Some say that a stand-up comedian should keep their set to 10 minutes. Improv sets, meanwhile, are often capped at 25 minutes. It’s not a coincidence that two different comedic platforms both lean toward brevity — the longer you have to stay onstage, the more it feels like you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall, just waiting for something to stick.
With that in mind, you can imagine how much spaghetti ends up on the floor at a 24-hour comedy marathon, such as the one put on by comedy-based business Speechless from Friday to Saturday at the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco. The marathon, while marvelous for anyone looking to only stay an hour or two, suffered from its length for those who chose to stay for the long haul, such as through the late-night hours of Friday night.
#HellaFunny Entertainment, a collective of stand-up comedians, was one group that felt like it had more misses than hits. Stand-up Tim Young’s millennial-working-at-a-startup schtick, for example, suffered from an underwhelming lack of commitment. Allison Hooker was one of the only to perform a strong set — that is, until she tapped into one of the most cliche jokes in the game: teasing male genitals for being weaker than a vagina.
“She should know that ballsack jokes are pretty low-hanging fruit,” remarked one member of the audience.
After a welcome transition from #HellaFunny to other acts, the marathon returned to the “Speechless format” — the comedy style that the company touts in its own practice, which involves people honing their improvisational skills by giving presentations using (often hilarious) slides they’ve never seen before. It’s definitely no simple undertaking, even for a seasoned comedian, but it is quite hilarious to watch — for about an hour.
Eureka! Science Comedy followed #HellaFunny with an hour-long rendition of the Speechless format, but with a twist. A scientist, backed up by two (wholly unnecessary) comedians, would incorporate random slides into a lecture on their area of scientific expertise. This round featured a variety of scientists, including a geneticist, a biotechnician and a transhumanist (yeah, we don’t know either).
It wasn’t that Eureka! Science Comedy wasn’t funny, but because they were shoehorned into a format that wasn’t their own, it was obvious that the scientists struggled somewhat.
All of the scientists, in fact, except one — Holger Müller, who also happens to be a physics professor at UC Berkeley. Müller was undoubtedly the most comfortable improvising his presentation, seamlessly incorporating strange memes and GIFs into a physics lecture.
“Yes, no one quite knows what stimulated the Big Bang,” said Müller before trailing into a host of other masterful innuendos, after a slide featuring a GIF of a man having his groin tickled flashed on the screen.
When Endgames Improv took to the stage, it was immediately evident that the Speechless format is an improviser’s game — they performed it with more confidence, reliability and humor.
Molly Sanchez’s set in particular was a highlight, in which she had to play a representative of humanity giving a presentation to an alien race on “Game of Thrones.” One of her final slides featured a daunting challenge, an acronym spelled “T.A.S.K,” for which she would have to immediately come up with the relevant explanation.
“Which stands for Targaryens Always Sex Kit Harington,” quipped Sanchez immediately.
Slam dunks aside, an improviser performs best on a team rather than as an individual (as the Speechless format requires). If the solo presentations were anything to go off of, it’s apparent that watching this group of Endgames performers do a set together would’ve been infinitely better.
Even through the wee hours of the night, the folks at Speechless pushed on with forced, but appreciated, enthusiasm — the performers, less so. Comedians dropped more than a few inappropriate one-liners throughout the night, some of which were in poor taste (jokes about ISIS, sexual assault, suicide and more were hardly off the table, even if they were not only off-color, but poorly delivered).
By 1 a.m., the crowd was fairly slight — perhaps only 10 nonperformers remained in the room, and many of the comedians cracked jokes about the low attendance and the too-tired-to-laugh audience. More than once, these comments came off as bitter and ungrateful more than anything else, and while self-deprecation can be hilarious, a bad attitude is never funny.
Shannon O’Hara is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].