“Opioides are Dope-ioides,” “Blackface is Context Dependent” and “Islam the Musical” were just some of the many possible show titles for the Midnight Comedy Troupe’s performance in Risley Auditorium this past weekend. These potential titles were revealed to the audience in a brilliantly staged cold-open in which the troupe’s president, Weston Barker, and cast member, Conrad Freire, sat on chairs on the small, dimly lit stage, and held a bare-bones brainstorming session. With every title Freire spitballed, Barker became more and more exasperated; none would work, they were simply too controversial for this dark comedy show.
This facetious introduction to Sad Feet, the show’s actual title, was paced in such a way that it had me laughing out loud. This first sketch perfectly exemplified the comedic chops of both Barker and Freire, two of the show’s standout performers. They knew when and how to deliver a joke and how to stop themselves from overselling it so as to prevent any awkward silences. Barker and Freire, and all those who contributed to the writing of this opening sketch, succeeded in pulling off a hilariously meta prelude to the show.
While the cold-open warmed up the audience and got us excited for what was to come, the show could not continue without a few warnings, after all this is dark comedy. Barker, standing in front of his audience with an official posture, proceeded to list off certain topics that could potentially serve as triggers to viewers. This list included “intense nihilism,” pedophilia, disembowelment, war profiteering, urination and nuclear warfare, to name a few. The time Barker took away from the show itself to drone on about upsetting content is a good allegory for Sad Feet and dark comedy in general.
The list was intended to be funny, each preposterous phrasing, every outlandish caution drew a boisterous laugh from the crowd because of the absolute ridiculousness they exemplified within the context of a collegiate comedy show. However, embedded within the inane, were serious triggers such as depression and suicide. It was Barker who said that dark comedy is “any material that engages with taboo subject matter,” which can range from “socio-political commentary of events on campus to… more existential, philosophical… issues.” The listing that prefaced the actual content of the show fits Barker’s definition to a tee; it presents countless controversial subjects as trigger warnings the Midnight Comedy Troupe plans to satirize. The list lightens the mood with absurdities while still shedding light on serious problems.
The show itself was sensational. The acting and cohesion of the troupe was impressive to the point that one forgets one is watching college students. The quality of the humor was intelligent and sophisticated even though the execution alone may have looked crude and immature. The “props” used by the troupe were few and far between; a wooden toy boat moonlighted as a machete while other objects similarly operated with a sense of forced versatility. However, this effectively contributed to the hilarity and silliness of the overall show.
The sketches that proved to be most entertaining were those that dealt with issues most people never want to talk about, let alone joke about. The first was a recurring sketch in which a young woman is standing with a police officer awaiting a lineup of the potential criminals who committed a crime against her. The lineup is made up of a total of five men, one of whom is obviously guilty (evidenced by his possession of items used in the crime) and another of whom is a black man (Jordan Ferrell). Despite the fact that the guilty man was clearly in the lineup, the woman constantly picked out Ferrell’s character. This subtle middle-finger to racism got consistent laughs and effectively hyperbolized and satirized a very real issue in America. The second extremely controversial sketch involved an ISIS recruitment video reimagined as a Hollywood film production. The blasé nature with which the flamboyant director (Max Buettner) instructs the ISIS actor (Spencer Blumenberg) to behead his American victim was disturbing to the point that I felt bad for laughing. It was so off color, yet so on point.
The show took a poignant turn when the troupe performed a skit that pertained to suicide. The sketch was creative; an angsty teenager (Buettner) is trying to go to sleep, but the monster under his bed (Barker) will not let him. The teenager gets so frustrated with the monster for his lame attempts at scaring him, that he tells the monster to go kill himself. The monster, clearly heartbroken, agrees. At this point the audience was silent. The cruelty of the teenager, a quality of which we are each capable, cut the audience to the core. Barker said before the show that it was a goal of the troupe to shed light on the darker parts of students’ lives at Cornell and to advocate for their pain through comedy: “we hope… that people will think about why they’re laughing and then after the show… say ‘I laughed at that,’ ‘I didn’t laugh at that.’ ‘Why?’” Suicide and mental health have been persistent and dangerous problems that Cornell administrators seem to disregard; bringing golden retriever puppies into Olin Library is nice, but it is equivalent to sticking a band-aid on a gaping wound. This heart-rending sketch made us all think back to a time when we were the monster under the bed or the one in it.
Sad Feet was an amazing show that refused to skate over controversial topics and forced the audience to think. Nothing appears to be sacred to The Midnight Comedy Troupe, but isn’t that the point?
Madeline Rutowski is a junior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]
An earlier version of this article contained a typing error made during publishing that significantly altered the meaning of a sentence to be quite offensive. We have fixed it and apologize for the error. The Sun would also like to thank the people who pointed it out to us.