By Rick Polito
Originally published by Marin Independent Journal, January 13, 2005
©2005, All rights reserved.
In a frighteningly lime-green room in a frighteningly lime-green building on the industrial cusp of San Francisco’s Mission District, the players of Killing My Lobster are obviously going mad.
“Ol!” shouts Daniel Lee, stomping his right foot hard on the black linoleum floor.
“Is it too early for Thumper?” asks Jon Wolanske. “Hot tamale,” entreats Sarah Mitchell, swiveling her hips suggestively. “Tubal ligation,” the five players chorus triumphantly.
If this is the “warm-up,” things are going to get weird.
They have to, really. Killing My Lobster is a sketch comedy troupe, and if things don’t get weird, something’s wrong. They are paring down their “Killing My Lobster Goes to the Polls” show into something that will fit into the San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festival, opening tonight at a pair of San Francisco venues and running through Jan. 30. This is a rehearsal, a run-through.
With little formality – “We’re going to spend some extra time on our mini-set,” announces player-director John Kovacevich – the Lobsters jump into their first sketch, stopping only for Mitchell to ask, “Can we accept that we are probably going to stink through this?” In seconds, Kovacevich, Mitchell and their partners-in-spoof have taken their places and roared into the musical sendoff that is “Election Day.”
The lime-green walls reverberate. The black linoleum echoes with the slap of feet. And the Lobsters belt it out to an empty, sagging couch.
Two months after the election, the material is almost poignant but the Lobsters give it their all.
The “candidates” make stump speeches.
They sing. They smile. They stop.
Kovacevich is directing. They are grouped too tightly.
The slightest pause, and they’re back.
This is how sketch comedy is fed and cared for. Sketch comedy doesn’t just happen. It does not spring from a half-drunk writer’s word processor to the stage. It grows in fits and starts, comic pauses timed to beats, tweaking, tightening. In rehearsal, banter weaves between lines. Half the sentences start with “Why don’t we ?” The other half are playful mocking.
“She’s not a prop comic,” declares Kovacevich of Tonya Glanz in faux seriousness. “She has other skills,” sighs Mitchell. Everybody’s smiling.
A second later, Glanz and Wolanske are political consultants introducing the “Vagina Party.” “It has great brand recognition,” Glanz exclaims, channeling infomercial-level enthusiasm. “Ninety-nine percent of you associate the vagina with fun!” Wolanske pulls display cards off a folding chair that stands in for an easel, to reveal a colorful marketing pitch. The cards are out of order.
“But you’re rolling with it,” laughs Kovacevich from the couch. “That’s what I love about you.”
The sketches run quickly. Everybody knows their places. They’ve done this before. “Goes to the Polls” was on stage for much of October. They’re missing one comrade-in-comedy tonight, but they all know the lines enough to jump in.
Glanz wants to know about transitions for the Sketch Festival version.
Mitchell wants to know if she will have a podium for the “Hands” sketch.
“Plan on having one, but if you don’t, work your magic,” Kovacevich tells her. “It doesn’t fit into anybody’s car.”
A beat later, Mitchell is a presidential candidate doomed by the revelation that she has “baby hands,” really – plastic baby hands wiping a faux tear from her cheek as she introduces her children, “Dallas, Austin and Waco.” Two scenes later, Glanz is a witness in a congressional hearing, chanting, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” as the group launches into a bit about the return of the Whig party. In another scene, rich Southerners hint at homosexuality in an ante-bellum tea parlor – “I think you can create a teacup in the mind of the audience,” Kovacevich assures his players when they ask about props.
The rehearsal peaks with an imagined improv session in a White House staff room. By the closing musical number, the players have their characters, their chops. The show is pared down. It works, mostly.
“See you on the 13th,” announces Mitchell.
The players laugh. It’s never that simple. They get back to work.
Sketch comedy doesn’t just happen.