Monthly Archive for: ‘December, 2014’

‘History of Comedy’ is zany, amusing yet uneven romp

[Woody’s Rating: ★★½☆☆

Writer-director-actor Austin Tichenor communes with the skull of Yorick, a dead Shakespearean jester, in “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged).” Courtesy photo.

Writer-director-actor Reed Martin impersonates Rambozo the clown, in “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged).” Courtesy photo.

Dominic Conti depicts Abe Lincoln doing stand-up in “The Complete History of comedy (abridged).” Courtesy photo.

The woman sitting behind me kept laughing so loudly I thought she’d wet herself.

She was an exception.

The woman sitting next to me barely smiled throughout “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged).”

Most of the Marin Theatre Company audience, including me, was somewhere in between.

Which translated on opening night to laughing aloud more than a few times, grinning a lot, and occasionally yawning at professorial explanations that obstructed the rapid-fire delivery of punch-lines and screwball, high-energy performances.

The three-man Reduced Shakespeare Company troupe emulates the way-back zaniness of the Ritz Brothers, Marx Brothers and Three Stooges as well as the way-way-back cerebral intricacies of Chekov and Shakespeare.

They insert pie-in-the-face, rubber chicken and Muppet-like gags.

They deploy limitless props.

Austin Tichenor, a classically trained actor who sports pants intentionally too short, and Reed Martin, a former circus clown who wears his head without hair, are the show’s writer-director-actors.

Dominic Conti, a physically flexible actor who sports cutoff shorts, fills out the trio.

“The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)” starts with the ostensible origin of the genre, a cavewoman who ludicrously distorts the birthing process.

But it doesn’t proceed chronologically.

Instead, the speedy 90-minute romp divides itself into chunks — about clowning, Commedia dell’arte, violence, fooles (ancient and current), the best and worst all-time comedians (with slides and snide commentary) — cemented by a series of marvelous puns that draw loud groans from an appreciative crowd.

Add to that the references, beyond caustically skewering religious and political hypocrisy, to virtually everything relating to comedy.

Like George Carlin and his seven dirty words, minstrel shows, Monty Python and its dead parrot skit, Sigmund Freud and his psychological deconstruction of jokes.

The threesome acts out an Elizabethan rendition of the classic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine, presents a two-man Greek chorus, and offers up a solo Abraham Lincoln in the guise of a stand-up comic.

Wigs are plentiful.

Coupled with enough pieces of fabric to facilitate scores of instant costume changes.

So much happens so fast it’s easy to miss something amusing. But you can be reasonably sure something amusing will come around the bend in another split second.

The funniest bit, in my estimation, was a look at the U.S. Supreme Court with each performer manipulating two puppets — vigorously.

Except the one representing Clarence Thomas, who, like in reality, sleeps through the proceedings.

Close behind was a segment in which two theatergoers were dragged onstage, then basically left to their own devices to provide sound effects.

Their lack of skill ended up being hilarious.

Squeezed between the infinite jokes and sketches were a handful of quick but serious moments — such as that provided by an archetypal character, Rambozo the clown, derivative of both Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and a 1986 antiwar song by Dead Kennedys.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company began in Marin in 1981 as a pass-the-hat troupe at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Novato.

Its first actual production was, fittingly, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”

The current original production is the company’s ninth.

Some, I believe, were more successful than this — “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)” and “The Complete History of America (abridged),” for instance.

The company, which works exceedingly hard onstage, has publicized the phrase “Saving the world one joke at a time.” But it tries to cover too much territory in “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged),” resulting in the show being slightly uneven.

Maybe that’s why, in a theater in which standing ovations are de rigueur, it drew only moderate applause at evening’s end.

“The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)” plays at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, through Dec. 21. Performances Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Matinees, Thursdays, 1 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $20 to $58 (subject to change). Information: (415) 388-5208 or


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