PROVO — In everyone’s music collection there is an album or two labeled “greatest hits” or “best of.” These compilations are a great way for casual fans of a band to obtain their favorite music without spending much money. Thinking along these lines, Laughing Matters, UVU’s resident sketch comedy troupe, has created a compilation of some of their material for their last performance of 2012. But rather than a “Best of Laughing Matters,” they have put together a Worse of show. It sounds like a bad idea on the surface, but it’s what should be expected from a group whose Twitter account says, “We’re a group of humans (college students) who create collaborate hilarium (comedy shows, and web videos) for other humans (people who watch our crap).” In reality, the evening consisted of reuses of some of the group’s previous successful material, with some new skits thrown in.
As the title of the review states, Laughing Matters’s Worst of show is uneven. Some of the skits are hilarious (e.g., the Christmas business trip, Mr. Losenfeld, and the pregnancy). Others are a little lackluster. Rather than give a play-by-play account of the evening, I have decided to give a general reaction to the performance.
What worked in the performance
- The performers have a genuine camaraderie that is infectious. The four men (Greg Larsen, Robbie X. Pierce, Eric Phillips, and Jack Kyle Oram) seem to be real friends and this friendliness is easily transmitted to the audience. Even though nobody from the audience was brought on stage, I felt like I was part of the show.
- Every sketch had parts that made me laugh out loud, even the sketches that I didn’t like as a whole. The Laughing Matters cast is gifted at cramming just one more joke into a premise without making its whole structure collapse. I’m impressed with this because I stopped watching Saturday Night Live years ago because the majority of the skits on that show can barely make me chuckle. For me, Laughing Matters gave me far more laughs per skit than SNL.
- The whole evening felt like the actors were experimenting. Rather than a spic-and-span polished evening, Laughing Matters had a show that felt like the performers were piloting new ideas and premises. I don’t mean this as an insult. Rather, it felt like anything could happen and that I would find out at the same time as the actors whether their ideas were going to fly or fail. That’s a truly exciting experience and much riskier than some “experimental” theatre that is produced in Utah.
What could be improved
- The evening started almost 15 minutes late and then ran for too long. Other sketch comedy and improv groups have performances that usually hit 60-75 minutes. Worst of ran for 95 minutes. Some of the skits could shortened a little bit (“Provo Girls,” “Labyrinth,” and “Staying in the Bubble”) or eliminated completely (the second and third iterations of the wedding band skit).
- Laughing Matters needs to find its own identity. Northern Utah is crowded with sketch comedy and improv groups. Utah County alone has Divine Comedy, Improv Friends, Thrillionaires, and ComedySportz (plus BYUtv’s new Studio C television program). Salt Lake County has And . . . Go!, Laughing Stock Improv, and many more. In such a crowded comedy scene, Laughing Matters needs to establish its own brand and let audience members know how they’re different from the many other nearby groups. If they don’t, then their efforts to build up a devoted fan base will severely hindered.
- Finally, be careful with the jokes about BYU. Yes, there’s a lot to poke fun about in the culture and foibles of the state’s largest private university. But Laughing Matters has a cast of Utah Valley University students. Loading up the evening with jokes about the BYU Honor Code and the caricatures of BYU students reinforces the unfair and inaccurate stereotype that UVU students are all bitter BYU rejects. It also makes the cast members look petty and small. I think that Laughing Matters should keep some of the best jokes about BYU in future shows, but also be very vigilant about the other messages that their comedy may send to their audience.
Overall, the Laughing Matters Worst of show was an enjoyable evening. Audience members looking to laugh won’t be disappointed. The large number of skits also means that even the few disappointing sketches are relatively brief and that something funnier would soon start. Although there’s room for improvement (a fact that’s true about most theatrical performances), the other great work coming out of UVU’s Theatre Department makes me optimistic about this group’s future.