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PerformanceStage ReviewKilling My Lobster sketches a decade of laughs, coked-up...

Killing My Lobster sketches a decade of laughs, coked-up Spiderman and all

In 'Best of KML,' the venerable comedy troupe revisits some greatest hits—just don't toss that baby out the window.

I’ll admit that I used to be one of those music snobs who’d say “No real fan would ever buy a ‘greatest hits’ album. They’d get the proper albums for each song and listen to them in their intended context.” I’m really glad to not be that sort of obnoxious prick anymore, but I do recall the logic of how I developed that attitude. Though the last decade-plus has turned most mainstream albums into glorified mixtapes, there’s something to be appreciated about a fussed-over volumes, wherein every song compliments the ones before and after it. It’s why André 3000’s The Love Below is infinitely superior to Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx, even though both are entertaining.

That sort of curation isn’t often done with comedy shows, but basing an entire show around a single theme is a trademark of Killing My Lobster. In the quarter-century they’ve been inspiring Bay Area laughs, their shows have revolved around everything from religious holidays to mental health awareness. They’ll pepper the audience with recurring multi-part skits throughout the show, tying the whole night together under the absurdity of their topic. And that’s not even mentioning the opening and closing song parodies.

Oddly enough, KML’s Best of KML: The Last Ten Years (exclusively on Wednesdays through March 6 at the Eclectic Box, SF) doesn’t have a closing song. Sure, it’s starts with one—a riff on Karate Kid theme “You’re the Best”—but no closer. Still, the 20 sketches they perform are an OK grab bag of material from the past decade. If you are a longtime admirer of the company, you know that their choices for “best” were always going to be an exercise in subjectivity. Most of us don’t remember every sketch we’ve seen over the course of a decade (sketches are existentially of-the-moment), and the ones we do remember will reflect our tastes as being different than those of the next fan. Hell, my own choices for this lineup would have probably been out-of-season (The Chanukah Channel running 8 Crazy Nights on an endless loop) or subject to performer availability (Jan Gilbert’s hard-boiled noir office job).

Tirumari Jothi, reprising his role as Jane Austen in KML’s ‘White Noise’

Yet, even without an overarching theme that defines a KML show, I may have picked up on a throughline: it’s stuff that makes the KML staff laugh. There’s a sketch where the phrase “Eat a bag of dicks!” is taken to its literal conclusion; another is an orgiastic take on the story of Cinderella; and another shows exactly why firefighters are hesitant to toss babies from the windows of burning buildings. Not all of them may be the ones that thrilled you specifically (I’m personally more partial to their up-punching political pieces), but one can imagine the behind-the-scenes veterans of these shows cracking up at the mere mention of them. Why else would they pick this particular line-up to play at Sketchfest in the lead-up to this full run?

My favorites of this collection were the more subtle pieces: an auditioning actor who stresses so much about prep that they miss the entire audition; an hilarious Mission: Impossible parody in which the mission is for a woman to actually keep the plans she’s made; and a couples therapy sketch involving some uncouth use of M&Ms. As I write these out, I notice that all the sketches feature KML novice Jen Marte, who brings a naturalistic sensibility to even the most outlandish characters. She’s frequently paired up in the show with veteran Bay Area comedic actor Tirumari Jothi, whose orgy-lovin’ Cinderella prince and coked-up Spider-Man songwriter remind us why KML wants him back over and over again. And, of course, there’s KML superstar Elaine Gavin. The curly-haired funny lady does her usual scene-stealing in a Pepperidge Farms-like series of adverts for oranges, a JCPenny patron who falls deeper into a Hitchcockian noir reverie, and a performer trying to understand the elusive appeal of “Gay Wind.”

Performers Elaine Gavin, Tirumari Jothi, Jen Marte, and Mark de Dios of KML

The fourth performance role found AD Nicole Odell filling in opening night as an on-book understudy for performer Mark de Dios, out with an illness. (Incidentally, this was the third straight show I saw using understudies, after SF Playhouse used fill-in ensemble folks for My Home on the Moon and Emily Ota stole the show for Berkeley Rep’s Cult of Love. As an understudy who’s had to go on at the last minute—at the Berkeley Rep, no less—I’ll always have the deepest of sympathy for my fellow sweaty-browed casting substitutes. The fact that Odell started off as a KML performer years ago, only to end up running it the company still in possession of her spot-on comedic timing, highlights the troupe’s real strength over the years: its ability to attract talent. Though the lack of an overall theme makes it hard for these sketches to blend together, they still showcase the eclectic sensibilities that have made the company a Bay Area staple for over 25 years.

“Eclectic” seems to be the optimal word, given that it’s the name of their new home venue at the former Stage Werx. With so many companies and venues having either shut their doors or remaining in danger of doing so, it’s a welcome relief to see new life breathed into this little Mission District black box. Like most troupes, KML’s been forced to make masks merely optional for their shows. Fortunately, even with a near-full opening audience, my Aranet4’s CO² readings only topped about 917ppm over the course of the one-hour show.

I guess the reason my younger self was so against “greatest hits” albums was because I didn’t realize that they’re made to appeal to new fans just as much old ones. Those kinds of albums may be passé in an era when everyone can create their own playlists, but they still represent a sampling from a substantial body of work. It’s a relief to see KML has such an expansive collection that they specifically chose to limit this show to the past decade. It makes one eager to see what they’ll put in the next collection a decade after this one. 

KILLING MY LOBSTER’S BEST OF KML: THE LAST TEN YEARS run exclusively on Wednesdays through March 6 at the Eclectic Box, SF. Tickets and further info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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