Dallas — It was bound to happen. The Margo Jones Theater creative hothouse that is Nouveau 47 has spun out quirky theater, variety shows, and crazed readings. Sketch revue was sure to be next, especially with humorous wordsmith Jim Kuenzer on the N47 board. Fuse that with the madness of Pegasus Theatre’s actors and auteur Kurt Kleinmann, and a fair amount of creativity had to ensue.
The Naughty Bits Players are offspring of this unholy union. Their first show, The Naughty Bits, launched at the Bath House Cultural Center last weekend and continues through Aug. 29. Some, like Chad Cline, Leslie Patrick, and Ben Schroth, are reliably funny actors about town. Erin Singleton is new and simply a revelation. Greg Silva is deviously funny and rocks an Aasif Mandvi vibe. When improv meister Todd Upchurch digs into a character, you are powerless to stop watching him.
The Naughty Bits is a collection of sketches linked by blackout voiceovers that cover set and cast changes. A couple sketches have a surprise punchline that yanks a belly laugh right out of you. Almost all the skits provoke chuckles, a few are real laughers, and at least one leaves question marks over everyone’s heads. Some political voiceover bits prompt genuine guffaws. Only one sketch fell completely flat. With audience member’s varying comedy tastes, that’s what you call a success.
Some skits are astoundingly creative. The Taffy the Clown interview show is an almost silent tour de force for Silva and Upchurch. After an initial question goes very, very south, it’s all achingly funny uncomfortable body language, with Upchurch visibly dissolving in his chair. In another, one half of the conversation is simply the word “Oh,” with varying inflections that drip with meaning and judgment.
Cline’s fevered and wordless efforts at undressing a blow-up doll are fraught with funniness and just the right amount of scandal. (From what I could tell, most of the audience, like me, had never seen one in person and were fascinated.) Cline shines again, along with Patrick, in a riotous piece of sexual shenanigan mostly hidden by a sheet. Forays into physical humor help pick up the pace of the show, which sags and suffers from blackouts with interminable silences; the segue material needs to be much longer or the set change quicker. More slapstick or additional musical numbers would help lift the show a lot.
Surreal shades of Firesign Theater with a few skits, like an online driver’s safety test that gets increasingly personal and probing, with a terrific twist at the end. But a skit with an elevator version of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey goes too much to expected places. Randy sentient machines are low-hanging fruit. What might a one with no filters do? Much better is a skit of salesman doing a manipulative cold call. Its twist and punchline at the end leaves you simultaneously laughing and ashamed that you are.
Many times you’re left wishing the Naughty Bits Players would hold back less. Go ahead, take the gloves off, and make it hurt, but make it funny. A sincere aim for the juggler is required. A bit on the homeschooler now leading the Texas Board of Education should push so hard, Jon Stewart style, so we laugh and cry from the ludicrousness. The fourth wall in sketch comedy is flimsy and transparent. Sketch actors must leave it all on the floor of the stage. Only Singleton and Silva made that kind of fearless audience connection.
No matter what your style of humor, The Naughty Bits provides something for you. Campy songs, groaner pun jokes, SNL-like sketches based on odd characters, and plenty of takeoffs on television ads and talk and reality shows. Though the opening song extols “Our costumes may be clean, but our show is obscene,” it could use a bit more of that.
The sexual bits are some of the funniest. Biggest laugh of the night comes from Singleton shutting down a histrionic news show anchor with an off-color retort that caused many a delighted gasp.