On Friday night I attended a Kids in the Hall show at the Orpheum in Los Angeles. If you like comedy about hateful babies and super-drunk superheroes, I recommend checking out the Kids on their North American tour, which still has stops in Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland among other places.
I love sketch comedy. I love the characters, the absurdity, the simplicity and the speed. If I have a friend and he’s in a sketch comedy show, I’m there. Even if the first five sketches are so-so, I want to see the sixth one that works. Then I want to tell people about it. Then I want to quote it for the rest of my life. I am hardwired to let people know about hateful babies. These are urges I cannot deny.
On the surface, people love sketch comedy because it is fun. Beneath the surface – and I think this is why some fans are fanatical about it – sketch comedy provides people with common cultural shorthand. If you love The Kids in the Hall and you meet someone else who loves The Kids in the Hall, you both know something about each other’s tastes and worldview. There are so many music groups and movies and television shows that it is hard to share common interests with people. There are only about ten great sketch comedy ensembles. If you’re a Monty Python freak and your date is a Monty Python freak, there is an excellent chance you will soon be doing silly walks together.
Men need this common cultural shorthand more than women. Women naturally are great communicators. They communicate verbally and nonverbally. They say things with their eyes. They purposefully leave things unsaid. They insinuate. They hint. They nudge. They even nudge things unsaid.
Men have two ways of communicating:
Men – real men, anyway – say what they mean.
Ben: Steve, I need your shovel.
There is nothing insinuated or nudged unsaid here. That’s just straightforward talk.
When men are not saying what they mean, they are trying to impress and entertain each other with wit and intelligence. Any conversation between two guys who don’t need shovels from each other will most likely evolve into some kind of comedy-quoting marathon.
Ben: “You’re going to want that cowbell on the track.”
Steve: “I’ve got to have more cowbell, baby.”
Ben: “I have a fever and the only prescription … is more cowbell.”
This exchange inherently communicates the following things between any two men:
– You and I share much in common and our similar taste and background means we need not fight each other to the death
– I am enjoying this playful competition to see who can outwit each other, a competition that will replace us having to fight each other to the death
– I like you, but not in the way that will make us feel icky and force us to battle each other to the death
My buddy BA and I have had hours-long conversations consisting of nothing more than quoting The Simpsons seasons 1-11. (I’m not acknowledging the later Godfather III years.) The bottom line: BA and I have never tried to fight each other to the death.
For the record, because I don’t want to get all Sean Kearney here, I know that women watch sketch comedy, too, but rarely will you ever see two women at a party quoting The State sketches for 30 minutes straight. If you do, please let me know where this magical party is where all of my fantasies are coming true.
Before last Friday night’s show, I had never seen 2,000 people gathered in one place for sketch comedy. Before I get into the highlights of the Kids show, I want to put something out there. For every geeky 15-year-old kid who is home on Friday nights watching Mr. Show and Chappelle’s Show DVDs over and over, let me tell you about your future. Ten years from now your favorite sketch comedy group is going to reunite and go on tour and play a show in your town. You will attend with your very attractive girlfriend. I saw your future last Friday night at the Orpheum. You’re going to be fine.
Now back to the show. The Kids in the Hall excel at making the absurd normal. In one scene Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald fight over an imaginary girlfriend and in the end they are forced to “let her decide.” In another scene the gay character Buddy Cole (Scott Thompson) makes a rather convincing case that Jesus was gay saying, “He wanders with twelve other men drinking wine and washing each other’s feet. I went to a party like this.” In the final scene, the Head Crusher (Mark McKinney) makes an appearance, crushing each cast member’s head with his fingers as penance for his post-Kids career choices. The unkindest cut of all occurs when Dave Foley is lined up between thumb and pointer finger and the Head Crusher says, “Celebrity Poker.” Then Foley is crushed and dies.
If I meet someone at a party and he tries to crush my head, I know not to strike him down with my awesome blazing fists. We’re just communicating. Sketch comedy is one of the two universal languages spoken by guys everywhere. The other one is Caddyshack.
(To hear Mike, Sean, Carlos, Ed Galvez and me talk about this column on The Second Column podcast on iTunes, click here.)