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They say: A raucous collection of the best sketches from Brick Penguin’s four-year history of tough love comedy. Brick Penguin Tries Its Best is often irreverent, occasionally intelligent, and always a little dark… or a lot. We regret nothing!
Val’s Take: Although sketch is the comedic format that most often shines in popular television shows, it’s perhaps less prevalent in D.C. than the live improv, storytelling and stand-up scenes. Still, five-piece troupe Brick Penguin has performed in many of those same dive bars and hole-in-the-wall performance spaces and has gained enough of a following over its four years to pack The Fridge, which is possibly the most difficult to find venue on Fringe’s roster. (Look for the itty bitty sign abetting the mural in the alley behind Cafe Belga).
All five Brick Penguins are veteran comics, and three of them — John Calcerano, Amy Vance and Murph McHugh — have worked together in this troupe for its entire four-year run. For their inaugural Fringe appearance, they have resurrected their favorite 19 sketches from previous shows and compiled them into a supposedly-90-minute, actually 105-minute best-of performance/hard-hitting introduction to the uninitiated.
The sketch that they promoted at the preview, a television ad for “UnitarianMingle.com” features the sort of lighthearted tree-hugger skewering that would be right at home on Portlandia. Seriously, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein should be embarrassed that they didn’t think of that first. Similarly, the show’s opening sketch wherein they give personalities to each of the five metro lines is another winner. Yes, of course the Red Line is the jaded “back-in-my-day” curmudgeon carrying crutches.
Just don’t expect that brand of humor for the entire show. They go into decidedly darker territory, regularly offering wry commentary on broken familial relations. Their spoofs on The Twilight Zone and modern network sitcoms that touch on this topic are biting, unexpected and brilliant. No one goes into a comedy show expecting that a sketch centering around the death of a child would be one of the show’s biggest laugh-out-loud winners, and that alone shows the skill of the performers. The other obvious crowd favorite was a wonderful kill-your-idols moment involving a famed Dr. Seuss character that demonstrated no cow was too sacred for slaughtering.
It didn’t always work. The sketch wherein Vance and Natalie Sayth play two yoga instructors on an Oxygen network show was a little bit too inside-baseball and those who don’t have at least a working knowledge on both topics will be more confused than amused. Also, while lowbrow humor can still be effective, it’s not the troupe’s strong point. There’s a wartime sketch near the finale where sexual innuendo and bathroom humor come together nicely, but…let’s just say, there’s a character that pops up in a sketch named “Harry Mucus” and the eye-rolling moments will begin well before his arrival.
Obvious groaners aside, the majority of the show is at least “nod vigorously at the acknowledged truths” funny even when it’s not “fall out of your seat” funny. They were looking for laughs and they got them. The entire performance is a solid high-energy introduction that will likely gain some new fans. That said, don’t let the free candy provided by the Fridge fool you, this is not the sort of show to which you should bring your kids.
See it if: You’d forgotten how much you enjoyed the shows put on by your university’s sketch troupe.
Skip it if: You’re offended by everything.