Review by Jason Wert
There is an inherent danger in sketch comedy shows. Very rarely does a sketch comedy show hit on all cylinders from start to finish because of the variety of different comedic pieces within them. Even when you look at the best of the best of the best…your Monty Python, your Kids in the Hall, your SCTV, your John Belushi era Saturday Night Live…most episodes had hits and misses.
I mean, for every Betty White episode of Saturday Night Live that’s just about perfection from start to finish, there are dozen episodes hosted by folks like late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner or Tom Green or Paris Hilton or Steven Seagal that you likely still can’t remember after I mention the hosts for that week.
I say that so when I say I found the Springvegas Sketch Show to have been inconsistent and uneven overall, it’s not an overwhelming condemnation of the show, but rather saying that the show didn’t quite rise to the high challenge of trying to pull off a show of this nature without having both hits and misses.
The show was promoted as having an 80s theme which carried through strongly in most of the best segments of the night.
The best bit was a dead-on parody of the Golden Girls, by four male cast members in drag a la the best of Monty Python or Kids in the Hall. All four of the cast members played their respective “Girl” with pitch perfect vocal delivery and body language. The four had an obvious comfort level with each other as performers which allowed the dialogue to flow very freely without awkward little pauses that can sometimes come when performers don’t really know the vocal cadences of their castmates.
A very close second was the Walken on Walkman bit, with a near perfect impression of actor Christopher Walken extolled the virtues (or, mostly, the potential deadly dangers) of that 80s staple, the Sony Walkman. You see, the key to a great impression of Walken is not just capturing the timbre of his voice, but the awkward pauses in speech that makes him so unique. The actor playing Walken clearly knew his subject as the awkward pauses were gloriously used to great impact.
One of the more inspired pieces of writing work was the “80s Bush” parody commercial that would make most people push aside their Chia Pets. (Yes, even the Bob Ross ones.) A key to using double entendres in a bit is to not overwhelm the audience with one in almost every single line; the writers of this segment clearly knew where to pick their placement of the jokes. The actors in this segment also had some of the best comedic timing of the night in knowing when to pause an extra beat before delivering one of the stronger punchlines.
Their parody of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, where Pee-Wee is out on the streets and a little psychotic after his arrest for indecent exposure (which took place in 1991, but again, close enough to the 80s to work.) The bit worked because it played on the underlying creepiness of the Pee-Wee Herman character; the dark side anyone who watched that show believed was just under the surface. However, the actor playing Pee-Wee was smart enough not to go too far down that rabbit hole; he knew when to step just over the line and then bring it right back.
The Alf parody segment was inspired work; the “opening credits” sequence that includes the actors pausing their motions mid-action in a classic 80s credit sequence was comedy gold. In case the troupe ever uses the bit again in a performance, I won’t reveal the “twist” ending, but it made my two teenagers howl with laughter. (And a very slight nit-pick…the actress who played the mom was almost a dead ringer for Andrea Elson, the actress who played the daughter in the actual TV show. It made wish they’d flip flopped the actresses’ roles in the sketch.)
There was another bit that was almost in the upper echelon of the segments I’ve mentioned, a TV morning show parody using two “New York” girls that harkened back to the “Coffee Talk with Linda Richmann” bits Mike Myers did on SNL from 1991-94. Yeah, not 80s, but close enough…although ironically it was one throwaway line that was far from the 80s that kind of dampened what could have been a brilliant bit. One of the characters made a “Sex and the City” reference (the show didn’t debut until 1998) and when I heard it, I immediately thought “that’s not 80s.” Just broke that suspension of disbelief enough that it shook me into listening for more non-80s references rather than just roll with their “Bobby” DeNiro banter.
Now, some of the not-so-great parts of the show had different reasons for not really rising to the level of the things I’ve mentioned, although I’m more than willing to say someone else might see them differently than I did.
I was rather disappointed in the comedic news segment, a la The Mystery Hour’s “Unnecessary News” or SNL’s “Weekend Update.” The jokes themselves were fine, but they were current events in a show that was supposed to be 80s themed. It just seemed really out of place, even with their joke that was a nod to the current troubles of a Full House alumnus.
I found myself wanting a parody of 80s newscasts, along with 80s stories with witty comments extracting the humor of our knowing in hindsight how some things turned out. For example, they could have had one of the newscasters talk about how the world seemed to stop for the 1981 wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, and the co-anchor could have made a comment along the lines of “I watched the entire wedding and you could just see it in their eyes. Those two will be in love forever!”
So while it wasn’t necessarily bad, and had an inspired section involving corn dogs that will keep me from eating them for a least the next, well, lifetime, I just kept thinking they missed a golden opportunity.
Another bit that didn’t work was a segment that you never would have guessed was inspired by the 1985 John Hughes classic “Weird Science” where a woman was supposed be cloning a man. If they hadn’t played the Oingo Boingo song “Weird Science” after the segment closed I would never have seen the alleged 80s connection; in the movie they create a woman from a doll and clippings of magazines fed into a computer, not from a DNA clone of one the characters.
The segment was also clearly had a political message in its undertone, which stood out like a sore thumb in a show that was otherwise refreshingly void of political messages. The segment itself wasn’t that funny overall, and when the political message started becoming obvious in the main female character’s lines, it made the segment feel even more forced into the show. It may not have been the intent of the writers of the segment, but it felt like a “we have to lecture you on how horrible a part of the 80s was” moment.
And the Care Bears in the Breakfast Club parody just felt kind of awkward. You knew what they were doing a parody of both in the characters and the setting; it just didn’t seem to elevate beyond the basic parody in the same way as the Golden Girls or Alf parodies. I wish I could point to one thing that held it back from the next level it aspired to reach, but there wasn’t any one thing that stuck out as holding it back.
There were a number of other segments that drew a smile or chuckle but didn’t really stand out as much as the ones I mentioned thus far. The best of those bits was one of a recurring “MTV” inspired segment where two David Bowies jumped out from behind a curtain…the 70s era Ziggy Stardust and the 1986 Bowie character from Labyrinth. The two characters then competed to be “the real Bowie.” (I’ll admit the segment had me waiting for someone to pop out in 1983-ish era Bowie attire of a suit with an un-tied bow tie around his neck a la the Serious Moonlight tour.)
The bottom line? Like I stated at the beginning, the show fell victim to the overall curse of the sketch comedy show: it’s almost impossible to hit a home run with every segment and the odds of multiple swings and misses are high. Still, when the show was on a high, it was very high, and the Golden Girls & Walken segments were some of the most inspired sketch work I’ve seen in Springfield. I know my viewing companions enjoyed themselves as did most of the audience around me, so for the $10 ticket cost I don’t think you’ll walk away unsatisfied from the work of the Springvegas Sketch Show.
(Their next show, scheduled for the last Friday in April, will have a “Superheroes and Villains” theme. For more information on the Springvegas Sketch Show, visit their Facebook page.)