Throat Culture impresses with physical comedy

By CHRISTIAN HELGESON | February 28, 2019

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Courtesy of Benjamin Strauss

It’s strange to go to a comedy show and come out having discovered a new fear: the fear that the person sitting next to you is actually a part of the performance. I grappled with this fear for the first time when a surprisingly friendly Russian-accented fellow tapped me on the shoulder, asked if he could sit next to me, politely asked me how I was doing and asked me whether I had ever been to a Throat Culture show before. I’m a paranoid person, so I asked him whether he would stand up and become part of the performance and whether I would have to participate. He laughed. “Don’t worry about it, “ he said, as the lights dimmed and I realized my life and my sense of pride could very well be in his hands. 

Luckily, I escaped unscathed (I think) from their performance on Saturday, Feb. 23 in the Arellano Theater. It was a breezy run-through of multiple student-written sketches, starring regular Throat Culture performers, newcomer Shannon Gavin and a member who looked conspicuously like a younger version of John Oliver (Michael Feder). 

The comparison is definitely apt for the first sketch, where Feder hosts an “academic” Decathlon where all the questions concern the embarrassing life details of Katie (Rachel Underweiser), the Camel Hill team captain. Feder in particular holds the whole skit together, with his head and body whipping wildly across his podium as his character’s ecstatic excitement at revealing the team captain’s life secrets grows. The other performers’ deadpan perfectly complement Feder’s mania. Amid the chaos, they not only remain unfazed by the host’s questions, but also chide their team captain for not taking the time to prepare for the competition, especially since all the questions are about her. 

Underweiser also stars in another highly physical performance later in the show, where she plays a Southern secretary who insists on writing the phone number of a client (Emma Shannon) with a pen, even if she has to make one out of her “humble, yet nutritious lunch.” The secretary only gets more panicked as the skit continues, with her blend of Southern charm and neuroticism earning huge laughs from the crowd. Even more surprising is how much of this energy is conveyed through her hands, which tap and point at her co-star with perfect timing.

In fact, most of my favorite skits from the show showcased the impressive physical talents of the show’s performers. One of these sketches took on the tone of a fake Forever 21 ad. During this skit, members Ben Straus, Emma Shannon, Feder, Aidan Smith, Underweiser, Skylar Freyman, Carolina Rodriguez Stuebe and Christine Ji, each came out wearing a unique outfit from Forever 21’s new catalogue. These outfits included and a hula hoop earring, a skirt that you have to charge and “a shirt that’s literally a three by two inch piece of fabric.” In another hilarious physical performance, set to the score of Tamara and Diego’s “I’m Never Gonna Dance Again,” where a mother gets mugged, two police chase a criminal with a aluminum foil gun and four aliens melt everyone’s brains. 

A few of the night’s sketches were less successful however. For instance, the act’s closing sketch, about a third-rate magician’s magic camp, was funny but felt like it was retreading ground previously covered by first sketch, especially with elements like Michael Feder as the overbearing, insult-throwing adult in the room and the incredulous concern of one person going against the deadpan normalcy of the whole group. 

After the Forever 21 sketch came a sketch about an app that could predict the future if you talked to it. I saw the guy next to me grinning and sank a little in my seat. Surely, this would be the moment. The developer of the app would ask the guy to stand up and speak, the app would predict (accurately) that the guy was a serial killer, and I’d be, to use a phrase that really doesn’t get enough mileage, “shit out of luck.” However, I tried to focus on the skit and the banter between Smith, Freyman and Gavin. 

Strangely enough, as I watched, I felt comfortable. Though there are benefits to creating comedy that pushes norms and challenges the audience, there is also something about straight, non-confrontational, hang-out comedy that just feels right. Sometimes, certain scenes might not stick out, but you’re still left with the same warm vibe you might feel amongst a gathering of friends nonchalantly goofing off, talking smack and (inevitably) laying an accidental double innuendo on us all. For some reason, it’s a vibe that always bothered me in shows with more resources and larger budgets, like sitcoms and Saturday Night Live, yet one that felt perfect for the intimate Arellano Theater space. 

Nonetheless, I was still terrified that the guy next to me was going to stand up. Turns out, he was not a part of Throat Culture but part of the stand-up comedy club. Go figure. Luckily for me, his actions didn’t reflect his job description.

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