I had wanted to see the Neo-Futurists for some time, but was always too busy/lazy and never got around to asking for tickets. This particular week, though, it just seemed to make sense for no particular reason whatsoever. The Neos would appreciate this reasoning, I think. Also, another show popped up this time on the freelancers’ weekly email from Eric (monsieur Editor-in-Chief at High 5) — an improv night at the National Comedy Theatre — which piqued my interest. I had never heard of the place, but I like comedy about as much as the next guy, so I figured it couldn’t be all that bad. Impulsively, of course, I got tickets to both. It was an odd pairing, to be sure.
I was then asked by monsieur Editor-in-Chief to do a “comedy weekend write-up” of the two shows. Of course, I replied; of course! Great. I didn’t even realize the Neos were doing a comedy show! (They aren’t.) The original title of this article, “Comedy Weekend Write-Up” (summertime laziness on my part) was rather deceptive, however. There are funnier things to do with one’s time than watch a performance from the Neo-Futurists or the National Comedy Theatre. There are surely funnier shows out there to see.
This doesn’t make a whole lot of difference for the Neos, whose experimental piece, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, is not so much a comedy show as it is simply an event. But what an event it is! Cast members usher you to your seat, handing you your very own made-up-name name tag (I was “Voodoo Doll”) and a program, and eagerly welcoming you to the show. They might come back and ask you how you’re doing a bit later on. If the show is sold out, the cast orders pizza for everyone. They have nothing to hide as they attempt their nightly feat of performing 30 (very short) plays in 60 minutes. There are no blackouts in-between plays, mainly because the cast doesn’t know which play is coming next until the audience, whose programs include the titles of all 30 plays, decides on the spot. The process is messy, sloppy, and often quite fun. (Probably even more fun with a slice of pizza.)
The plays themselves are sometimes funny, sometimes charming, and more often than not, quite trippy. For the most part, they’re tolerable. A few moments even walk the line of poignancy. The pieces that work the best, such as “[A Search for] the Funniest Spot on Stage” and “Hokey Pokey in Hell” — which are exactly what they sound like — are focused single gags (“Hokey Pokey in Hell” is funny as hell). As for the rest, try to come in with an open mind; these people will perform most anything. They run through a lot of material, as the show is constantly changing: plays are added and cut weekly. I say try it! High 5 has cheap tickets and chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like this before. A word of warning, however: don’t sit in the first few rows unless you are willing to get wet — and I don’t just mean with water.
That was Friday night.
But now, from the postmodern to the..well, to the National Comedy Theatre, which, regrettably, is not as humorous as its name would suggest. The conceit of the improv show here is that it is A.) family-oriented and B.) competitive. I think I could have enjoyed the show more, despite the former, if the latter hadn’t annoyed me so much. By “competitive,” I mean that the show is run like a sports game: performers are on one of two teams, signified by a softball-type uniform, the host is a man in an umpire’s uniform (if you’re at all familiar with Who’s Line Is It, Anyway?, this guy is the equivalent of Drew Carey), and the teams play improv games for points. The performers exude a campiness bereft of the humor that so often accompanies the form. Their canned shtick simply isn’t charming (or at least I wasn’t terribly amused). It follows that the evening’s funniest moments came from the audience suggestions.
Not that the show was completely terrible; it wasn’t. The pairing was odd, though — Neo-Futurist trippy experimentalism and PG-rated improv — and it left a rather sour aftertaste, I must admit. I’d sooner recommend just seeing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind — you get a name tag and possibly even pizza. And in the end, what could be better?