There are a couple of different times I think I’m really hysterical. The first is when I’m re-dubbing the announcer’s voice-over on late-night infomercials for orange-scented depilatories, adding a little MST3K-style kick to the shots of great swaths of hair being removed from Wookiees’ backs; the second is when I’m bored in my car and making fun of billboards about laser hair removal. The good news for all of you is that I don’t keep a notebook of these jokes—the better news is that the cast of Feed the Monkey does.
Feed the Monkey is a sketch-comedy show put on by the Atlas Theatre Ensemble every last Saturday of the month at 11 p.m. at the Onyx Theatre. Maybe it’s the proximity to Saturday Night Live’s time slot, maybe it’s the tried-and-true sketch-comedy format, but the show runs just as you’d expect it to: a quick sketch, some intros to the cast, and then on to a bunch of sketches, some better than others. There’s no bad house band to vamp between sketches, so you’re already one up on SNL.
Of the 13 or so sketches I saw last Saturday (some new for this show, some holdovers), a few were all-out funny, and just about all of them had their moments. The Kidney Stone sketch was not exactly the most surprising sketch in the world—a mix-up between a patient (Drew Yonemori) and a male nurse (Chris Mayse) determined to gather his ... donation ... results in a not-completely-turned-down handjob—but it was one of the funniest things I’ve seen onstage in a long time. The sustained build of the physical humor between Yonemori and Mayse (also the executive producer) gave rise to a lot of hysterics, not to mention other things
Another funny sequence mashed up a satiric take on Moby Dick with the quest of Bindi Irwin (Lori Kay) to avenge herself on the great white manta ray that killed her father, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. It deserves bonus points for its faithfulness to the book, the Gregory Peck movie and Bindi Irwin’s rap career–and for turning Queequeg into a queer dancer from Tonopah. I finally met a candidate I could get behind in the Huxtable/Huxtable ’08 skit, which presents Bill Cosby’s TV-show character, Dr. Cliff Huxtable (JP Raniola), and his wife, Claire (Enoch Augustus Scott), announcing their candidacy for president and vice president, respectively; meanwhile, the infomercial for Freeing Your Inner Whore (hosted by Jillian Pizzuto) nearly got me laid.
While the head writer is listed as Scott Johnson, the cast writes and performs their own material. It was a little hard to tell who was whom, but everyone approached each number with full-on commitment. Even when the writing wasn’t top-notch, the cast’s dedication to the gag was hard to argue with. A sketch about Vegas Babies, which cast local celebs as infants, didn’t have much running for it except for some spot-on impersonations of Penn and Teller (Mayse and Pizzuto, respectively) and Scott’s work as Oscar Goodman. (Okay, it also had a nice crack at Criss Angel—low-hanging fruit or not, making fun of him is still funny.) An out-of-nowhere telenovela spoof starring only Mexican luchador wrestlers was all and only about the wrestling—bad wrestling, to be sure, but anytime a show is taken over for five minutes by comedians wrestling over a Cabbage Patch doll sired by a luchador wrestling priest who is accompanied by his fighting nuns (and let’s face it, when was the last time you saw that?), you’re gonna be laughing.
Not everything is hysterical, though. Some sketches are better than others, and still others leave you wondering just exactly why they were included at all. Toward the end of the night the sketches got a little longer with less of a payoff, and a few older jokes that don’t have the freshness they need were flogged a little too long. Also, too often sketches meandered for a while before ending, and most of them didn’t leave on a high note.
Bottom line is that this is still a troupe trying to find its legs and its material, and every now and then the amateur feeling floats to the top. Still, the material is funny and the cast committed and talented, so this may turn into a not-so-guilty pleasure soon enough.