The Habit
Green Lake Bathhouse Theater, www.thehabit.org. Through Aug 25.

Sketch comedy group the Habit originally called itself "Humphry's Habit" in reference to the 19th-century British chemist Humphry Davy, who discovered nitrous oxide (laughing gas). The troupe's name suggests that after Davy discovered the gas, he had a habit of consuming it regularly. Analogously, ever since audiences discovered sketch comedy, we've developed a habit of consuming the brief, giggly moments this art form provides. Everything from banter at the workplace to party tricks aspires to the form of sketch comedy.

The Habit writers and performers--Ryan Dobosh, John Osebold, Jeff Schell, Mark Siano, and David Swidler--are aware of this hunger. To ensure that every appetite for humor is satisfied, they use just about every different type of joke: silly personalities (Red Stapler Man), wordplay (in a mock Calvin Klein ad: "Fritos perfume will get you Fritos-laid"), social comment (new TV show on Jesus fighting crime), body humor, cross-dressing humor, facial-expression humor, and so on. They're tight enough to have great timing and loose enough to enjoy having their skits derailed. In short, they so excel at the sketch form that I'd want them to be my co-workers and/or party buddies.

Since this group dropped "Humphrey's" from its name, "The Habit" seems to mean something other than the habit of laughing; the troupe's comedy takes aim at the habits of the American consumer. The routines focus on breakfast cereals, movies, pop songs, baseball, pizza, toys, and (of course) television. There are exceptions, but by and large the jokes stay within the comfortable parameters of imitating or mocking American pop culture. This isn't a lack of imagination--the Habit's performers inventively turn their very show into a consumer product by cleverly referencing and even making fun of their own skits, consuming themselves as they go along. It's very funny. But while watching, this focus on our own pop excretions gave me the sinking feeling that Americans can't think--much less joke--outside of them.

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