Shovelhead Gets Hands Dirty With 'Michael Vick's Cats'
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 19:12
Sketch comedy troupe Hello...Shovelhead!, which has historically been one of the more controversial performance groups on campus, continued a tradition of bombastic, no-stone-unturned comedy this weekend, this time under the direction of senior members Luis de Armas, CSOM ’14, and Kevin Fabbri, A&S ’14. The show, cryptically titled “Michael Vick’s Cats,” kept true to the group’s traditions: the subject matter was unsavory, the jokes insensitive, the characters crude, and the actors quite confident in this brand of comedy. What emerged was a product no disclaimer could disavow—broadly offensive, but genuinely focused.
Shovelhead’s customary video segment marked the start of its fall show. The clip, set to Creed’s “One Last Breath,” centered on the rehearsal process, with directors de Armas and Fabbri revealing to the group a blackboard with a simple message: “Shovelhead is not fun.” De Armas and Fabbri then set out to haze and torture younger members, waterboarding one, and then later ripping up the Geneva Convention.
As far as soundtracks go, the music of Creed seemed perfect in the context of human torture. The video perhaps erred in that it didn’t do enough to acquaint the audience with the personalities of individual members, which traditionally has been the role of these introductions.
Since most all work in sketch comedy is done in character, Shovelhead is challenged in ways improv groups like My Mother’s Fleabag are not. “Michael Vick’s Cats” focused on characters, not so much personalities. Although certainly a valid choice in direction, it came with obstacles for the performers.
Shovelhead opened Friday at a deficit of two members. Alex Dragicevich, A&S ’14, and Liz Sanchez, A&S ’16, were missing from the show, and the group at first seemed to struggle to define itself in these circumstances.
The evening’s opening sketch “Cooking with Carol” had the feel of a Saturday Night Live routine, perhaps most immediately reminiscent of the “Cartoon Catchphrase” skit that aired in an early November episode. In the SNL sketch, Amy Bryant plays a contestant on a cartoon game show who, using her “phone a friend” option, discovers her husband in an extramarital affair. “Cooking with Carol” opened similarly, with Meg O’Neill, A&S ’15, in the role of TV host Carol, helping to prepare a dish of chocolate strawberries, while making frequently offhanded references to her husband’s extramarital affair.
The group worked to warm a very stale audience at the Friday 7:30 p.m. show. A few of the more unassuming grandparents in the audience quickly caught onto the fact a Shovelhead show is no trip to Disneyland. What initially were looks of sheer horror at the frequent references to cocaine and f-bombs dropped in passing, built into looks of reserved amusement. Eventually, everyone was reading from the same page.
Brennan Waldorf, A&S '15, was one of the evening’s most powerful players. In the evening’s second skit, Waldorf played a delusional Hugh Jackman, who keeps requesting that his agent allow him to reprise his role as Wolverine. He later took on the character of Dr. Phil, who—eager to perform an exorcism as part of his talk show—insisted to an incredulous guest on the show, “Those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”
Perhaps this remark captures more than just the sentiments of a manic, mustachioed Doctor looking to inflict physical harm on the innocent. Shovelhead seemed assured that it has nothing to hide, and hence, hid nothing. Most performers on campus would feel more than slightly uncomfortable making jokes about a sex playlist and stripping down on stage, or attacking the stereotypes often perpetuated about Hispanic students. Additionally, maybe a comedy group isn’t wise to mention the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy or allegations of homophobia in the armed services.
Shovelhead’s comedy is akin to SNL in its absurd execution, and it goes so far as to make casual nods to the characters brought to life in this program. One of the night’s shining characters “Barb,” played by Olivia Hershiser, A&S ’16, seemed to salute Kristen Wiig’s work as the ugly duckling Maharelle sister in SNL’s recurring “Lawrence Welk Show” sketch.
Unlike the cast of popular NBC sketch comedy show, however, Shovelhead’s members are not complacent in their habits. It’s not stagnant comedy. Directors de Armas and Fabbri weren’t afraid to put off the audience slightly with an uncommon sense humor. The show’s rather extensive exploration of misogyny, homoeroticism, and race was not meant to solicit the common laugh.