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Goethe Institut – Gallery
Wednesday, July 17, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 20, 7:15 p.m. Friday, July 26, 9:15 p.m.
They say: “Rape. Depression. Women talking about their vaginas. Smellin’ up the Den has none of that… it’s actually good. Smellin’ Up the Den is a hilarious in-your-face sketch comedy show, like Saturday Night Live… but with the f-word.”
Ian’s Take: Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Jesus and Hitler walk into a Führerbunker. Jesus says to Hitler…well, I’ll stop there, as that would be spoiling one of the better sketches from Red Knight Productions’ Smellin’ Up the Den, which does indeed include a bit with Jesus playing unlikely suicide counselor to history’s greatest monster. While we’re on the subject of German empire-building, how do you think Charlie Brown might have reacted if Snoopy had died on one of those WWI missions he was always going off to complete? And speaking of oppression, what if a fear-mongering world-dominating dictator was really only taking over to reduce unemployment and increase teacher compensation?
The sketches in Scott Courlander and David Juliano‘s show, adapted from a similar one they put on for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, generally follow a consistent pattern: take the everyday or the historically/culturally/linguistically familiar, introduce a twist, and take things to their logical—-if ludicrous—-conclusion. The result is a series of jokes with “What if” setups: What if Juliet woke up before Romeo killed himself and they both realized how overdramatic they were being? What if a doctor had more creative ways of testing reflexes than a rubber hammer? What if a cop carried out an interrogation acting like a muppet? What if a family misunderstood all the usual euphemisms a doctor might use to tell them their loved one is dead to mean the opposite? Think the simplistic absurdity of Monty Python sketches like the Ministry of Silly Walks—-but with an emphasis on language over physical comedy.
As with any sketch comedy collection, some jokes are funnier than others, but this crew manages a pretty solid percentage. And with two dozen sections, including a handful of prerecorded bits peppered throughout, less successful bits never have time to outstay their welcome. A couple of these are so short that it takes longer to reset the stage than it does to perform the sketch. Setup, punchline, lights out. They’re like three-panel comic strips brought to life.
Courlander directs the briskly paced proceedings, as well as appearing onstage with a cast of five uniformly gifted cohorts. I’m not sure how long this particular group has been performing together, but they’ve got the familiarity and timing of a troupe that’s spent long hours learning to play off one another.
Just as important as their comic skills, they’re just a likable bunch—-an important quality given their tendency for provocation in some of the pieces. When they find a good joke, they keep hammering at it, pushing it to its breaking point. Then they just go ahead and break it, and then tag the whole thing with an attempt to be overtly offensive—-if you thought you were getting out of the Hitler sketch without a Holocaust joke, or the Jefferson bit without touching on sex with slaves, you’re mistaken. Red Knight may just have a comic rule of threes of their own, and it works pretty well: Kill the horse, then beat it, and then fuck it.
See it if: Television commercials tend to test your attention span. Who concentrates on one thing for thirty whole seconds, anyway?
Skip it if: You’re easily offended. Or less-than-easily offended. Also, if you ever get offended.