Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fringe 2011 Reviews: She Said What Happened

It must be deeply irritating to be a female comedy troupe like She Said What. More often than not, the focus of reviews is on your gender; you’ve got to feel like each show is a referendum on whether or not women can be funny. On their website, She Said What recognizes this particular lens through which their art is viewed, saying that they strive to “move beyond that categorization and create comedy that is funny regardless of gender.” However, I’ve seen reviews already that focus on this troupe as showing “female empowerment” or being impressive in terms of making women, and things that are of concern to women, funny, which bothers me. In fact, just by mentioning this concept as a reaction to other reactions, I feel like I’m falling into the same trap and making this review about gender, so I do apologize for that. Leveling a judgment against women as a whole is simply unnecessary. Women can be funny, and women can be not funny. End of story. Sometimes I am funny, and sometimes I am not, but honestly, that has more to do with making an overly-academic pun to a beleaguered audience than my gender.

I feel like the notion of “women’s humour” is a self-perpetuating one that’s hard to get away from; even refuting it winds up referencing it. On the other hand, it’s a ridiculous notion that humour needs to be unaffected by any of our defining characteristics; the way we experience the world naturally affects how we skewer it. What matters to me is whether this group achieved their goal- whether its members are smart and entertaining. And, in the end, they are, though the act as a whole was not as strong as I wanted it to be.

The show begins with each cast member dancing frenetically onstage and attempting to generate applause. While the dancing is amusing and the high energy great to see, most of the audience seemed to be at the show on the strength of review, as opposed to fans watching a known quantity. If the performance is at a regular haunt, to people who are clearly already won over, this is a gambit that can really succeed in creating excitement. However, in a less comfortable situation, I find that any comedy group’s show tends to come off better when it opens with a blisteringly funny sketch and THEN introduces itself for audience applause. This rule works for any comic, musician, or performer: show us something first to get us pumped up before demanding approbation. The show and the audience seemed to get off on the wrong foot, and that’s possibly why my reaction was less cheery than I wanted it to be; the audience was for some reason flat and largely unresponsive. Audience is a huge factor when it comes to comedy, and it’s possible the troupe just had some bad luck here.

However, some tired staples of comedy are still occasionally present: that is, that women must always be bitchy and fighting with each other and gossiping behind each others’ backs –it’s the basis of their entire onstage persona in this particular outing. Other than the genuinely self-deprecating bits at the beginning, where we find out exactly what they have *not* achieved, the show’s weakest points, like the opening, (except for a puerile celebrity impression skit with timing issues that tries to wring big laughs out of Justin Bieber shitting himself) are when the troupe tries to “be themselves” –well, a version of themselves.

In any case, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they have some very sharp pieces; it’s a worthwhile experience when they step past stereotype and right outside the box. Some of the more stereotypical humour actually helped me appreciate the subversive pieces better, as a kind of “compare and contrast” exercise. The hockey moms sketch, while well-worn ground, has some nice rhythmic and vocal work and is a stitch; the constant cajoling to the children to pick themselves up from the ice as they get progressively more injured builds to a nice twist ending. Napoleon and Josephine star in a properly bent look at their crumbling marriage and gender dynamics, particularly when the boots come out. And the horrors of ballet are taken to a very unexpected place, musically, as the ballerinas show a sharper edge. The performers are talented, Emma Hunter in particular. Her snappy timing, some great accent skills and a commanding stage presence were a great combination.

She Said What really speaks when it goes to the oddball, bizarre and goofy. The gleeful, barely-restrained mania displayed by these comedians is an appealing strength. A bit more focus, and focus on the juxtaposition between an old concept and a new angle, and I’ll definitely want to hear more.


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