The core members of the Habit began writing comedy together back in 1995, when they were college classmates and roommates. At the time, their sketches, filled with cops and robots and astronauts, seemed born of long afternoons on the couch watching cable TV and passing a bong around. Since then, the group has taken years-long hiatuses and some of its members have made names for themselves in other projects (Stranger Genius Award–winner John Osebold, for example, with his performance-band "Awesome," and theater impresario Mark Siano with his semi-ironic "soft-rock" comedy extravaganzas). But when the Habit reconvenes to write new material, it still feels like a hazy, mid-'90s TV dream.
Habit sketches whiz by at the speed of commercials and still feature cops, robots, and astronauts, as well as a surprising number of '80s music references (in this case, "The Final Countdown" and a number from The Little Mermaid). At their best, the sketches begin with those old tropes but disappear into a whirlpool of absurdity. In one scene toward the middle of their current show, three men walk past a despondent Aquaman who's just been snubbed by Superman. (Pop icons—check.) Someone points to the ceiling and the three begin trading rapid-fire lines: "Look, up in the sky, it's a bird," "It's a plane," "It's some clouds," and so on, from "It's a zeppelin" to "It's an associate's degree" to "It's a flock of seagulls." One of them begins humming a song, which precipitates an argument about whether it was recorded by A Flock of Seagulls ('80s music reference—check). They all consult their smartphones but get lost in their screens, oblivious to the zombies that have begun staggering toward them from offstage.
Disappearing down the rabbit hole of what happens on screens (movies, TV shows, phones) is the go-to well for Habit material. But after 18 years, the gag sometimes feels a little thin—as if the boys have trudged up and down the same muddy pop-culture field so many times, they've worn those pathways into a ditch. They still bring moments of delight, as when Osebold plays a "crazy" detective who "tortures" a suspect with kids' games—wet willies, the old "got your nose" trick, playing "airplane" with a spoonful of ice cream. "You guys are the craziest cops I've ever seen, man!" the suspect squeals. "I'll put mustard in my oatmeal," Osebold snaps back. "I don't give a fuck!"
In another brief, shining sketch, a pompous producer (Osebold again) wanders across the stage, outlining his vision for a show while two assistants take notes. "Okay," the producer says, taking a breath. "So we start with the opening number of all popular musicals produced at once, 300 dancer/singers use malfunctioning Shake Weights, ice-skaters on trampolines, naked butts slapped rhythmically, then the harp battle... Then the managing director asks for donations onstage, song about how theater is dying, theater dies, funeral scene, undead theater rises, the vampire kick line, 60 pairs of tap shoes on sale half-price..."
In moments like these, when they loosen the reins on their imagination and take on a fresh subject—not the tired absurdity of Hollywood formulas, but the absurdities of the live-theater industry they've actually been working in—the men of the Habit show they've still got it.