Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blood, Comedy and Broadmnded

Oe of Milwaukee's Best Sketch Comedy groups tackles one of the most overworked sources of comic material

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Sketch comedy group Broadminded continues to show a penchant for bright, crisply witty comedy with its latest outing Blood Is Thicker Than Liquor. The group that has, in the past, covered some pretty interesting ground looks for novel comedy in one of the most common sources of material in all of comedy: family. An hack stand-up can get a few laughs making fun of their family. Improv groups can always find an easy laugh by playing on people’s preconceptions about family . . . and, of course, a vast majority of sitcoms dating back to the golden age of radio have been family-based. In this respect, it’s one hell of a gutsy maneuver to cobble together a series of sketches around something as over-explored as family.

In the process of chasing comedy in one of the more common sources of material, much of what appears in Blood Is Thicker Than Liquor doesn’t exactly constitute the group’s best work. That being said, there’s more than enough truly clever pieces here to make it worth a trip out to the Alchemist to see the show.

The show opens with one of the weaker bits—a family feud game show bit involving an alcoholic white trash mother up against a couple so extremely responsible that they haven’t had kids yet. The juxtaposition has some depth to it, but the depth isn’t rendered here. We get only the most obvious jokes. A more traditionally layered Broadminded sketch would’ve found a way to explore the contrast in a more sophisticated way.

Sketches like the family feud bit are rather precisely counterbalanced by some particularly clever bits. There’s a pair of sketches involving a couple who have gone to a fertility doctor to try to get help conceiving. The contrast of a pragmatic, understated guy (played by Melissa Kingston) is contrsted against a wife given to emotionally amplified hyperbole (played by Stacy Babl.) The obsession with all the tiny little artifacts of fertility rendered in the sketch was strikingly sharp. The couple returns later to discuss the results of modern genetic testing for a comically detailed look into the child’s future.

The preoccupation for the offbeat that has worked to Broadminded’s advantage so many times before is present only in certain traces. One of the best sketches of the sow involves Anne Graff La Disa as a Bella Lugosi-style grandpa vampire trying to relate to Meghan McGee and Stacy Babl as a couple of teen vamps from contemporary Twilight/True Blood grandkid vamps. Very clever stuff. And while sketches about boy and girl at the end of the world and a girl bringing home her alien boyfriend to her parents feel distinctly like a couple of memorable, old SNL skits, Broadminded has its own voice that works quite well.

The biting intellectual end of Broadminded’s comedy may be a bit difficult to come by in Blood Is Thicker Than Liquor, but the depth and quirkiness is still there—peering out of the sketches at odd angles. Playing a mother, Melissa Kingston introduces herself as Sharon “Like Pluto’s moon with an ‘s.’ ” Later on, she’s playing half of an old Vaudeville sister comedy act. The two characters are forced to always be “on,” There’s real dramatic tension when she has to tell her sister she has cancer. The depth on that one comes out of nowhere and vanishes just as quickly . . . moments like that are the hallmark of Broadminded’s best stuff. It’s nice to see some of it in their latest show.

Broadminded’s Blood Is Thicker Than Liquor runs through June 26th at the Alchemist Theatre. 

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