Harvard has a penchant for producing funny people. Indeed, it is a well-known secret that several campus comedy groups, particularly a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine, tend to funnel members directly to the aspiring comedian’s mecca Saturday Night Live. With such a propensity for supplying the show with writers, it was a mere matter of time before students started practicing for the big time while still in college. Now in its second year, “SKETCH,” which ran from March 26th to March 28th in the Adams Pool Theater, is Harvard’s stab at creating its own live, entirely student-written sketch comedy show. A few lulls in energy notwithstanding, the performance proved to be a consistently amusing affair, bolstered by a unwaveringly committed cast and a number of ingenious skits.
Directed by Karen Chee ’17, “SKETCH” played like an extended episode of Saturday Night Live, consisting of 12 skits and two digital shorts. Unlike SNL, however, instead of developing their content in one frantic, sleepless week, students had a semester to refine pieces and develop characters. Additionally, Chee opted to forego using specific costumes and sets for more stark staging. The cast donned black t-shirts and jeans for the entire performance, the only consistent stage pieces being a few chairs and a black backdrop. Whether a deliberate artistic choice or merely one stemming from the limited Adams space, it was nonetheless effective. Eschewing frills for a more minimalistic setup rendered “SKETCH” similar to an improv event, drawing the audience’s attention to the heart of the show: the dialogue and actors.
While the writing and performances were generally entertaining throughout the show, certain ones truly impressed. Clear standout “At the Opera” chronicled a late audience member’s tireless attempts to maneuver past an unsuspecting couple to reach her seat. Set to “Habanera” from the classic opera “Carmen,” the skit had no dialogue; the comedy thus hinged entirely on the actors’ physical comedy skills. Luckily, the cast delivered: Brooke E. Sweeney ’17 and Sam B. Clark ’15, two of the strongest players comedically, climbed, squirmed, and crawled without any reservations, making them compulsively watchable. And whether playing socially inept, possibly sociopathic roommates or merely sitting on the stage in silence, Mike A. Skerrett ’18 and Adam S. Wong ’17 possessed an ineffable, undeniable comic energy that elevated every scene they were a part of.
“SKETCH” also benefited from added flourishes outside of the live skits. Video shorts “Everyone is Out to Get You,” a 1950’s-style PSA revealing the dangers of ostensibly innocent townspeople, and “Morning,” which examined the morning ritual of a college student from the perspective of his body parts—ears, tongue, stomach, and more—were simple, original, and incredibly funny. Switching to a video format contributed another layer to the comedy, as the quick edits, music, and variety of shots allowed the cast take comedic risks outside of the limitations of the theater. Several running gags, including Sweeney clambering over audience members, recurred throughout the show. Lastly, while transitioning from scene to scene, Chee played songs that often related to the previous skit (i.e., “The Bird is the Word” followed a scene involving a bird-obsessed Snow White). The audience interaction and the perpetuation of jokes even after a skit’s conclusion were clever means of keeping viewers engaged and maximizing laughs.
However, the inclusion of a few underwhelming pieces, either feebly executed or direly low in joke density, prevented SKETCH from being spectacular. Opener “Chill President” involved a presidential candidate flaunting his knowledge—or lack thereof—of modern technological trends, including the perils of “pocket-tweeting” and his familiarity with “Craig’s List.” The cultural faux pas were initially chuckle-inducing, but the skit soon proved to be one mediocre joke inexplicably repeated for three minutes. Additionally, in “3D Printer,” two criminals attempt to construct items necessary for an impending bank robbery. These items were placed directly next to the printer, in full view of the audience. While the blatant reveal of upcoming jokes was bold, the choice quickly drained the skit of any comedic build, forcing the actors to exaggerate their reactions in order to milk some meager laughs.
But really, the success of a sketch comedy show does not depend on consistency; rarely do viewers remember a phenomenal episode of SNL in its entirety. Rather, the seminal sketch program has been so thoroughly ingrained in popular culture because of an unforgettable individual skit or character. “SKETCH” occasionally faltered, but its fantastic moments established it as an irrefutably funny piece of theater. Of late, SNL has been criticized for saddling its cast with weak writing; if “SKETCH” is any indication, in a few years the show should see itself on an upswing.
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