nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
June 15, 2007
Telemongol is a sketch comedy show based around the premise that three young aspiring television writer/producers have been given the chance to create a television station geared specifically towards Asian American tastes. The question the show asks is: what exactly does that mean? The sketches that follow are examples of the kind of programming that the station broadcasts—bickering news anchors parodying current events, sitcom parodies, late-night talk show parodies, commercial parodies, movie parodies, etc.
The idea behind Telemongol seems to be to take these staples of sketch comedy, but put in them Asian and Asian American characters, stereotypes, and celebrities. Thus "Dr. Phil" becomes "Dr. Pho," a diminutive, judgmental owner of a nail salon, a condom commercial advertises "Genghis Khan-doms," and a parody of The Surreal Life features Sammo Hung and George Takei battling Bai Ling to the death.
The ensemble of Telemongol is uniformly excellent and hilarious. Greg Watanabe, performing at one time a dead-on George Takei, at another the slimy news-anchor David Oh-Yeah, gives a wonderfully engaging, funny, and varied performance throughout the evening. Charles Kim, as the confused Jake Gyllenhaal half of "Brokeback Gold Mountain," and later as late-night celebrity Kim-Jung Il, is equally nuanced and hilarious.
Yet despite the originality of the premise, and the strength of its ensemble, the actual sketches themselves tend to feel stale. Though perhaps there has never been an Asian or Asian American parody of Brokeback Mountain or Desperate Housewives, other parodies exist in abundance, and as a result of that, those sketches tend to feel recycled, and are carried more by the energy and charm of the performers than by the sketch writing itself. This, coupled with the fact that the majority of sketches in Telemongol are these kinds of pop-culture parodies, makes the show as a whole not as strong as its premise has the potential to be.
The most successful sketch of the evening, however, is one is neither a pop-culture parody, nor anything I had seen before. It's a sketch about an Asian history show that features the grandson of Marco Polo—Larry Polo—approaching the emperor of China with a variety of gifts—all of which the West had taken from China originally (firecrackers, noodles, etc.). The sketch is masterfully constructed, cleverly written, well paced—with excellent character work from all involved—and a payoff that may be the biggest laugh of the evening. Telemongol is worth it if for that sketch alone.
The production values of Telemongol are extremely high. Though there is no set to speak of, Ivy Y. Chou's colorful and sometimes hilarious costumes do a great deal to set the scene for each sketch. Dennis Yen's sound design and music help keep the pace of the evening up, and ease transitions between sketches.
While some of the sketches seem recycled, with the help of an energetic and hilarious ensemble, Telemongol remains an enjoyable and unique sketch show that's worth seeing, even if it's just for a few brilliant sketches.