Last Saturday, I rolled into the PIT ready to see some comedy. A lightup board outside the theatre proclaimed the evening’s lineup of sketch and improv comedy acts. Inside, a rowdy throng of theatre-makers and comedy fans chattered loudly at the ever-crowded bar. Amidst the drunken buzz, I seated myself for sketch troupe Pop Roulette’s weekly show.
Pop Roulette, devised by a team of unusually strong performers, is a musical sketch show with a cultural-satirical bent. Once their show begins, I find myself the singular sober member of an audience full of drunk twentysomethings, laughing perhaps a little overzealously at almost every punch line. The comedy writing is quite hit or miss; at least a third of the sketches in the set fell somewhat flat. Some were over-the-top, some uselessly crude, others predictable or overly-spelled-out: the usual pitfalls of comedy.
However, that’s not at all to say that there weren’t several shining moments. In a favorite skit of mine, an actor is seated at a restaurant with her boyfriend, distressed over being told to lose weight for an audition. Resigning herself to a diet, the couple’s tiny, bitchy waitress approaches and recommends the french fries, followed by, roughly, “I eat them every day. They’re like my guilty snack.” Quips like these are a specialty of Pop Roulette, the subtle, rarely addressed moments of New York life, from the ‘sexy’ club girls struggling in their stilettos, to the middle-class, Whole-Foods-going gay always seen wearing one (or three) thick circle scarves.
Another strength of this ensemble’s is music composition. The group’s original musical numbers are explosive oases of performative energy. The melodies are clean, thematically appropriate, and appropriately ironic. And like the best musical comedy writing, the punch lines are worked seamlessly into the structure of the songs. The closing number, an uproariously funny spoof of young professionals in New York City’s Murray Hill neighborhood, shows off well the group’s clever lyricism; with bugged out, deranged eyes and choppy, Frankenstein-like choreography, the group chants to the music, “I LIKE TO RUN. YOU LIKE TO RUN TOO. LET’S LIVE IN MURRAY HILL.” They perfectly capture New York’s upper middle class, making for a relevant, hysterical closing number.
Though Pop Roulette addresses several of the political and cultural items that one might expect from a sketch troupe (the Oscar contenders, Hilary Clinton, Glee), the ensemble is best when they stick close to home. In general, the strongest pieces are those like Murray Hill that detail the quirks and annoyances of 20-something life in New York. In another solid ensemble sketch, the group runs out, chants “STUFF! STUFF! ‘90s STUFF!” and begins to list in rhythm beloved television shows, music groups, and consumer goods from the decade, a beloved pasttime familiar to anyone raised in the 90s. However, the group’s list is disrupted by one person’s repeated contribution of newsworthy disasters from the decade, which the group humorously rejects each time. This sketch is simple and smart in its pop culture subversion, undermining the tender, consumerist love of the 80s and 90s that is rarely criticized beyond the realm of hipster silkscreen hoodies. Thus, in several sketches does Pop Roulette fit the bill of a successful satirical sketch troupe.
However, where the group is truly unique is in its fierce ensemble of performers. While some of them are more accustomed to comedy than others, it’s evident that many are powerful actors and singers on their comedy off-nights. Amanda Shechtman is one of these. Shechtman, in a pre-filmed faux documentary, plays a dysfunctional, fictional Adele fed up with motherhood. The sketch itself is alright; we watch baby-abusing Adele in her home environment, singing re-written versions of her billboard hits. What’s impressive about the skit is Shechtman; even through laughter it is hard to overlook her impressive voice as she sings circles around Adele at her own songs. Suffice it to say, Shechtman also pulls off an admirable celebrity impression, capturing the essence of Adele’s soulful vocals and accented English. Another company member of note is Lauren Ireland, a remarkably genuine, incredibly animated comedian who nearly steals the show each time she appears. Sadly, this solid actor had very few major appearances, but was a crucial addition to the ensemble regardless; it is impossible not to watch her when she is onstage.
Truly, though, each Pop Roulette performer has evident talent. The ensemble prizes tightness and clarity, two qualities so often missing from sketch comedy shows. Though every skit may not impress, the group promises ample laughs and a night full of energy.
Grab a beer and laugh with Pop Roulette this coming Saturday, 9:30 PM, at the People’s Improv Theatre, 123 E. 24th St. Get yo’ tix: https://www.facebook.com/events/510159949024169/
Or, just facebook stalk. https://www.facebook.com/PopRoulette?fref=ts