CSI: Comedy Scene Investigation

-- What's up? -- Manager down at the Empire Theater just called. Claims he just witnessed a comedy sketch being murdered. -- Damn. That's three this week. -- Lot of unfunny people out there. You

— What's up?

— Manager down at the Empire Theater just called. Claims he just witnessed a comedy sketch being murdered.

— Damn. That's three this week.

— Lot of unfunny people out there. You know that.

— So what was booked at the Empire tonight?

— Improv.

— God have mercy.

When will it all end?

· · ·

(Sniff.) You smellin' that?

— Partner, a steel ball could smell that.

— The unmistakable, lingering stench of flop sweat. And lots of it. The musk readings on the olfactometer are near toxic. We're talking SNL stink magnitudes. Better tell uniform to seal the theater 'til we can get the EPA in here.

— Right. Definitely confirms what the manager said, though: Some comedy for sure died here tonight.

— It's rank enough in here it's like the jokes are going belly-up right before my very nose.

— Ba-dump-dump. Hey, did you notice the surveillance camera when we came through the lobby? The tape should tell us exactly when the audience started walking out so we can call the TOD.

— Gotcha. Before we do that, though, let's go over the stage. See what we've got forensically.

— Well, we can start with the lighting design. Nominal lumen levels at best. It's a wonder anybody could see the comedy at all much less see it being butchered.

— And then there's the stage itself. Cramped. Claustrophobic. No room for the performers to function, to maneuver. This scene must've been pretty lifeless from the get-go.

— Meaning it didn't take much to finish it off.

— Not much at all. Maybe even as little as this.

— Is that a seltzer bottle?

— Yeah.

— I thought the seltzer bit got buried with Cousin Shemp.

— Guess not. And get a load of what's in the bottle. Or rather not in it. See any bubbles?

— Now that you mention it, no.

— Meaning it could be flat. Let's bag it and have the lab check for trace amounts of CO2. If this baby was supposed to deliver a big, wet punch line and it didn't have enough gas to spritz, that could definitely be the scene's cause of death. Hey, what've you got there?

— A wig. Brunette. Female cut and style. But check out the inside: The cap is stretched to hell and gone. This went on a big head. Too big for any woman.

— So, you're thinking what? A guy in drag?

— Exactly. Improperly motivated or poorly done, a gimmick like drag might not kill a scene, but it can wound it. Make it vulnerable.

— OK. But if drag didn't deliver the fatal blow here, it must've had an accomplice. Something like ... like ... this?

— Man, that's one gigantic shirt.

— And still damp with sweat.

— That can't be good.

— Let's take it in and run a hormonal analysis on the sweat to determine gender. Then we'll put the shirt under the spectroscope and see whether the shirt fibers are stretched or unstretched. If they're stretched way out and the sweat's a man's, we'll know the wearer was a male, corpulent.

— A fat guy. So?

— The way I see it, a fat guy who leaves a sweat-soaked shirt on stage points to one thing: He went for cheap laughs with some broad physical shtick, like manic dancing or goofy gyrations, anything to get his flab floppin'. Then, for a big finish, he peeled off his shirt, thinking he'd bring down the house by shamelessly baring his generous, jellious belly. Problem is, the audience wasn't amused, they were disgusted, repulsed into silence. Crickets chirp.

— I don't buy it. For one simple reason: You may think a half-naked fat guy gyrating around is cheap, that it's pandering, unfunny, and for all I know maybe you're right, but I guarantee 99.9 percent of audiences still eat it up. No. When this guy threw off his shirt, the scene was still very much alive.

— OK, OK. What's your theory?

— Not enough evidence for one yet. One thing I'm sure of, though, whatever was going on on this stage, it lacked focus. I mean, how do you work a seltzer gag, drag and a dancing lardo all into one coherent sketch? Come on. Obviously, no one was committed to the scene, just everybody fighting for their own moment in the spotlight.

— Fine. Great. The cast wasn't working together. But that doesn't solve our sketchicide. ... What are we missing here? There's got to be ... hold on. Look at that speck on the floor. Is that meringue?

— Frothy. Tacky. Could be. I don't have the confection verification instruments to confirm it, though. Hey, there're more specks there ... and there. Lots.

— If this is meringue, I'd say, judging from the spatter pattern, a pie was thrown and the thrower missed his target. Leaving this sketch dead in the water.

— Wait a sec. Who has a pie ready for an evening of improv? Sounds pretty damn premeditated to me. I think we better have a little talk with the thrower.

— Agree. And for his sake, he sure as hell better have some funny answers for us.

CONTACT BOB WOODIWISS: bwoodiwiss(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here the last issue of each month. His book, Keys to Uncomfortable Living, a collection of humorous and satirical essays, is in bookstores now.

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