Though there had been due warning, it was still a surprise to see that an a capella group had taken the Mandel foyer hostage. Luckily, this reporter managed to slip through between renditions of Alicia Keys and Florence & The Machine. I snagged a seat at the Boris’ Kitchen show last Friday while keeping my a cappella exposure to a minimum.
It was a full house for the “Old Shit Show.” There was a surprising amount of aging adults—perhaps they’d taken the event’s name literally. At ten after eight, the sketch comedy troupe filed into Mandel G03, conga-style, to “Africa” by Toto.
The show featured three newcomers, Elizabeth Hilliard ’22, Ysabel Munoz ’21, & Peirce Robinson ’22, and brought new life to old sketches from the comedy group’s almost two decades of existence. “I’m so glad that I got the chance to direct old shit,” said Claudia Davis ’19, the show’s director. The event rehashed old ideas but with such gonzo energy and commitment (even to sketches that didn’t quite work) that by the end even I was won over.
Things started out with Perry Letourneau ’20’s chain-smoking mother, who was fed up with the fact that her son was marrying his imaginary friend. “It isn’t worth the celia,” she said, giving up her objections. The sketch was stiff, but the character funny and memorable.
The scenario of elementary school kids engaging in an eighteenth-century style duel was an example of a sketch that, on the surface, isn’t super funny to begin with, but because the players totally went for it, functioned above its own merits. The idea—I think—is a play on how far kids go when they play—adopting faux British accents, challenging one another to a duel, that naturally, within seconds, that becomes a grisly snowball fight replete with ghastly war wounds and a tailored rendition of something like a Wilfred Owen war poem—“What have we wrought?” It was dumb but delivered with such conviction that it became fun.
My first favorite, though, involved two children—the aptly-named Child #1 and Child #2—who really wanted to go upstairs to play. Their efforts were thwarted, however, when Letourneau’s “Stairmaster” (not to be confused with the exercise equipment of the same name) appeared. The Stairmaster twirled his cloak and exuded this creepy, captivating energy that made the sketch memorable. It was hilarious, too, how the children—Davis and Alan Omori ’20—kept suggesting “Bush Did 9/11” to each other as a possible answer to the Stairmaster’s quite complex trivia challenges.
There were a few odd one-offs: like the one in which a couple (Hilliard and Dane Leoniak ’20) sit at a table in silence for a few moments, and then, after Hilliard goes into the other room, Leoniak takes a bite of salsa and spits it out. “This salsa tastes like ass!” he exclaimed, jumping on the table. “End scene!” Hilliard said. It was super weird, and I don’t really understand it, but it got me to laugh, so it was successful.
In another weird one, BK got us to stand up *twice* in order to herald the raising, and lowering, of the projector screen, as the troupe sat there and praised its blank majesty. And then there was the meta-existential sketch.
As someone with a weird, broken sense of humor, I especially appreciated the commitment to the levels in this one: what starts out as a lame two-guys-walk-into-a-bar joke aborts into the performers openly questioning the validity of their jokes and second-guessing whether or not the audience thinks any of this could possibly be funny. “This is funny!” Leoniak, as “Dane” the sketch writer, assured us. As the performers criticized their own performance and escalated the scene, I heard one of my favorite lines of the night: “Brandeis hasn’t seen quality improv in like 60 years!” which got plenty of laughs and groans apiece.
My late favorite sketch, that lagged a little but was still funny, had three sports jersey-clad people (the three BK newbies: Hilliard, Munoz, and Robinson) repeatedly singing “We’re the jocks at Brandeis!” As other characters struggled to figure out just what sport they did—Soccer? Swimming? Racquetball?—the jocks remained both bro-ey and Brandeisian, chest-bumping as they said, “I respect you too man!” They exited to the exclamation: “Let’s go respect some women!”
The Old Shit Show worked because it committed to its weirdness and kept things moving quickly. There wasn’t really time to get bored or mad at a sketch because the selected repurposed sketches were prudently short. I look forward to seeing what the troupe will do with fresh material—Brandeis desperately needs some lightening up. Keep it weird, BK.