May 13, 2008

Campaign bursts with pop culture humor

Campaign Supernova, The Second City’s latest improv show, asks an important question: How many democrats does it take to lose an election? A bitingly funny reflection of the Democrats’ weariness as the primary draws to the bitter end, the revue will have many in the audience laughing to the point of tears.

The show consists of about 20 skits and songs written and performed by a cast of six comedians. There’s a good amount of general political and cultural satire, but surprisingly little about the 2008 Democratic primary. On the whole, the six comedians are better performers than writers. Most of the jokes are one-liners that elicit laughs solely because of their cultural cachet; allusions to Lost and other pop-culture touchstones abound. Nevertheless, there is some good writing, and each cast member is very talented.

The apolitical parts of the show, particularly the audience participation segments, provide some of the funniest moments. In one bit, cast member Timothy Mason straddles a chair close to the edge of the stage and begins to counsel someone in the front row as if the audience member were a ten-year-old camper who can’t get along with his peers. Mason perfectly imitates the tone of a smarmy camp counselor, and the advice is perfect. In the performance I saw, a silver-haired man in the front row was instructed that he could fit in better with his peers if he could be a better “dumb ass.” Mason explained that the man could be a more popular ten-year-old by answering every question by responding, “I dunno,” laughing like a moron, and then saying a common word in a suggestive way.

Comedian Laura Gray pulled off another successful audience participation skit about a date in the countryside with a woman from the audience. Gray, wearing a bowler hat and a Charlie Chaplin moustache, mimed the entire skit. She is definitely one of the better comedians in the troupe, and her physical humor is very impressive. Without words or props she managed to convey the entire date, from the car ride and picnic to the fateful proposal of marriage.

Racial and cultural stereotypes are an extremely common theme. One skit involves a couple who recently moved from Oklahoma to Chicago talking to a real estate agent about buying a house in the city. The agent advises them against settling in Bucktown unless they want to snort heroin, against Andersonville and Boys Town because both are “gay,” and—speaking in Ebonics—against the South Side. Another skit makes fun of the success of recent British period movies such as Pride and Prejudice and Becoming Jane by creating a drawing room scene and having comedian Tom Flanigan call everything “gay.” That was the punchline to every joke—it wasn’t that we were laughing at Victorian Britain so much as letting out the inner sophomore in us that still manages to laugh at that word. The stereotype theme culminates in a duet called, “I hate it when stereotypes are reinforced,” a compendium of racial and political stereotypes that could only be excused by the ironic refrain.

Three skits addressed, if obliquely, the political wranglings of the past year. In one, cast members leave a political party and go to another, or they inevitably find that they don’t belong to any party at all. This skit was a good opportunity to satirize both sides of the political spectrum. The message seems to be that the two-party system seems to be letting the United States down. The tone of the skits was a pervasive weariness that was funny but at the same time disconcerting. The show ends with an exhortation: “Let’s get unstuck.” But after all the jokes about changing from one absurd standpoint to another it is hard to tell whether the plea is ironic or earnest.