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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 14, 2020
‘Want to come to my improv show?’ Is one of those difficult questions to be on the receiving end. You want to support your friend, but do you really want to sit through hours of improv?
But that’s exactly what I’m about to recommend.
Middleditch and Schwartz, a short, three-episode series starring Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) has reminded me of how joyful and purely funny improv can be and that’s largely thanks to the two stars.
Rather than quick-hit routines with slapstick and gimmicks, Middleditch and Schwartz have dived into long-form improv – which sounds painful at first, but is actually brilliant in their execution.
Each episode starts off with the pair asking members in the audience about something they’re really excited about (or dreading), they expand slightly, but not asking for too many details as they fill those in later.
Once they have some of their characters and setting down, the two get to work on the stage, slowly expanding and creating a world entirely on the spot.
They reiterate that nothing has been rehearsed or repeated, everything is completely off the cuff and it’s amazing to see these two brilliant performers feed off of each other’s energy.
The cast of characters they create is usually surprisingly large and watching them try to remember the names and attributes of all of the characters they’ve just summoned on stage is a joy.
The expressions on the faces of Middleditch and Schwartz as they perform mental gymnastics in each scene is so genuine. Panic-riddled, but hilarious.
Middleditch will often break character and laugh at the absurdity of what’s happening, which leads Schwartz to follow suit.
The Netflix series is just a sampling of their live show, and it’s clear these two are seasoned pros at their craft.
The pair deeply they care about this art form and it made me actually want to go watch some improv, which is saying something.
If you’re looking for something silly with a bit more structure, check out I Think You Should Leave, also on Netflix.
Tim Robinson leads an increasingly surreal series of sketches, which are pure goofy weirdness, yet based in the banal of the real world.
A perfect encapsulation of the humour is the opening scene where a prospective employee is being interviewed in a coffee shop – we've all seen this (or been part of this) unfortunate moment.
Things are going pretty well, despite a few slips, but the interviewee heads for the exit feeling confident.
Until he tries to pull the door open when he’s supposed to push and the interviewer catches this slight misstep.
Seeking to redeem his dignity, he explains ‘it does both,’ opens both ways when it certainly does not.
He uses all of his strength and breaks the door – pieces of wood flying – as he forces it open to save face, looking ridiculous in the process. It’s so awkward and cringeworthy, it highlights the feeling of making a stupid mistake, like pulling the door when it says push, and amplifies that to the extreme.
The show is so brilliant at doing this, inserting one dash of absurdity to highlight how inherently funny life is and the awkward little situations we find ourselves in all.
The show has been renewed for a second season which is expected at some point this year.
Queens of comedy
The Baroness Von Sketch Show is simply one of the funniest Canadian exports since The Kids in the Hall.
Although no longer available on Netflix, four seasons (with a fifth on the way) can be streamed via CBC Gem.
With classics like “it’s the cottage” dry shampoo, and the way all moms say “helloooo!,” the satirized snippets of everyday life are relatable and grounded.
Baroness focuses on the painful awkwardness of everyday life, but examines it through a female lens.
The four main cast members/co-creators: Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen provide a refreshing and much-needed update on the sketch show formula.
It’s such a valuable component because this point of view highlights the inequities, prejudices and annoyances women go through daily that rarely gets the attention it deserves.
It’s clever, punchy and puts the patriarchy under a microscope in brilliant and interesting ways while also being belly-laugh funny.
- Fuller House, final season, June 2
- The Fast and the Furious films, June 3
- Hannibal, full series, June 5
- 13 Reasons Why, final season, June 5
- Artemis Fowl, series premiere, June 12
- Tarzan, June 26