The Hollow Men
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 30, 2005
Here's the bottom line on The Hollow Men: they're darned funny.
Almost every sketch in their show, now at the Village Theatre, lands squarely and wittily. Some of their stuff—like one involving a trio of chanting Gregorian monks—hits you out of nowhere and brings about great big belly laughs. Other bits--such as a recurring piece about a Very Bad Standup Comic whose tagline is a consistently mistimed "I knoooow!!"—are more off-kilter and/or surreal (the Comic is haunted by visions of a long ago schoolteacher/coach in an old-fashioned one-piece but surprisingly skimpy bathing suit). Still others—like a pair of sketches parodying Bad Film Noir Dialogue a la Double Indemnity—bristle with clever wordplay.
The Hollow Men are four young men from England (one of whom, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, is director Ken Russell's son). Their names are David Armand, Rupert Russell, Sam Spedding and Nick Tanner; they're Cambridge grads, still in their 20s (their youth and their background betray themselves in the name they selected for themselves, from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land). The press release tells us their comedy is rooted in Monty Python and Kids in the Hall, which is absolutely noticeable; they clearly have an appreciation for the absurd and the surreal. But some of their best stuff feels even more traditional, if you will: the movie sketch I mentioned could have been on the Carol Burnett Show (except that, times having changed, it's somewhat racier than it would have been then), and two of the bits performed (superbly) by David Armand reminded me of the best clownery of Red Skelton. In one of these pieces, Armand does an "interpretive dance" to a current dance music hit (sorry, I'm too much of a codger when it comes to contemporary music to be able to tell you exactly what the song was). Armand's work is hilarious and precise: he's in control of every bone and muscle in his body, and he knows how to play deadpan but deliver silly.
Even better is a sketch in which Armand lip-synchs to, of all things, Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman." The act includes one terrific bit where Armand formalizes something we've always suspected about this one-time top-ten hit—i.e., that it doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense—and then builds from there to a delightful conclusion when the other three Hollow Men turn up and send the skit off into a couple of very funny, very unexpected directions.
The finale is a similarly wry take-off on the title sequence from the old James Bond flick, For Your Eyes Only.
I understand that The Hollow Men had, very briefly, a series on Comedy Central; my perusal of the episode listings suggests that some of what's on stage in their current show was seen on TV, while a good deal more is brand new, at least to us New Yorkers. They deserve a berth on TV, as well as lots of support and fans for their live show. Their comedy is smart, gentle, and never ever vulgar; and, as I said, it's almost always actually really funny. This is just the kind of sketch troupe we need more of.