Schadenfreude, at Heartland Studio Theater. French philosopher Henri Bergson once suggested that there's nothing funnier than the person who sleepwalks through life, out of touch with his own surroundings. And if there's a more steadfast rule for good comedy, I haven't found it. All the great silent-film comedians--Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd--followed this principle. Steve Martin used it as the basis for some of his most brilliant characters, and Andy Kaufman created a whole madcap persona out of it. Even hacks like Pauly Shore unwittingly apply Bergson's idea to their stand-up routines.
I've yet to see much evidence of Bergson's writings in Chicago, however--supposedly a hotbed of comedy where improv and sketch-comedy groups sprout up like weeds. Schadenfreude is different. Like the best of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Mr. Show, this evening of sketch comedy draws on the absurdity of everyday interactions for its humor rather than the usual scatological or pop-culture references. And to top it all off, the troupe's six deft members have been performing their brainy, brilliant mix of scenes, songs, and monologues for the past six months, writing completely new material for the hour-long show each and every week. Most troupes can't put together a competent, coherent show in six weeks, much less one. It doesn't get much better than this. --Nick Green