The Professor of Comedy, at Second City, Donny's Skybox Studio, and Scary Baby: The Pat & Tamara Show, at Second City, Donny's Skybox Studio. There's a lot of stupid comedy--every gagster-rapper who gets five minutes on Letterman seems to inspire a dozen more to think, I can do better than that! But David Spark and Dion Stanley have put dumb humor at the service of smart comedy in The Professor of Comedy, a mock lecture-demonstration on how to be funny. Spark is assisted by slides of professional-looking diagrams, flow charts, and so on and by Stanley, who provides live-action examples of the topics: whether "fuck" is funnier than "shit," how to do ethnic humor without offending, the creeping menace of "prop comedians," why a question isn't funny as a punch line, why improv comedy is always unfunny.
Spark and Stanley occasionally violate their own precepts, and their tag-team work could be tighter: the classroom setup, though clever, takes too long to get moving, and we're frequently unsure whether Stanley is being disruptive to a purpose or simply stealing focus. But one key to humor is the delight of being confronted with what we know to be true, and even the most casual comedy-club visitor will recognize the veracity of Spark and Stanley's insights.
Tamara Federici and Pat Shay, the authors of Scary Baby, might profit from taking Spark's course. Some of the material in their hour-long sketch-and-monologue show is novel in concept--characters from children's stories suffer a temporary loss of morale, a bored astronaut resorts to playing childish games with a NASA guard--but many of the ideas are underdeveloped. Shay's correlation of musical-comedy plots with the history of the genre is labored in its analogies, and readings from an infant's narrative grow annoying. The most successfully executed segment involves a commercial baby photographer who exhibits her work with the reverence due high art, but it's only a small part of the evening. --Mary Shen Barnidge