Zoltar Machine: “I Want Big Laughs”
by Tony Bartolone
pLAywriting in the city
Sketch Comedy is in a state of disrepair. Saturday Night Live is at its absolute worst, and Los Angeles black box theaters are littered with unfunny, dime-a-dozen sketch shows. However, we are not without beacons of hope. Portlandia offers an interesting variety of untapped sketch material. And shining through the black box darkness, I was lucky enough to see another ray of light, Zoltar Machine. After breaking a record for cage match wins at Second City Hollywood, the three-man sketch team has been given a four-week, Thursday night run of their own show.
Full of interesting ideas and refreshing energy, the sketches employ novel approaches as well as nods to old comedy standards. The show also combines lovable silliness with subtly poignant concepts, all played out in a seamless, comedic montage that never looses the attention of its audience. Each sketch casually slips into the next with innovative transitions giving the show a rhythmic, musical quality. The whole thing seems effortless, which is a mark of great comedy. Anybody who’s ever done theatre knows these three men are working their asses off, yet they all seem completely aloof.
The impressive material showcased the ability to succinctly make cutting observations and lampoon an entire generation. It is easy to look back and say “This is the way it was.” It is much more difficult to look at what’s happening now and say, “This is the way it is.” One sketch, in particular, stood out in this respect. The “Pity Party” sketch in which a young man goes through the process of planning an actual pity party was actually pretty powerful. Social networking sites have turned the internet into one big pity party, and we’ve all played a part in it. Good comedy should hurt a little bit. Something missing in a most sketch nowadays is the power it has to make people think and take a long, hard look at themselves and society.
Sketch comedy is a tricky medium to master, but when done right, it can be the most fun you can have sitting in a chair, not moving. Ultimately, what you get with Zoltar Machine is three talented performers putting in the work to spawn a smart, edgy show well-worth watching.
For tickets, check out Second City’s performance calendar and click “SKETCHCASE – Zoltar Machine” on the night you want to go.