In his “Shortkutz” series, Ken Westermann always has a good eye for finding material that fits his objectives for each quarterly DVD. Now he has unveiled what I believe to be a towards-the-end-of-the-year surprise in “Laughing-Stock”, a DVD that is host to eight sketch comedy groups, many who sure know how to make people laugh. With each sketch group, you’ll find more to laugh about than the average, half-assed, unfunny Hollywood comedy (a.k.a any Rob Schneider movie) could ever muster.
Before we head into worlds of comedy you’ll probably not want to leave, there are two ways to handle this DVD. You could choose the “Play” option on the DVD, which will take you through the various groups’ material in a different order than I choose to review here, which is based on the order by the way each group is highlighted, column-by-column.
Hotdogboy is actually a duo named Rub and Tug, whose 4 short works could easily be looked at as the adventures of an average schlub.
Sound effects are put to good use here as the schlub clips his toenails, when suddenly, the clippers slip out of his grip and start pinging all over the place. To save time (and money) on showing the clippers bouncing here and there, the sound effects sometimes found in cartoons with gun shots are used in place of visual representation and we watch as the guy (wrapped in a white towel, I might add) tracks the clippers and soon, they fly right out of the house. As to the guy that appears in a red and gray t-shirt in one scene, just try to imagine him as looking at something like a tree…or something. Initially, the instinct for me anyway was to complain about comedic timing, but I guess not everyone has to be doing something and then look up and get hit in the eye. “To be continued” ends it, as it does with each short thereafter.
The guy decides to go buy a gerbil and does so. He reads up on gerbils but apparently didn’t do something right as one shot shows him limping into an emergency room.
It’s make-up-your-own-story time as you’ll be asking yourself, “How in the hell did THAT happen?” This time, he’s down at the bottom of the stairs face down and it’s been caused by a bunch of banana peels on the stairs. That’s the first “What the hell?” moment. Since he can’t successfully get up and walk, he drags himself like a dead fish to the kitchen to try to call for help, or so we think. When that phone can’t be reached, it’s back up the stairs to the bedroom to make that phone call. What happens after that is the second “What the hell?” moment. Out of all that’s presented by Hotdogboy on this DVD, this is one of their best.
This is the other best short of Hotdogboy’s work on “Laughing-Stock”. It’s time for a ride in the car as our intrepid hero has received an invitation to a friend’s ranch where a gift is waiting for him. He drives around, trying to find the ranch and eventually does, following the instructions on the invitation to stand on a big “X” in the field, where something awaits him that he can’t see.
Rub and Tug’s audio commentary on “Cut” gives the usual making-of info, such as how long it took for Rub’s toenails to grow before they could film that. Not only that, but R &T also recorded a second commentary that comments on their FIRST commentary. Now you’ve got 3 audio layers running: The first being “Cut”, the second being the first audio commentary, and now the second audio commentary, where, despite the promise to comment on their audio commentary, the guys sometimes resort to talking more about “Cut”.
The Night Shift
The Night Shift features Elizabeth Ammann, Darren Meekin, Ingrid Sanai Buron, Paul Mullan, Lori K. Davis, Ilana Longcor, Miguel Romero, Lori Lee Haener, and Dom Zook in a great bunch of skits.
It’s In The “You’s”
Class is in session, where the lesson is to learn the proper way to say, “How YOU doin’?” The teacher, clad in a leather jacket is not impressed with the way it’s being said and brings two students to the front, who have attended the class for 2 months and know the lingo perfectly. One guy, Melvin is a bother to the teacher and is constantly told to shut up. It’s all in how the players handle themselves, and they do it beautifully.
The Lisa and Lenny Show
Obviously having fun with morning talk shows, “The Lisa and Lenny Show” is very, very iffy. The guest on this particular episode is Mary Withers of the Miami Zoo who brings to the stage a few dogs, claiming that they are of a strange new species and one of them is expected to sprout wings. It’s not so much that the dogs seem very new to both co-hosts, it’s that the players seem to have a bit of trouble with the material, which seems more annoying than funny.
This one is an advertisement for a different kind of cigarette for “social posers”, such as a woman who wants to be part of the cool crowd, but can’t fit in because cigarettes factor into the equation and she’s never been able to handle more than one puff. Cinnamonarette has a holding area for the smoke, so that the user doesn’t have to inhale the smoke to look cool. It also helps people that want to become smokers, as shown by an older guy, who wanted to become a “full-time smoker” and had much success once he cut out the part of the cigarette where the dangerous stuff is held.
A Hell Designed by Gwyneth
Great costuming helps this piece where a daffodil complains of his treatment by a woman named Gwyneth. At first, he was part of the flowerbed of a woman who loved and respected her flowers and then it was on to Gwyneth when he was yanked out of the ground and placed in a flowerpot. Gwyneth also happens to be a junkie, so not only does the daffodil have a good hold on cigarettes, but he was also exposed to crystal meth, and can’t get any rest at all. This is one nervous flower.
Why must we contend with computer help lines, constantly being put on hold and being forced to wait for all eternity, our ears pressed to the phone and disturbed by crappy light jazz, all the while hoping that some human being comes on the line that knows what they’re doing? I don’t know. But a store such as the one in “Compootar” would be ideal. A guy walks in with his girlfriend, carting a computer hard drive that has an error message upon start-up. Enter the person, or tribe member, that helps the error message become nothing more than a file erased in the recycling bin. She has a bone through her nose, and refers to the computer as “Compootar”. The girl puts a bit of war paint on both people and all 3 of them walk around the counter, chanting. Lucky for the guy, his computer gets fixed in no time.
It’s the story of a guy, a girl, and an Anarchist who questions why he should have to pay for anything. Ironically, his book of choice is of course, the Anarchist Cookbook. The guy that walks into the store and sports a Welsh accent, asks for books with pictures and it’s soon revealed what he’s actually looking for. The owner of the store is pretty annoyed with both of them and from her looks, wants them out as soon as possible. Looks like they were scaring smart people away.
Crack open a can and you’ll hear laughter. Crack on your boss for coming up with the idea, and your laughs as well as your entire life force are his. Jack in Marketing is called in to meet with the boss about this idea and that’s pretty much what happens.
An audio commentary on “Canned Laughter” by Dom Zook and director Ken Westermann is provided and there are many fascinating tidbits on how certain things shown in the film, were made. For example, the radiator on the left side in the boss’s office are actually organ pedals placed on cinder blocks. Both men don’t putz around on this commentary and a lot is learned in a short amount of time. There’s also another extra called “Slates by Cecelia” and it takes footage of Cecelia and her clapboards during the “Canned Laughter” filming and sets it to either Beethoven or Mozart’s music. You might be able to identify the dead composer better than I was able to.
Cough up your best singing voice for this swell bunch of folks who specialize in musical sketch comedy. They come up with some clever zingers that’ll have you laughing.
The ensemble’s first song on their menu is about the train wreck that life can be with all the worries that can pile on you; one on top of the other and it just can keep on going like that.
She Likes You
The chorus only speaks the truth in this one where it’s another sad case for an unlucky sap who’s let down by the girl he likes with that famous line of wanting to be friends. He’s told that he’s like a brother to her and she sings to him that, “I like you the way Rosie likes Tom Cruise.” Harsh words, and for those who have had it happen to them, they’re even harsher.
A vampy kind of style is presented here, where a well-dressed guy sings about a girl who does everything he likes, but he believes she’s just too perfect for him. Schmuck.
It’s time for a musical celebration of the above female organ, with words from two male cast members about the dick and ballsack. When lines are thrown around such as, “Come and give my happy pie a try,” you’d be stupid not to sit back, listen, and bust a gut.
The Wahltoons is the work of David Wahl, who also performs with Unexpected Productions, another group on this DVD. Dave’s work here ranges from “educational” films to an unhappy cartoonist.
The Literacy Midget
Made in black-and-white and even joking around with the strand of hair stuck in the projector, “The Literacy Midget” introduces us to Tom and Jess who find reading to be an absolute bore and debate jobs that wouldn’t require them to read. Along comes Bunky the Literacy Midget, to which the host of the piece exclaims, “What a jolly looking fellow, and what a gay hat!” By the end of this, you’ll believe a midget can help two 20-somethings-playing-schoolkids read.
The never-ending Battle of the Sexes rages on with a couple saying that they love each other more. The guy can prove that he loves his girlfriend more and pulls out what appears to be a jewelry box, but it’s not what it appears to be. Good going because it seems too early for him to surrender like that.
The Happiest Man Alive
A drunken cartoonist is woken up with a nasty call from an editor who needs a cartoon from him, pronto. He tries to come up with a new idea for his comic and it soon leads him to the bathroom where pot, LSD, and heroin are located in convenient bottles. That’s a smart move considering how hard it would probably be to get the real thing and illegal in many places too. He also tries to slice his wrist, obviously trying to rid himself of the burden that comes with his line of work, but eventually has his idea in place and draws it out.
We have here a good group of improv folks who also make a hell of a mockumentary.
Try to keep up with the many stories related here. It first starts off with a girl’s fear of flying, and progresses to a creation of some invention, and then continues with a story about a rollerblading session in Paris, along with 7th graders seemingly destined to become lovers, and one or two other stories. After each story starts, it goes back to “fear of flying” girl who tells a bit more and then on to the next and so on and so forth.
The Man Behind the Motion
That’s no mistake on the end credits. Xbox did sponsor this mockumentary, which sets its sights on Michael White, a giant in the motion capture industry with a major ego. Midtown Madness 3 is in production, and he believes that’s his greatest work. In one scene, he has to dive out of the way of a car and with all the yellow balls on him that enable the animators to do what they need to do, he’s prepared to do just that. However, he has a hissy fit because he does not recognize the guy holding the fender and wants a real car in the studio to drive toward him, so he can dive out of the way believably. He may have an ego, but he’s pretty passionate about what he does.
David Mitsuo Nixon (no relation to who you’re thinking of) presents us with “Five Short Death Scenes” of people dying in different ways.
Geez! This guy’s got about as many ties as some women have pairs of shoes! He tries on so many and rejects a lot of them because they don’t match the look he wants with his suit. He seems to want the tie to make a statement, but doesn’t get the chance to find the right statement when he ties one too tight and can’t get it off. Yep, you got it. He choked.
It’s 5:00 a.m. and the alarm goes off. Guy gets up, takes a shower, puts two bagel slices in the toaster and one slice comes out fine, but another gets stuck. From the Hall of Tools Used In An Act of Stupidity comes the knife and fork, along with electrocution.
A guy learns that his girlfriend’s mother and her new husband Ernie are coming over for a couple of weeks because work is being done on their house. It’s time to do what any normal, red-blooded guy would do: Get fucked up beyond belief. However, it’s hard to do that when pot is nil, the alcohol’s not there, and the marijuana brownies have been eaten. The basement provides a possible solution with turpentine, which, with a black cloth, is inhaled over and over again, until this doofus chugs some down, and spasms to death. Moron.
All hail the eternal banana peel gag! A jogger stretches and begins his exercise, lifting his knees near his chest as he jogs. Thoughts of him possibly getting hit by a car are quickly extinguished as a scraggly man unpeels a banana and soon throws the peels on the ground. It’s not the banana gag that’s so much funny as is the end result for the jogger, who probably suffers a fate worse than the first four guys. With the rest of them, it was a quick death.
This terrific sketch comedy group features Jill Purcell, Mark Shone, Walt Pohl, Matt Steele, John Boyle, Elizabeth Westermann, Jim Steendahl (who also produced), and Ken Westermann (who directed all the skits). Unfortunately, the group broke up in Fall 2002, but it’s lucky that they left behind a lot of wonderful work, including what’s in their batch of extras.
What The Hell Was That?
Nostradamus is the subject of this episode of “What The Hell Was That?” as it is debated how true his quatrains actually were in the world of sports. At one point, he’s shown wearing a New York Yankees cap. Push “Pause” before the credits and try to go through them slowly as there are a few comical bits to be found there.
It’s an advertisement for a pill called “Xanafil” which has the ability to cure social anxiety, but in the process it may also cause spontaneous human combustion. The combustion effect is skillfully done.
Times are tough for Bob the Magic Mirror in Mergers and Acquistions for an unnamed company. He’s apparently not doing well enough and his boss is frowning heavily upon that. Bob tries to play the race card in that not enough of his kind are hired, but as we learn, there’s a magic mirror in Shipping and a prism in Research. It’s ultimately decided that Bob will have an executive position in the company, but not that kind of cushy executive job.
Yeah, why do good things happen to bad people? We have here a good flower-sniffing Samaritan standing next to a beer chugging biker dude who throws his empty beer can on the ground, leaving the Samaritan to pick it up. As shown here, God sometimes misses his mark.
A Flag Day advertisement from “Da Beers” suggests that a man should show that he would surrender his freedom to the woman he loves, all over again and should do so by purchasing a diamond ring. The best part here is the white flag waved around by the man’s hand before presenting the ring.
“All Filler” members Matt Steele and Elizabeth Westermann step up for this skit in a cooking show for “Waist Watchers” members who are forced to count points to make sure that they don’t go over their daily limit. Recipes that are touted as “zero point” include an asparagus smoothie made with a cup of water, 4 asparagus stalks, and a cup of ice, and a mustard soup. When a pudding cup is accidentally found on the tray and placed behind the pot during the mustard soup scene, Westermann grabs that quickly. Weight program sufferers can probably relate.
“Indifference” is a satire on all those pretentious looking perfume commercials that includes people standing on the beach. “Indifference” is also a perfume that makes women indifferent to everything, such as a shot where a guy takes off his towel and the woman looks down and looks up again, facing the window. Truly indifferent, but very funny.
In order to avoid copyright infringement, the name on the I.V. bags says, “Gatoraid”, but that’s not entirely the point. Here it’s shown that with a bag of Gatorade in your arm, you can play sports faster and longer, and even swim faster than any competitors. There’s a bit of an emergency situation at the end with a collapsed guy in a gray sweatshirt jacket, but with the I.V. attached, he springs up, shouting, “I FEEL SO REVIVED”. This is one of All Filler’s best.
After an “All Filler Factoid” is shown, plenty of good outtakes come up, including someone in a panda suit, hurriedly ripping through a McDonald’s bag and burping that takes place before a skit’s shoot, prompting Elizabeth Westermann to ask her fellow player, “Are you done?” There’s also an intentionally bad, but amusing Seinfeld impression.
In the “All Filler” extras, there are some major treats, first beginning with an audio commentary by Jim Steendahl, and Ken and Elizabeth Westermann on every single skit shown. In the opening scenes for “All Filler”, each cast member holds up a half poster-size card with their name and in a reaction to Ken’s, Elizabeth says, “That’s Ken’s sign because dyslexia is funny.” The female Westermann also provides a great drinking game during the “What The Hell Was That?” skit. Every time you hear the word “quatrain”, take a swig of beer. Two of the most interesting stories on the commentary can be found during “Zero Points” and “Indifference”. In “Zero Points”, we learn that Elizabeth and Matt were doing Weight Watchers at the time and the skit sprouted out of that. For “Indifference”, the stunt ass in there was chosen from a gym that one of the male members of the group went to.
As in a cheesy TV advertisement pushing you to buy something; THAT’S NOT ALL!!! There’s John Boyle’s intentionally bad impression of Seinfeld where he asks what is up with airports and also comments on Europeans being one continent away from us and ocean in between us, stopping with, “Have you seen this ocean? It’s blue and deep!” “Indifference” is also shown in Pig Latin and for those who watch “Whose Line Is it Anyway?”, there’s an improvisation short without Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and all the rest. The improvisational show was workshopped for Public Access Cable and involves two “All Filler” members interrogating a third on a Spork that she smuggled through airport security. It works very well.
The final group on the DVD is “Troop!” whose work here is on stage, much like “Cupidplayers”, but very different in style. “Troop!” features Kevin Chesley, Jason Dugre, Britt Erickson, Steve Sabellico, Bryan Shukoff, and Brent Simons.
Two employees at separate counters speak at the same time and argue with each other, asking, “How may I help you?” The managers come along, speaking at the same time, and wondering what the problem is here. Then to top it off, two robbers walk in, performing the same movements, and provide a great climax to the piece.
A couple is having problems with their relationship and at a restaurant; it all comes to a head when their respective problems that prevents them from having a normal relationship, appear. For the girl, she’s a survivor of Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, and tells her boyfriend that he’s been following her ever since she left camp. Jason makes an unwelcome appearance and has to be constantly killed by her. For the guy, he always has to shoot the Wolfman. For the waiter, he has his own problems as well, but nothing as bad as what the other two are going through. His issue is with the Invisible Man, who’s constantly interrupting his work. Because this is a stage piece, there are instances where the laughter from the audience overpowers the next lines of dialogue from the cast members.
Zombies are in the backyard and for two roommates, this is not going to be a fun time. For instance, one of them owes $30 for cable, but those darn zombies are just so interesting.
The guy in the #7 shirt ends up not going to work because the zombies in the backyard fascinate him. The other guy comes home and is surprised that he didn’t go to work. The zombie-loving dude also provides a description of what the zombies have been up to, such as one that has been walking around in circles all day.
For those who are thinking of entertaining zombies, tortilla chips might get them in the house. That’s what the zombie-obsessive to get one of them in the house uses. His roommate is plenty annoyed, asking him if he wants them to lose their security deposit. All 3 pieces, split from one big skit, are very entertaining.
That’s everything on “Laughing-Stock”. All you’ve got after that is a brief trailer for the “Shortkutz” DVD magazine and the DVD credits. This is one of the finest DVD compilations I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch and this is something that should be enacted year after year. Laughing-Stock 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all, so long as the fresh material holds out. It should be tried as a once-a-year release and then gradually become something that’s released every 6 months. This could be a great idea as a second line of DVDs for the Shortkutz name and I hope that will happen in the future.
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