What they say it is:
With two performances completely different from each other. Comic Energy’s first performance will begin at 7pm with an array of brand new sketch material to be filmed in front of the live audience. The 2nd performance will begin at 9:30pm in the 500-seat theater and will consist of another 12 original sketches that are sure to bring the house down.
The show is about Philly for PHILLY! And uses local elements to give it a special flair. The series will air on WMCN-44 beginning in late September Friday nights at midnight! Visit http://www.comicenergy.com for tickets and production updates.
It’s really tough to describe what we saw at Comic Energy.
Any regular reader of our blog knows we’re typically pretty positive about the shows we see. I’d like to think that, even if we didn’t completely love a show, we still try to highlight some of the best features. We’re not the kind of reviewers to slam stuff just for the pleasure of being mean—we genuinely love art, and have a deep respect for the vast challenges of live performance and aesthetic expression.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I wish to state that Comic Energy—at least the performance we witnessed—was, without question, the worst live arts event I’ve ever seen since we began keeping this blog—and possibly EVER.. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen Wesley Willis live (not familiar? check the video below!) and I stomached Marilyn Manson’s early-days stage show (included pedophilia rape jokes, among other high points). Comic Energy was worse than both of these. In the interest of contrast, however, Comic Energy was better than the time I had 6 teeth simultaneously removed (not kidding), or the night I had to fly for 5 hours in a non-reclining seat with a headrest smack in my face. Yeah—Comic Energy wins in these situations. Getting the picture yet?
Again, if you mistake me for the kind of person who derives pleasure from doing critical tear-downs, check ANY OTHER PIECE on this blog. I much rather prefer entertainment over torture. I don’t specifically enjoy saying mean things. But this . . . COMIC ENERGY . . .was a next level deployment of Awful.
Honestly, it’s tough to describe the train-wreck of this experience. My suspicion that something was amiss began when we arrived; the venue virtually stank with the ghosts of repetitive, unimaginative wedding receptions. Finding a venue for a stage show can be tough, but this room just felt…wrong. For any kind of art. Think of every single tortured best man speech or Father-Daughter dance you’ve ever been forced to sit through, and you’ve got the image of the room. . . a generic ‘ballroom/meeting-space for rent’ with a bare-bones stage at one side. In what I now see as foreshadowing, of the (guestimate) 200 available seats, perhaps only a quarter were filled. One must wonder why the organizers decided to run 2 separate showings in a single night (it obviously hurt the attendance numbers) . . . my best bet is that they wanted to record two episodes of their prospective television show (God help us all) in a single night’s rental. Maybe they believe you’ve got to aim big to get big. Or maybe they’ve never been to any other Philadelphia independent art event, many of which, it’s regrettable to say, struggle to fill seats—especially when you’re new and unproven. Anyway, who knows—and honestly, who cares. Let’s get down to it.
Comic Energy kicked off, curiously, NOT with the advertised sketch comedy, but instead ‘warmed things up’ with a painfully long singer/guitarist duo. Within the very first moments, I was overwhelmingly glad that none of our friends had decided to come along. Like—that pit-of-your-stomach kind of feeling, “wow…I dodged a bullet here”. I mean, after only the first sketch–even as an audience member, innocent of any contribution to Comic Energy–I felt guilty for even inviting people!
Duets aren’t even a format I really enjoy, but if these two had exceeded dorm-room amateurism, I’d have given them a fair chance. Their set, unfortunately, was even worse than I could have dreamed–not just because the songs were numbingly pedestrian (think every puke-inducing singer/songwriter ballad you’ve ever despised), but also because I spent the majority of the set trying not to notice that the female singer’s crotch was fully exposed to the audience (her skirt was far too short for a seated show on an elevated stage). I mean, there’s some comic gold right there—if they’d been aiming for a warped Basic Instinct reference, or even a Kaufman-esque ‘too real to laugh’ kind of moment, I’d have called it genius. Nope. This was a deadly serious “we’re gonna sing heartfelt songs for 20+ minutes, never noticing that my underwear is right in your face” sort of show. In spite of the show’s title, we weren’t supposed to laugh…yet. And it was all I could do to contain myself.
Next up: the first (intentional) comedy bit of the night featuring a gay-ish ketchup and mustard duo. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking so, I’m not making this up: the entire skit was transparently modeled on the vibe and style of In Living Color’s infamous gay stereotype, Men On Movies.
Enjoy the youtube clip. It’s 1000000000x better than the show we actually saw.
COMIC ENERGY’s attempt to emulate was so stupid and painful to watch . . . I’m giving it TWO SNAPS DOWN. Most of the gags weren’t even ‘jokes’ per se, but simply verbal recitation of outdated, unfunny, trite, tiresome homosexual inflections (I could add more adjectives, but I hope you’re getting the picture). The ‘punch-lines’ stabbed through my guts like a bad batch of pickled cabbage. Keeling over in the 5th row, I experienced genuine, honest-to-God moments during which I wondered if the writing could really be this bad on purpose. So, if they were trying to trick us into thinking they suck—KUDOS (to borrow Tara’s favorite word), the wool was definitely pulled over my eyes.
It gets blurry after this point. You could smell it in the air—this show had the unmistakable scent of a dying, mangled animal. I think there was another sketch, but I ran to the lobby to get a second beer, thinking that if I was buzzed, maybe the outright painfulness of COMIC ENERGY (keep in mind, we were only two acts into the evening) would alleviate to merely water-boarding levels of discomfort. It was not to be. I snuck back into my seat, but Tara’s gaze (“only heaven can save us now”) told me everything I needed to know. I think a rapper was onstage. Yes—a rapper—at a show that had been billed as a night of sketch comedy. No expert on hip-hop, I spent my time during his set imaging the reactions of the elderly white couple in front of us—exactly what were they going to take away from COMIC ENERGY!? Would their façade crack, or would they manage to remain polite and attentive to the end (I could already tell, I would not have the strength myself).
The MC clearly had friends and/or family in the audience–when exactly 10 people are going crazy, while the rest of the room is, er . . . stone silent…it’s not hard to tell. I only mention this to introduce a moment that I’ll call my personal high point of the night. The MC, mid-rap, finding his throat unexpectedly dry, called for a bottle of water, and one of his fans brought it to the stage. It was so obviously, unmistakably prearranged that I could only marvel at the device and wonder WHY IN HELL YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS A NECESSARY PART OF YOUR SET?!?!?! I was choking down laughter, imagining the pre-show discussion: “Hey, I’m gonna say this rap, and when I say, “my throat is dry, how about some water”, you run it up to me on stage. It will help me look like a baller”. OK. NICE TOUCH. I FEEL LIKE YOU ARE A PLAYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I can’t even help it, I’m laughing as I type this. Seriously. Bring me a bottle of water in front of everybody. That’s a good way to get some audience participation. What a pimp.
What’s really interesting is that, even as we neared the end of our precious time for basking in COMIC ENERGY . . .I started to consider the show’s utter sucktitude in a new light. I began to think about how truly rare it is to witness bottom-of-the-barrel, no-contest/no-talent performances. Sure, we’ve all seen stuff that wasn’t our bag—comedians just learning their craft, musicians who only know how to play one style of song, untrained painters who mistake themselves for the next Basquiat—but this was, like, HYPNOTIC. It was so bad, a part of me (genuinely) wanted to stay for the sheer experience. I wanted to see it through in the same way one absorbs Human Centipede—you’d never describe yourself as a fan of shit-eating, but hey, I want to see how it ends!
I’m not kidding. For a solid 3 minutes, I stayed strong, trying to absorb the Suck on another artistic plane. To take it for what it ‘was worth’—the worst art I may have ever seen in my life.
In the end, I wasn’t enough man to absorb the totality of Comic Energy. When Tara gave me the “let’s get the fuck out of here!” signal (terrified eyes paired with wildly gesticulating movements of her arms), my resolve cracked and we fled to the doors. We weren’t alone. The show had been in progress for perhaps 30 minutes, and the floodgates were opening.
As we escaped into the summer night, my laughter—which had been ironically pent up throughout COMIC ENERGY–echoed out into this amazing city of ours.
I was willing to give the venue a try. Above, Clay mentioned that he had reservations upon observation of the space. Myself, I was just happy there was a bar, and I mistook it as a good sign that the early showing of Comic Energy was running a few minutes late–that meant that everyone was loving it, right?
The cheesiness began when we were admitted to our seats. We were promptly directed to a “less than VIP” area. Apparently, the classy seats in the front, regular seats in the back. Huh. Both Clay and I had the same question–if one is taping for a television show, wouldn’t you would want all audience members clumped together (presumably near the front) to amplify any applause or laughter . . . and to increase the energy of the show (COMIC ENERGY?!?) …. so, that was warning bell number one.
The next warning sign was when I spotted a mid-30s gentleman performing random “break-dancing” skills not on the stage, but in the front row of the audience….later, I surmised that this individual was the sound guy as well as an actor in the show. I was impressed by his multi-tasking skills, but couldn’t help recalling the old saying, “a jack of all trades; an expert in none?”
The room and vibe just also “felt wrong”. I know this might sound lame, but our visit to COMIC ENERGY was one of those instances where you look around the room and, though you personally don’t ‘stick out’ per se, you suspect that maybe only the players parents and aunts have shown up to the event . . . a la high school talent show? Even if I ignored this, the stage set remained extremely distracting. The set was much smaller than the actual stage, so I suppose if you were watching on television (think Wayne’s World, or an SNL sketch) it might appear ok in the frame of the TV screen. Unfortunately, in real life, the setup looked really out of place . . . even a bit shabby and poorly scaled for a live audience. The stage’s primary focus was a COMIC ENERGY banner, but there was a lighting rig framing it (again, presumably invisible to a television shot, but not to us) as well as the entire soundboard right on the stage. Embarasingly, there were no stage wings for the actors to observe the action and know when to emerge. Instead, they’d simply put a curtain over a backstage area, leaving the performers to peer out and see if it was time for their performance.
Okay. Moving on to the material itself. To summarize the experience, COMIC ENERGY was incredibly uncomfortable, stereotyped, racist, sexist, anti-semetic and most importantly, an entirely UNCLASSY, UNWITTY, UNFUNNY “performance”. For comparison, I don’t mind Borat. His comic personality exposes and highlights our prejudices through intelligent irony and humor. Sasha Cohen is NOT a bigoted idiot– he uses comedy to elevate our awareness and expose how we deal with uncomfortable situations. COMIC ENERGY is the complete and total opposite of this example.
One of the COMIC ENERGY sketches featured office workers standing around the old water cooler, making what (I assume they thought were) jokes. Some examples for your entertainment “that girl in the office is a slut” or, “the jewish guy in the office is cheap is lame and uncreative”. Here’s the kicker: when dropping these bombs, Comic Energy’s cast added NO EFFECTIVE communication about American culture or society AT ALL. This absurd failure of a skit was just highly offensive and in the worst taste.
Clay and i did have a moment where we truly believed that NO one could be this horrible. Perhaps, we wondered to ourselves, this is an elaborate and wonderful joke–a mockumentary, or some kind of alternate-reality Christopher Guest film? The only alternative is too horrible to be contemplated . . . Please PLEASE PLEASE do NOT let these people believe that they are making art, or even comedy!
For another example, you can NOT rip off a 1990’s In Living Color skit (the skit with two gay men sporting small hats with fabulous hand gestures)- but replace the characters with two gay men and “an italian dude from south Philly” . . . and then make the WHOLE skit (very very very poorly written) about hyper-stereotyped stereotypically homophobic italian man ‘eating a hot dog’”…….COME ON- REALLY, REALLY?! (Yes, now I’m ripping off Seth Meyers)
First, Philadelphia has a vibrant and amazing GLBT community, and FYI, the In Living Color sketch was great and culture changing BECAUSE IT WAS HAPPENING IN 1990 !!! ILC came before major TV culture breakthroughs such as Will and Grace, the Ellen show, The L Word, and countless other game-changing culture shows. On the other hand . . . HELLO – it is really not funny to pick on the LGBT community unless you are saying something new. Instead, you trot out some tired Judy Garland-loving flamer references…. you suck, haters. Their dialogue was sooo woefully poor and unimaginative that any sixth grader could have done better. Shame, shame shame on you, Comic Energy.
I am going to just skip the music, which was awful. The only highlight was seeing how many panty flashes the singer was going to give us before the end of her set.
So, loyal blog fans . . . we left. If it’s not clear, we really did not think that this show was an amazing, elaborate, or even ironic, event. But, as lovers of art, we hope it was, and that we simply didn’t get the joke. If that happened to be the case, I would feel much less dirty.
Here’s a link to a 2010 review of another Comic Energy show, found on Google.
Makes us feel a little better about our review.