It must happen every week, somewhere in America: friends watch Mad TV and then Saturday Night Live, and, though they love both, they’re disappointed often enough to say, “Hey! We’re funnier than that! Let’s put on a show!” So they get some goofy props and wigs, write and rehearse, and set out to prove themselves at a local venue, live.
That, in part, describes the origins of The Feral Chihuahuas (for a fuller version, see their “legend” online at http://www.feralchihuahuas.net/), and after years of growth and change, and the development of a faithful following, they’ve booked four summer weekends of original work at the Asheville Arts Center. Each weekend will feature a brand-new show, but they’re bound to adhere to the model of the first, Afterbirth of a Nation, and you’ll likely recognize it even if you’ve never seen this troupe: It’s a blend of the TV shows that inspired them.
While waiting for the fun to start, though, you may feel you’ve mistakenly wandered into a multiplex movie theatre, since The Feral Chihuahuas project ads for themselves and local businesses on a pull-down screen. Then, briefly, you might think you’ve stumbled into a comedy club, because — at Afterbirth, anyway — George “The Bastard” comes out to warm up the audience with a little stand-up. (George is clever, but he doesn’t have the bite that leads to laughter; nothing about his performance suggests he’s anything like the “bastards” he sends up.) Finally, the full cast comes out to strike a pose, a la Mad TV, and an hour’s worth of skits and pre-recorded video bits begins.
Just as their television forebears do, The Feral Chihuahuas front-load their strongest material: “Gangsta Rap for the Hearing Impaired” is hilarious, with an invented, preposterous movement vocabulary deftly employed to translate a live rap. As with all Feral Chihuahuas material, this is well-conceived, but it’s also better thought out and executed than most. Then comes “The Horrors of Gay Marriage,” one of three brief offerings on the subject; the idea of “horror” here is how normal everything is, and though that’s good for a laugh the first time, the repetition doesn’t add much, even if the audience does get a charge out of the third because of its touch of lesbian sex. Next up is the first of two filmed bits on the “Worst Places to Meet Men;” this, too, is quite strong, about a woman aggressively seeking love not only in all the worst places but also in all the worst ways.
The other sketches and videos (for a total of 14) feature good ideas that rarely go anywhere, substituting increased frenzy for development and ending rather abruptly; two women dieting at lunch by ordering progressively inedible food substitutes, for example, and a sequence on squabbling apostles and the writing of the Gospels, fall into this trap. But let’s be fair: We see this frequently on SNL, which early on embraced the notion of “dropping the elephant”: finishing a sketch arbitrarily. And if The Feral Chihuahuas work too hard at trying to promote catchphrases, they’re just following the established path. Similarly, their proclivity to focus on the “taint” (the flesh between a man’s anus and scrotum) isn’t any more gross than, say, Mad TV’s periodic obsession with anal warts.
Other approaches to sketch comedy seem sadly neglected now; it’s far too late in the day to hope for the emergence of the next Nichols and May. But if you like your late night TV sketch comedy live, The Feral Chihuahuas just might be the ticket. And you don’t need a review to know whether or not they’ll make you laugh: You can see full Feral Chihuahuas sketches and videos on YouTube and MySpace.
Afterbirth of a Nation, The Feral Chihuahuas at Asheville Arts Center. Conceived, written, directed, and performed by Katie Baker, Tommy Calloway, Sarah Erickson, Andrew McCammon, Drew McDermott, Adam Meier, and George “The” Bastard. Video direction/editing: Wyman Tanehill. Music and sound design: Tommy Calloway. Scenic design/build: Tommy Calloway and Wyman Tannehill. Costumes: The Feral Chihuahuas. Props: Andrew McCammon.