For a comedy revue, Eclectic Full Contact Theatre Company's "History of Comedy" is a pretty good history lesson.
For a history lesson, it's a pretty good comedy revue.
"History of Comedy"★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, through Aug. 27
Running time: About one hour, no intermission
Parking: Street parking, nearby garage
Rating: For late teens and older, contains some adult humor
Part of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's comedy series, the late-night offering traces comedy's origins and examines its fundamentals in the form of a lecture delivered by Andrew J. Pond's self-important Professor Schniklefritz Von Picklebottom, with help from his enthusiastic but slightly dim assistants Bubba Ganoush (Martha Reddick) and Ida Minion (Andy Blaustein).
Conceived and written by Ponds and Michael Woods, this abridged overview uses brief sketches to illustrate principles such as the rule of three: repeating a gag or bit three times is funny, anything more is overkill. There's an explanation of "schadenfreude," which translates from German as pleasure derived through someone else's misfortune, or as the professor explains "better you than me, mister." The show looks at physical comedy, rooted in 16th-century commedia dell'arte, and slapstick, which the trio illustrates by walloping each other with an actual slapping stick.
Over the course of an hour, we learn about black comedy, blue comedy, insult comedy (with a couple of "your mama" jokes thrown in for good measure), wordplay, double-entendre (funny how a bit sounds more scandalous than it is with seemingly innocuous words bleeped out), social and political commentary (there's a reference to a certain presidential candidate) and irony, which Ponds illustrates in part by dissecting Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." Reddick, who's most often on the receiving end of the slapping stick, delivers a sly nod to political correctness and female empowerment. She and Blaustein do a fine job with Lou Costello and Bud Abbott's famous baseball-inspired "Who's on First" sketch re-imagined as a mini tutorial in Spanish. And Ponds and Reddick team up for an amusing explanation of parody inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film, "Dial M for Murder."
In a nod to The Second City and Chicago's contribution to the comedy canon, "History of Comedy" concludes with improvised sketches based on audience suggestions.
Saturday's opening of "History of Comedy" suggested a show with potential, but in want of a bit of polish. The performances felt hesitant and not all the bits ran smoothly, although that should improve as the run continues.
But what this production needs is a more intimate setting, something Metropolis does not provide in its current main stage configuration for "Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash," the Richard Maltby Jr. and Jason Edwards revue opening there Friday.
A show like "History of Comedy" would be better suited to a black box theater or cabaret, not a 350-seat venue with an orchestra pit separating the actors from the audience. For the bits to work, for the jokes to land, this "lecture" needs to be delivered up-close-and-personal.