FUCT As Seen On TV
nytheatre.com review by Melle Powers
June 12, 2008
Is this what the MTV show Jackass has wrought? If an onslaught of full frontal male nudity, the live insertion of anal plugs, and gobs and gobs of saliva are the necessary components for your idea of a great night of sketch comedy—have I got a show for you. If not, you may want to steer clear of this one.
Upon entering the Cherry Lane Theatre to see FUCT As Seen on TV (part of the "Cherry Pit Late Nite" series), I was greeted by a joyous party atmosphere. The excellent "Rusty Trombone and the Pancake Breakfast" ensemble was playing. The charming and attractive cast was onstage exhorting audience members to enjoy the music, drink the free beer, and get ready for 90 minutes of edgy sketch comedy. It felt very much like a hip underground party on a college campus (which is how this group got their start) mixed with a night at the coolest frat house.
But then, things turned dark—very dark, and our attention was directed to a giant wheel sitting on stage. For the low price of $5, audience members could spin "The Wheel of Torture", and exact the corresponding atrocity on a cast member of their choice. "Highlights" of the ensuing 20 minutes included a guy getting beaten with a bamboo cane to the back of his legs; another cast member getting tasered at the back of his neck; and yet another actor being pelted at pretty close range by a paintball gun ("with a compression rate of 350ft/sec" the MC gleefully informed us). The cast members really didn't seem to mind at all, and the audience members (many of them apparently relatives of the inflicted) stepped up to perform these tasks with much the same cheer that they might devote to giving a hug. But I was worried for both the actors and the audience, as the audience member who was allowed to wield the paintball gun had downed a few beers and her hands weren't the steadiest.
Thus the tone was set for all that was to come.
In the opening sketch, a Twilight Zone homage, our winsome Rod Serling stand-in warned the audience that what we were about to see would offend us and maybe even turn us gay. And for the next 70 minutes the cast worked their hardest to live up to that promise, performing a variety of sketches that were uneven in content and vision, but dogged in their eagerness to be gross. Structure-wise, a "television" related theme was very pointedly set up: a commercial parody starring the very funny Sarah Bell and centering around one of her bodily fluids (which unfortunately is very similar to a recent Saturday Night Live short); a game show involving a different bodily fluid—during which several audience members were (I suspect) so grossed out that they left the theater; a spot-on '50s sit-com that started strong but wilted at the end when the characters had nowhere to grow. But other sketches didn't adhere to the theme at all and no attempt was made to integrate them smoothly (a sketch involving a prisoner getting pelted with paintballs comes to mind).
The challenge this cast faces is to make their material as smart as they are brave. The actors are all charismatic, talented, and extremely fearless—especially with their bodies. They've found a specific niche in the comedy minefield that they seem to really love and be excited about—"Theater of Self-inflicted Cruelty"—and an element of their audience that is willing to beat them senseless. They are clearly having a great time and work well as an ensemble. But after the initial thrill has worn off, the constant violence and gratuitous nudity (even a puppet inexplicably had a protruding penis that was never commented on) fails to thrill and belies their talent. It is shocking to see an actor get tasered (pun intended), or to watch two men insert plugs into their anuses right in front of you—but to what end? (No pun intended.)
In fact, the three strongest segments had few spoken words and relied on plain, old-fashioned good acting: the eminently watchable Ian Sinclair Lassiter as a caveman flummoxed by a Twinkie; a low-tech chase scene with flashlights featuring the rubber-faced charmer, Graham Skipper; and a hilarious long-lost twin reunion starring Junio Marrero, an actor with such a sweet stage presence that I was very sorry he didn't have more to do in this show. Maybe he will in their next show—and hopefully, he'll keep the bodily fluids to a minimum or, at least, to himself.