L.A.’s legendary comedy troupe, the Groundlings, debuted its latest offering, Live Nude Groundlings, this past weekend, and I had the opportunity to check it out on Saturday night. Preceded by dinner on the patio at Johnny Rockets, it made for a great evening on Melrose Avenue.
Founded in 1974, the Groundlings is a comedy theater and school famous for launching the careers of such celebrated alumni as Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Kristen Wiig, and Will Ferrell.
Judging by their list of credits, the members of this year’s troupe are already becoming names to be reckoned with in the industry, and there was certainly some solid talent on display Saturday.
Under the direction of Damon Jones, Live Nude Groundlings features six members of the current company: Scott Beehner, Mikey Day, David Hoffman, Annie Sertich, Alex Staggs, and Michaela Watkins. Day and Watkins are clearly the main creative forces behind this new show, as they wrote and appear in the lion’s share of the sketches. Nothing is sacred here: reality television, couples therapy—even Star Wars. There’s no actual nudity here, of course, but it’s not for children.
Shows of this type are always hit-or-miss, and while some of the sketches fell flat, many of them were hilarious.
In “Partay,” Watkins plays a dimwitted, self-centered teenager who’s been permitted to plan her own Sweet 16 party by her wealthy, absentee parents. The suggestions from the caterer (Staggs) are greeted with a terse “Tha end,” and her own ideas, encouraged by her equally vapid pal (Day), are both ridiculous and impossible to execute. It’s a pretty funny skewering of shows like My Super Sweet 16.
Beehner plays a get-rich-quick guru in “Talkin’ Bout Money,” delivering a rapid-fire monologue that makes absolutely no sense, which is pretty much what those guys on TV do. In “Cheesy,” Sertich is a desperate actress trying out for a cheese commercial who, when asked to relate a mildly amusing story about herself before delivering the product’s tag line, “Have you laughed today?”, horrifies the casting directors (Staggs and Hoffman) with hair-raising stories from her life. Staggs is funny as the smarmy host of a kiddie beauty pageant who, when confronted with the sudden illness of all the contestants, must demonstrate (and describe) all the choreography himself as he sings “Little Miss Lady.”
Day gets big laughs in “Career Placement,” in which, as a seventh-grade student, he receives the results of his career aptitude test and finds out what the future holds in store for him. His standout performance, though, is in “You Decide,” a sketch set in one of those interactive theaters at an amusement park, in which two audience members must choose the outcome of key events. It’s one of the funniest sketches of the evening.
Also hilarious is a well-deserved send-up of the film Inception in which two desperate men (Day and Hoffman) must enter a chemically induced dream state to solve a mystery that will help them recover their fortunes, only to be continuously interrupted by Clay (Beehner), the imaginary childhood friend of one of them, who wants them to play games like Twister and Hungry Hungry Hippos. Beehner’s expressive, Rodney Dangerfield-like eyes and manic grin really help to put this one over.
Other routines didn’t come off so well, such as a Dancing with the Stars spoof that went on too long, a bible camp skit that didn’t really work, and a gay marriage sketch that just fell flat.
But the show is mostly bright and fast-paced, with live interstitial music (provided by Willie Etra, Howard Greene, and Larry Treadwell) to keep things bouncing. As I mentioned before, it’s a fun way to finish off a night on Melrose.
Live Nude Groundlings runs Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 and 10 p.m. until October 1. The theatre is located at 7307 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, and tickets are available by visiting the Groundlings website or by phone at (323) 934-4747.