chowdah bios
 Image courtesy of Chowdah

Bwog Comic Curmudgeon Jon Hill caught Chowdah’s fifth anniversary last night in Lerner.

If you’re reading this now and haven’t seen Chowdah’s fifth anniversary show, you’re unfortunately too late. The show closed Saturday, so given the time constraints, this review won’t be able to convince you whether to buy a ticket.

Rather than call the whole thing off, though, perhaps instead this space can best be used to figure out where to go from here. Chowdah’s show this weekend was by no means perfect, but the “best of” collection of 14 sketches did offer three valuable lessons on how to execute a successful comedy show. Other performance troupes on campus would do well to follow Chowdah’s lead.

Keep Scenes Short: Chowdah was smart to limit its sketches to lengths of fewer than 10 minutes. This way, even if the concept behind the sketch isn’t resonating with audience, at least they won’t be long suffering. Timing is crucial to short-form comedy, and though an editor’s blue pencil might have been useful in tidying up a few of the sketches, the vast majority of the vignettes felt cozily concise. The emphasis should be on “felt,” too — no matter what the actual run-time is, if the audience perceives a sketch is dragging, the sketch is dragging. Sitting among the sold-out Black Box crowd, though, one never got the sense of a jaded audience. Chowdah’s snappy pace kept everyone fresh.

Emphasize Your Talent: All of Chowdah’s performers seem capable of delivering a funny line, but two stood out in particular for their comic versatility and energy: Michael Grinspan and Reni Calister. Both came across as old pros in their respective roles, displaying effective mastery of timing and physicality that seemed almost not-ready-for-prime-time caliber. The audience didn’t tire of the pair’s frequent appearances in sketches, either, which is saying something — Grinspan appeared in six of the 14 sketches and wrote two, while Calister had parts in five. They racked up an impressive share of stage time, but with good cause. It’s not wrong to play to your strengths in comedy, and Chowdah certainly played to its.

Pull It All Together: Comedy thrives on repetition, but a sketch comedy show’s choppy, disconnected format can thwart development of that continuity. A show like Saturday Night Live skirts this problem by featuring a special guest host, who appears in most, if not all, sketches, or by creating recurring characters over the course of a few shows. Chowdah, of course, doesn’t have either of those luxuries, yet this weekend’s show still managed to tie down loose ends. One-liners sprinkled throughout the night’s dialogue made clever reference to preceding skits while the final sketch’s well-crafted culmination re-introduced a grand ensemble of the show’s various sketch characters. It wasn’t much, but that’s all it took: the audience clearly enjoyed it.

Of course, Chowdah’s fifth anniversary show wasn’t without its flaws. The sexual and scatological humor could certainly stand some sharpening and the dud joke did fall here and there, but on the whole, Chowdah demonstrated its respectable grasp of sketch comedy. If they and others like them can stick to the three lessons from this weekend’s show and keep up the good work, then that tenth anniversary show is just right around the corner.