Now That's What I Call Rogue Elephant
nytheatre.com review by Steven Slate
August 3, 2007
How would an infomercial salesman bargain with his daughter's kidnappers? What if a Depression Era father couldn't provide porn for his family? What would a greatest hits collection of music made on home recording software sound like? The sketch group Rogue Elephant answers all these questions and many more in their current show Now That's What I Call Rogue Elephant.
What I like about this show is that it's good old-fashioned sketch comedy done right: they take simple premises and blow them out from every angle, providing non-stop laughter. It's a refreshing alternative to the bitter political rants and "crazy characters" that are often passed off as sketch comedy on television these days. This is an hour-long performance packed with seven standard sketches, three video pieces, and two tightly choreographed musical numbers—and each scene is filled out with strong characters that can only be done justice with the type of over-the-top intensity these players bring to the stage. With the variety of work in this show it's almost like these guys are giving a tutorial in creating classic sketch comedy.
From the very start of the show I was drawn in by a scene about the kidnapping of Ron Popeil's daughter. This video piece directed by Nate Smith smartly shows how the inventor of the "set it and forget" rotisserie oven (played by Eddie Dunn) would bargain with kidnappers. Dunn's performance and Smith's direction quickly establish a level of quality that the rest of the show never fails to live up to. With this piece on their reel I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing Rogue's sketches on television in the near future.
The show goes on to provide a wide variety of material, from "You're Gonna Wanna," a hilarious father-to-son monologue performed with deadpan intensity by Smith, to a few two-person scenes featuring various players. Gavin Speiller and Jim Santangeli show us how duo comedy is done right in "Shut Up" as a pair of arguing kidnappers, they also manage to pull off truly entertaining slapstick physical comedy in this piece. And Dunn's portrayal of a classic slimeball friend is the perfect comic foil to Santangeli's pathetic broken-hearted loser in "The Answering Machine." Santangelli channels this character more than once in the show and it's satisfying every time.
But I think this ensemble really shines brightest in their group scenes. One such example is "Government Porn." Smith and Silvija Ozols show us that comedy is supposed to be serious with their dramatic portrayals of a Depression Era couple struggling to provide porn for their son, played by Speiller. All the drama pays off hugely when the whole cast joins in with a well-timed rapid-fire assault of gags that serves the scene well—this moment of madness elicited the biggest response from the audience that night with uncontrolled laughter that carried over well into the next scene. Another group scene, "Use Your Bullhorn," has the same type of intensity with the various players piling on one after another, building to a crescendo of controlled chaos as they assault the audience with bullhorns from every corner of the theatre.
Much respect goes to director Chris Kula for reigning in this group's comic intensity and channeling it in a way that ends up being truly entertaining. Also worth mentioning is the fact that somewhere around the fourth scene the sketches start to loosely tie together, referencing each other with well-timed callbacks, making this a real show rather than a collection of random sketches, something that's hard to come by on television.
All in all, I'd say this show is a success. I was entertained and found myself laughing throughout the whole thing, my mind is apt to wander when I get bored but they never lost my attention for a single moment. To leave your home and go to a theatre for sketch comedy it should be better than what you can see on TV. This show far exceeds most of what I've seen on TV recently. I'd say it's a perfect night out for the comedy fan.