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Our critic says, unlike the carefully crafted shock humor of Monty Python or SNL from which this sketch comedy work takes inspiration, the jokes in this production seem unpolished and a bit flat, like free-associations of comedy cliches.
By phillip andrew bennett low
August 7, 2013

Photo courtesy of Fringe Fest

PROFESSIONAL ETHICS DICTATE I mention that there was a solid chunk of audience to my right chuckling appreciatively throughout Sacajawea and the Average Joes, and in this dark and uncertain world I begrudge no one their sources of what happiness they can find.

But I don't think I laughed once. E.B. White wrote "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." I don't disagree, but part of my job here is not just to react to entertainment but to explore exactly why I'm reacting the way I am.

So, let's grab a scalpel and look at some comic theory.

What leaps out at me is that none of these feel like complete sketches. "What if a boxer fought a velociraptor?" is a premise, not a joke -- it's a setup, not a punchline. Doing some dialogue from Pulp Fiction in a Mickey Mouse voice is good for an initial chuckle, but then I'm just sitting there waiting for you to finish and get to the next bit. Even the Saturday Night Live formula (of which I am admittedly not a great fan) has more structure to it: there's usually a sense of escalation to the joke, repetition with a slight twist each time. (My objection to the SNL formula is that it's repetitive to the point of driving its own jokes into the ground: these sketches, at least, were short.)

The end result was that I felt as though I were watching people free-associating comedy clichés. I don't find pure randomness to be terribly amusing, and most of what people think of as random humor -- everything from the Marx Brothers to Monty Python to Archer -- is, in truth, carefully constructed, context-driven shock comedy. This show, on the other hand, was actually random.

(And that said, it reaches its absolute nadir when it takes a swing at satire. Its target? Book-banning in public schools and oog argh the scales have fallen from our eyes.)

Sacajawea and the Average Joes does end on an upbeat note, with a full-cast spontaneous dance number that actually shone with some cleverness. But I'm afraid that the show had already burnt through my goodwill by the time that rolled around.

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Event links and information:

Sacajawea and the Average Joes by T.F.L. Theatre Company is on stage at the Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis on Saturday (8/3), Sunday (8/4), Wednesday (8/7), Friday (8/9) and Saturday (8/10) of the Fringe Festival. For additional information and specific showtimes: http://www.fringefestival.org/2013/show/?id=2583

Check back on the homepage regularly throughout the Fringe Festival, August 1 - 11, for more short reviews on mnartists.org, sent in from our intrepid performance critics on the scene.

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About the author: phillip andrew bennett low is a Chinese-American playwright and poet, storyteller and mime, theatre critic and libertarian activist. His performances have won acclaim at such varied venues as the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, Spirit in the House, FoolFest, CONvergence, and the Chicago, DC, Indianapolis, Iowa, and Kansas City Fringe Festivals -- even as far as Melbourne, Australia. At the 2007 Minnesota Fringe, his hit one-man showDescendant of Dragons was the bestselling show in its venue and awarded a coveted Fringe Encore slot, while his storytelling performances have been nominated for awards by local website FringeFamous for three years running. He is the co-founder of theRockstar Storytellers (for which he served as Chair for the two years that position existed) and was founder and producer of the touring theatre troupe Maximum Verbosity.

He can be seen at this year's Minnesota Fringe Festival in his own show The Concept of Anxiety. Also at the Festival, he has written Launcelot and Guenever for Six Elements Theatre, written and directed a sketch for Fringe Orphans 2: Orphan Harder by Navel Gaze Productions, and will be performing in The Diamond Lens by Hardcover Theater.

MN Artists