". . . OR YOUR FACE WILL FREEZE LIKE THAT!"
White Boys With Rhythm
at the Roxy
McKersie and Westerholt were invited to appear on the Gong Show recently performing Ninja Twins . . . Mr. T gonged our boys. What a schmuck.
Gonged by Mr. T. Now how many Chicago actors can say that? The White Boys With Rhythm are mighty proud of their national television appearance and the infamous judge who gonged them off the air. To show us what a schmuck Mr. T really is, Robert McKersie and Michael Westerholt perform their entire Ninja Twins routine in ". . . Or Your Face Will Freeze Like That," pretending to be inept Asian acrobats with large objects stuffed in their tights. Throughout the routine, indeed throughout the entire show, I asked myself; where is Mr. T when you need him? This is one of the most sophomoric, insulting, and just plain stupid comedy revues I have ever seen.
A Gong Show rejection should have tipped them off. A TV show that revels in stupid human tricks is about the only place I can imagine White Boys With Rhythm succeeding. All the sketches in this show are the sort you might have found funny back in junior high. In the locker room. At a really backward school. But if your sense of humor has not progressed beyond ethnic slurs and shit, fart, and titty jokes, this is the show for you.
No one in this five-member troupe can carry a tune, but there are several songs in the show. Bad wigs and loosely stuck-on mustaches substitute for character development. The videotapes used make home movies look like Lucasfilms. At one point, sandwiched between two of the group's video sketches, a short snippet from an old movie or television show appears for no apparent reason. Though it looks like something that was on the tape before the so-called comedians recorded their own skits over it, it turns out to be one of the more entertaining moments of the evening, its presence lending to the proceedings a touch of absurdity that the White Boys don't seem to know exists. Unfortunately for them, this snippet also gives the audience some real actors to look at, thereby pointing up the difference between acting and what these guys do.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this group, who claim to be an improv-comedy team, is their complete lack of talent in or understanding of improvisation. They play a kind of show and tell, exhaustively telling us about an improv game, then showing us exactly what they've described, no elaboration or creative embellishment. They seem to think that improv games are funny in and of themselves, rather than means to an artistic end.
The night I was there, for instance, the first improv had the audience choosing one of two Tennessee Williams plays. A Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie. We chose Streetcar. We were then asked for a page number and an occupation. The improv involved an actress reading the scripted lines on the given page number, while an actor (with the occupation) supposedly reacted. The actress just stood there, emotionlessly, and read. Worse, her partner made little attempt to make any sort of scene with her or the text; most of what he said had to do with how confused he was by her strange and meaningless conversation.
In other words, the White Boys With Rhythm set up a situation in which bizarre conversation was bound to take place, then constructed a scene consisting entirely of telling us that bizarre conversation was taking place. Whatever happened to that Acting 101 axiom, "Don't tell me, show me?" This bunch must have been out swallowing goldfish during that lesson.
As though it wasn't bad enough that the performers never connected with each other, they also showed a surprising lack of intelligence as individuals. In another improvisation a female trader and an airline steward were taking a spin in a clothes dryer when a third character emerged as the FAA (an audience suggestion). The actress, and I use that term lightly, evidently thought that "FAA" was LaSalle Street jargon: "Oh, look," she chortled, "it's one of my trading buddies!" The airline steward shamefacedly corrected her and steered the improv back on its former warped track.
Given the inept performances, the offensive scripted material of ". . . Or Your Face Will Freeze Like That" becomes revolting. A typical sketch (and one that the White Boys are obviously fond of, since they do it in several installments) is the gay-bashing exercise they call "Dippity Duo." In this spoof of the Batman television series, Fagman and his trusty companion, Bobbin, set out to bust a rabidly antigay comedian. (Of course we have to hear some of his fag jokes, just so we'll know what a Neanderthal he is.) The comedian turns out to be Fagman's archrival in disguise, the Poker, who is also, mysteriously, homosexual. The Poker and Bobbin get into a purse fight, and eventually the Poker freezes the Dippity Duo with a special brand of hairspray. Could this be the end of our heroic twosome? Don't you wish.
In the next horrifying installment, Pussywoman starts sniffing around with her friend, Tabby, who is in heat. Tabby takes a liking to Bobbin, so Pussywoman sprays him with her special tuna titty douche. (I'm not making this up.) This renders Bobbin heterosexual. Fagman eventually outsmarts Pussywoman and convinces her that everyone should be allowed his own sexual preference, ending the skit on a high moral note.
White Boys With Rhythm make fun of lots of people in a similar tasteless manner. Muslims, Japanese, hillbillies, south-side Chicagoans, celebrities--you name it, they'll try to insult it. And they'll throw in some fart jokes and bad sexual humor for good measure.
The most intelligent thing the group has done is to eliminate the intermission. Even so, once the check comes and the end is in sight, the audience's sense of anticipation becomes palpable--it's almost a countdown. The night I saw the show, the Roxy's patrons started responding to requests for suggestions by offering their feelings about the quality of the entertainment. Asked to name an emotion that one character might feel for another, someone in the audience shouted "revulsion." Asked to name a slight quirk that a character might have, one patron answered "half a brain."
One segment of the show stood as a metaphor for the entire evening. A videotape made backstage and The Gong Show records an interview with a peculiar character named Donald the Nut, sort of a Pee-wee Herman gone bad. As we watch, Donald attempts to light a fart, but his "rectum is camera shy" and he ends up shitting in his pants. White Boys With Rhythm try hard to ignite a spark, but what they produce at the Roxy is a foul, stinking mess.