Improv Boston’s Geek Week 2011: Ninja Sex Party, Overthinking It, Paper Dolls, and more!

Improv Boston just completed their fourth annual Geek Week, a series of comedy nights for those of us who prefer to hear jokes about Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. Improv Boston has a small theatre and a much larger theatre side by side, and each night had back-to-back events in both spaces. I attended the Friday and Saturday night shows.

On Friday, I started my evening in the smaller theatre with two sketch groups: Mon Frere and Daft Agenda. Mon Frere's best sketch involved Solid Snake of the game Metal Gear Solid. Snake's tendency to hide inside a cardboard box often gets mocked, and Mon Frere put a new spin on this by showing that Snake's enemies are just humoring his delusional attempts to be a "real" spy. Both Mon Frere and Daft Agenda lampooned X-Men as well -- or, at least, both groups made a lot of jokes about X-Men's frequent homoeroticism. Not exactly groundbreaking material, but I laughed anyway.

After that, I headed into the bigger theatre. The next block of shows began with BrotherlyProv, an improv group made up of two brothers named Brian and Jeff Perry. The pair bounced off of one another with embarrassing childhood stories and improvised scenes about zombies, dorky dads, and strangers in the bathroom. They got inspiration for each scene by projecting old childhood photos on the stage's screen, all of which had been selected by their mother and had not been seen by the Perry brothers prior to the show.

Next, the cast of Neutrino got up and explained they were going to improvise and film a movie for us all. Ordinarily, Neutrino lets the audience vote on how the movie will end, but there didn't seem to be enough time for that, so the improvisers came up with an ending on their own. They began by dividing into three teams with three video cameras; each team had someone to run back and deliver the tapes as they were filmed, and each scene involved two actors. The three teams created plots that were entirely unrelated, and by the end of the movie, they managed to get the scenes to intersect. The funniest of the three teams did a plot about two untalented hacks trying to open a bake shop. This included a "montage" of the pair cleaning up the interior of their new store; the montage ended, of course, with the store looking just as messy and unwelcoming as it had from the start. Eventually, the store owners decided to call their store a gallery and insist that their mess was actually art. Tongue-in-cheek meta-commentary about the very film we were all watching? Eh, probably not.

I stayed in the larger theatre for a third and final show; this block began with MC Mr. Napkins. He sang two songs and told a handful of jokes in his fifteen minutes. The highlight for me had to be when he told a joke about ewoks, and the audience got the gist and burst out laughing before he could even finish telling his story. He stared at us in surprise and then began to laugh as well, explaining, "No one's ever done that before. I love you, Geek Week!" Awww.

Jena Friedman admitted at the top of her set that she wasn't a geek and had no business being at Geek Week, but her short set still managed to be one of my favorites. She claimed to be making up most of her jokes on the fly due to a lack of geeky material, and if that's true, then I'm even more impressed.

After Jena, Overthinking It stepped up for their second year at Geek Week. They were one of my favorite acts last year, although talking about them seems a little surreal now that I've guested on their podcast and, as of this writing, actually met them in person. I'm not sure I get to call myself a fangirl anymore now that I know them. If I say their show was fantastic, am I now even more biased than before, or less?
Anyway, they presented a couple of Power Points about Charlie Sheen and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, respectively, and then they played Mark Lee's blues cover of Ke$ha's "Tik Tok", juxtaposed with video footage of Muddy Waters. It's not on YouTube yet, but I can only assume it will be soon.
The last part of the OTI show was my favorite: the four Overthinkers analyzed pop culture on the fly through the lens of several graduate school class subjects, as suggested by the audience. The four tackled Rebecca Black's "Friday" and The Human Centipede. Ryan Sheely spoke about these two properties as though he were a Quantum Tunneling expert, with John Perich on Comparative Religions, Pete Fenzel on Women's Studies, and Dave Schechner on ... Molecular Biology, if I recall correctly? Anyway, it's a bit hard to explain how this game worked in practice, other than to say it was a pile of hilarious bullshit and I wish I'd recorded it. Sadly, in their second show on Saturday, the OTI guys ran out of time after their presentations and they didn't get to play the game a second time. (Yeah, I went to see them perform twice yet again this year. Guess I'm still a fangirl after all.)

Ninja Sex Party closed out the Friday night mainstage show. They're a little like The Lonely Island in that they combine sketches with songs, and almost every single one of their songs is about getting it on. This sort of thing could either turn out hilariously or miserably; luckily, Ninja Sex Party manages the former 99% of the time. If you want to see how they do that, here's a music video of one of the songs they performed.
The sound guy occasionally supplemented their performance with pre-recorded backing synth tracks, but Brian Wecht (a.k.a. "Ninja Brian") also played the piano live on some of the songs. Dan Avidan (a.k.a. "Danny Sexbang") proved he has quite a set of pipes, since he was singing live. Their two characters seem to be a parody of over-the-top dudebro sexism, among other things. Danny Sexbang's comeuppance at the show's end is rape at the hand of a fantastical manticore with aphrodisiacal powers. I'm not going to lie; it was actually a pretty dark and disorienting way to end the show. But the plot up until then had a twisted edge to it anyway, since the entire premise was that Danny Sexbang wanted to steal the manticore's aphrodisiac so he could brainwash an unwilling woman into sleeping with him. That said, Dan and Brian seem to be completely self-aware about how skeevy their fictional alter-egos are, and they want us all to be in on that joke as well. Their intermission video, in which Ninja Brian and Danny Sexbang invade a Women's Appreciation Day award ceremony, indicated even more clearly that the pair wants audiences to laugh at them, not at women. (Unfortunately, some comedians at Geek Week did think it was cool to make fun of women, but I'll get to them later.)

On Saturday, I spent my first three show blocks in the smaller theatre. The first act was Economists Do It with Models, a mock economics lecture done by Jodi Beggs. Or at least, Improv Boston called it a mock lecture in her show description -- this was actually a very real lecture about economics in The Simpsons. It was still pretty funny. But I think I may have accidentally learned something.
After Jodi, the OTI guys got up and performed their show once more, which seemed only fitting since the Overthinkers also know their way around a Power Point.

In the next block, I watched Paper Dolls perform improv with a live pianist. I swiftly learned that improv is even better with a live pianist. When the audience didn't offer suggestions for scenes fast enough, the Dolls and the pianist wrote a song on the fly about how much it sucks when audience members don't lend a hand. When we did manage to scrounge up suggestions to shout out, the two ladies paid us back with some fantastic scenes. The pair worked together more seamlessly and cleverly than any other improv group I saw at Geek Week; they seemed to have telepathic comedy powers, always knowing what wavelength the other was on.

Then, Improv Boston's own troupe Mosaic performed. They're apparently holding auditions, although I don't know what more they think they need, because they're already great. I saw Improv Boston's Mosaic troupe perform in last year's Geek Week, and I liked them even better this year. The best two bits were the song that they wrote about student loans and their deadpan sketch about LOLcats.

The next block began with Jack Lees, who seemed a bit nervous and fidgety, though he did have some great one-liners. His standoffish stage persona made him come across as a serial killer version of Mitch Hedburg, which I suppose was intentional because he lists Hedburg as one of his influences. Well, the serial killer part might not have been intentional.

Then, Meghan O'Keefe performed a long and involved impersonation of fantasy artist Julie Bell. This routine had so much going for it, so it made me sad when O'Keefe broke character and started laughing midway through. Here's my advice, O'Keefe: practice your lines in front of a mirror (also: buy wig pins). The routine itself was fantastic and well-crafted. I mean, it's Julie Bell. There's a wealth of material to mock, there. I just would've liked to see a bit more polish to the delivery.

The third act in this block was DMG, all the way from the Washington Improv Theater, performing what's known as a Harold. Basically, the improvisers transition between three different story arcs, and try to bring each of the disparate plots together by the end of the performance. I couldn't figure out the pattern while I was at the show, though, and I might've had more fun had I realized what to watch for. I guess now I'll know for next time.
The three story arcs involved My Little Pony, nuns who love cake a little too much, and a group of board gaming cowboys. Actually, there was also a fourth story arc about a Rainbow Brite camp for girls. And a She-Ra camp as well. So I guess their Harold had more than three arcs? Anyway, they managed to bring all of these scenes together at the end somehow.

The last show of the night began with Ninja Sex Party again, and then progressed on to the Geek Comedy Tour. Like last year, Jake Young opened the show and remains my favorite comedian of this group. One of the other comedians, Tim Vargulish, also had me in stitches with a bit about Pepto Bismol's online FAQ.
Almost every other Geek Comedy Tour performer -- most notably GCT founder Chris Barylick -- told jokes about women that made me shake my head in confusion or disagreement. So here's some advice from me to you, Mr. Barylick, about geeky women: we exist! Maybe you've never invited over a date who's been impressed by your Dreamcast, but with an attitude like that, you never will. Oh, and by the way, you're not the only person who associates the Final Fantasy victory music with getting laid.
I doubt I was the only woman in the audience who felt disgruntled and alienated from time to time during these sets. Chris Barylick should always let Jake Young close the show, because I love him every time, and that way I could've gone home with a smile on my face. Instead, the show ended with Dan Martin's lengthy comparison between female genitalia and the Sega Genesis -- because women are so damn finicky, amirite, fellas? What's sad is that I enjoyed the rest of Martin's set; I wish he had chosen a different joke to close out on.
I guess the only solution is for me to create a stand-up set of my own and deploy some clever lady gamer gags. Oh, wait, except I'm not funny ... although apparently Improv Boston offers classes for that?

Looking back on Geek Week as a whole: every single show made me laugh, and most of them made me laugh a lot. I've got to give props to Improv Boston's Kevin Harrington for organizing such an elaborate week of shows; they're lucky to have him. This Cambridge Day article says he considered abandoning Geek Week because organizing it is such a pain in the neck. I really hope he doesn't leave, because this event rocks, and I'm guessing that's due to his hard work. It'll probably be even better next year. I'll be there. And you should go, too.

EDIT: This blog post has been changed to reflect that Evan Valentine and Joe Deeley did not perform in the Geek Comedy Tour show block. (My thanks to Jake Young for giving me the list of Geek Comedy Tour comedians.)

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