The Broadminded (sketch) Comedy group took a bit of a hiatus recently, resulting in a comedy show this year which is roughly half the length of the usual show. So this time around...they’ve got guests. Two different guests on two different weeks open the first half of a show for the all-woman comedy group. In honor of this and various other elements of a bicameral theme, the Broads are calling this one Half & Half.
Opening weekend the guests were Chicago’s Accountants of Homeland Security. At roughly two decades of age, the group has been around for long enough to see an era that was slightly less-populated with mainstream mass-market political humor. By contrast it’s very difficult to do original political sketch comedy these days. With politics dominating half a dozen regular late night talk shows and an endlessness of political humor online, it can be very difficult to be terribly original. Much of what the Accountants perform doesn’t feel as sophisticated as on might hope for. That being said, The Accountants manage a few moments that transcend sketch comedy and transcend into something else entirely. At it’s best, it’s amazing. The deeper political satire is funny and disturbing rather than just upsetting. So much of what is going on in the world is upsetting and most political humor satisfies itself with a mix of anger and humor. In their best moments, the Accountants go for kind of a Beckett-like Caryl Churchill sort of a thing. Their best bit started off as kind of a cheap rip off of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man character from Saturday Night Live. The sketch takes a turn for the surreal, rapidly mutating into something deliciously dystopian. Base sketch comedy is somewhat deftly contrasted against something darker and more sinister with an impressively nonchalant poise. The address to the oppressed workers from Donald Trump Junior...Junior was pleasantly disorienting.
Broadminded comes back after intermission with a show that is refreshingly lean on weaker material. A spoof of 50 Ways to Lose Your Lover is pleasantly forgettable and a sketch about mother overhearing her teenage daughter have a conversation on the phone ends predictably. Moments like those are far outnumbered by a much better comedy including an extended sketch where Anne Graff LaDisa plays a person who scarfed in nauseating meticulosity. It doesn’t sound like it could be anything other than annoying, but a character going from business to business asking for very specific particulars on everything she orders has a cleverness about it that Broadminded manages really, really well. Like so much of the rest of this year's show...it doesn't sound like it would be funny, but it is. (very.)
The scarfed character and others have surprising depth for sketch comedy. Typically sketch characters are crude vehicles for punchlines. Broadminded does a really good job of placing these characters in a bigger world. Not all of that world necessary serves the comedy in any direct way, but it broadens the experience. The light comedy of breezy sketch is there with the group, but it really feels like there’s been a lot of thought given to the background of the characters, which gives a Broadminded show that much more than traditional sketch. Stacy Babl’s character in the, "Half Antiques," sketch manages a remarkably precise 50/50 split between comedy and tragedy. So much of the best of the show manages that kind of balance. Melissa Kingston and Megan McGee play opposing sisters running a call-in radio show in a sketch that really has no business trying to be functional comedy, but McGee and Kingston embellish a light premise with more than enough characterization to build the sketch into something solidly entertaining.
One of my personal favorites was a sort of a casually existential bit featuring three generations of women. Kingston plays an older woman considering what little time she has left in light of a recent death in the family. A younger woman and a teenager both consider how little time they have left in light of the recent death. It’s not something that even sounds like comedy out of context, but it’s staggeringly clever sketch. That which doesn’t sound like comedy and that which sounds like comedy becomes...far better comedy in the hands of Broadminded.
Broadminded’s Half & Half returns next week with Milwaukee-based sketch group Quantum Hopscotch. The show has 7:30 p.m. performances on Nov. 10 and 11 at the Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Avenue. For more information, visit Broadminded online.
For more information about The Accountants of Homeland Security, visit them online.