For its one hour, ten minute length, Scottch Tomedy IV (Get Your Mind Out of the Butter) — the fourth comic outing written and performed by the more-than-capable Scott Bunn and Tom Chalmers, in this instance more than ably abetted by Bryan Morrisey and Tabatha Hall — may well represent the best live sketch comedy available in this town. Made identifiably in the mold of the apolitical sketches on Saturday Night Live, and often far more crisply and consistently done, it makes one wonder how long these gifted and skilled comedians would remain in Asheville if TV’s talent scouts dropped by.
That thought wouldn’t cross your mind, though, if all you saw was the opening, featuring the three men in the show hoisting cans of Foster’s and singing, loudly and painfully off-key, the “Australian National Anthem,” a not-particularly-funny string of Aussie clichés and shout outs in purposefully random order. Things perk up a bit in the next skit, which gently tweaks excessive displays of manliness in the context of a Little League game. Step by step, the evening gets sharper and brighter. These are professionals who know how to pace a brief, somewhat frenetic evening consisting of some 15 pieces and a handful of interstitial voiceovers for maximum effect.
Though there’s no theme, exactly, to the proceedings — Scottch Tomedy IV seems content to make you laugh without overtaxing your brain — much of the material can be grouped by type:
1) The world of sports, represented by the Little League proceedings; a locker room harangue by an outraged coach (Morrisey) that degenerates into an exquisitely detailed elucidation of the meaning of “pissing away” the game; and an exploration of color commentary at the World Cup via two word-besotted Brits (Bunn and Chalmers) and a dull-witted American (Morrisey);
2) The primacy of text messaging in our day, as displayed by baby’s first words to Mom (Hall); an unusual wedding ceremony uniting Chalmers and Hall, presided over by a game if occasionally horrified Morrisey; and a TV detective show starring Bunn and Chalmers, featuring a cameo by God;
3) Foodies, explored in several audio interludes as well as onstage through a series of blackout sketches extolling the virtues of Hardee’s hamburgers in sometimes X-rated terms; and
4) Asheville, itself, where our Regional Airport is mercilessly determined to win Chalmers’ business; where Chalmers, as Wayne Wu, a TV news personality, offers his “Wupoint” on the recent bear sighting downtown, while Morrisey and Hall, as tourists, are startled by their encounter with Bunn, who’s not the kind of bear you may imagine; and a visit to Splashville, the evening’s crowning achievement, with Chalmers and Bunn, in sparkling, skintight outfits, portraying surprisingly sentient, and oddly moving, dancing waters.
Along the way, there are miscellaneous bits concerning the filming of a Lifetime movie in which a man (Chalmers) is reunited with the object of a one-night stand (Hall) and introduced to the baby girl he didn’t know he’d fathered (Bunn, naked but for a bonnet and a disposable diaper, as an acting coach who is thrilled by this “demanding” role and manages to fill that diaper Method-ically); “You Can Do This,” a superior game show parody in which bereft contestants Bunn, Chalmers and Hall are encouraged to reflect on their losses without crying by ever-ebullient host Morrisey; “American Ballad,” in which Bunn plays guitar and sings a deconstruction of the songs of Springsteen, Mellencamp, et al; and the most localized of local beauty pageants, in which Hall, besotted by the possibility of winning, loses too much time in making the transition from talent contest to gown competition.
The writing, though mostly skimming surfaces, functions at a consistent, reasonably high level, and the performances are detailed and winning throughout. Chalmers, perhaps best known here for years of appearances as Crumpet in ACT’s Santaland Diaries, transcends the elfishness of his modest stature and red hair, and is perfectly, comedically paired with Bunn, a tall man with a shock of black hair and a big, booming voice; they’re wonderfully versatile and always on point. Morrisey, with his classic American good looks and manner, makes an excellent foil for the Bunn-Chalmers duo, and Hall is frequently preposterously goofy in the best sense. (Her application of lipstick in the beauty pageant scene is a textbook lesson in comic styling.)
What’s not to like? The Scottch Tomedy team plainly accomplishes what it sets out to do, so the question is: could they do more? The problem isn’t theirs or Asheville’s alone but one for society at large: the dominance of the sketch comedy model drilled into our heads by decades of facile, late-night TV. One might wish for a little less of the scatological and to see these craftsmen stretch out for more original form. Bunn, Chalmers, Morrisey and Hall are more than good enough to be far better still. With further opportunities, they probably will be.
Scottch Tomedy IV (Get Your Mind Out of the Butter. Written and performed by Scott Bunn, Tom Chalmers, Bryan Morrisey, and Tabatha Hall. Technical tutelage by Adam Cohen. Through Saturday, Sept. 4. Shows at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. At 35 Below, underneath Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. 254-1320 or www.ashevilletheatre.org.