like sketch comedy and improv, but last Sunday I unexpectedly found myself at The Alchemist with an hour to kill just as the Gentleman's Hour was about to start one of their bi-weekly shows. I'd heard good things about this sketch and improv group and even though my expectations for sketch and improv are generally set deeply into the negative, I've been meaning to check these guys out.

I wasn't convinced to radically change my mind on the genre, but I did find myself genuninely laughing with some frequency. More than I expected.

The show starts with a series of sketches interspersed with video, breaks for intermission and comes back for a second half of long form improv. As with other shows following this format, the improv is better than the sketch, and the video is mostly tedious. These actors are good at what they do, the writing packs in jokes, and the group occasionally defies deadly conventions enough to be interesting to someone who despises pop-culture reference, cliche and all other sketch comedy tripe.

Gentleman's Hour does sketch comedy and improv well, but does not overcome the (in my view) fatal flaws of the form. These are all things that make me bored, but they also make most sketch and improv audiences roll in the isles somehow. So, taken as suggestions, the things i need changed about sketch comedy would probably sink any sketch comedy group, as i make up a much smaller demographic than sketch comedy audiences, so i should be ignored. But i'll enumerate my needs anyway.

1. The skits fail to inform, challenge, or critically engage with the audience on anything even vaguely approaching a relevant issue or concern (what happened to meaty satire, folks?).
2. There is a lack of the unexpected or strange. Most of the jokes are predictable and unfunny.
3. The improv is not genuinely spontaneous or original. Actors pull stereo-types and ready-made characters, facial expressions, voices, and plot twists from their personal bag of tricks.
4. Irony is applied in a way that i hate. Bad jokes are made with a sigh, rolled eyes, or abrupt pauses to indicate that the joker knows how lame the joke is, which supposedly magically turns the un-funny into the funny. I am completely immune to this magic for some reason and see this technique as a cop-out, laziness on the part of the writer and or lack of talent on the part of the actor. People are funniest when they are dead serious and fully committed to their actions, no matter how absurd or stupid.
5. pop culture references. I don't watch enough TV to get most of them, and when i do get the reference i cannot understand why repeating the stuff of Hollywood or TV land is supposed to be humorous.

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