An eager crowd packed L’etage Tuesday night for this month’s edition of Camp Woods Plus, Philadelphia’s only alternative sketch comedy showcase. Joining Camp Woods this month was New York duo We’re Matt Weir and local sketch group The Judo Range.
The Judo Range opened the show with a mix of new sketches and material previously seen at their Philly Improv Theater show and The Theme Show. Their set was tight, and the strongest I’ve seen from them overall – getting solid laughs with sketches about the secrets behind national monuments, a plumber giving a priest advice on how he can “clean his pipes” and the origin of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The highlight of their set was a delightfully bizarre sketch called Chris McGrail’s Shaving Corner in which McGrail bestows some wisdom on the fine art of shearing. The Judo Range is a group beginning to find and develop its voice and figure out who they want to be on stage. Their sketches blend dark humor and some edgy topics with a surreal slant that will be fun to watch grow as the group continues to develop.
The last time I saw We’re Matt Weir they were asking Philadelphians to put their mother fucking hands in the sky if they loved weed in front of Mayor Michael Nutter (and a packed house) at Philly Improv Theater. Less than two months later, the duo was back (with a little help from some friends) with a brand new set of hilarious material. The Matts opened the show by slapping a volunteer from the audience with some cash and continued with sketches that explored a man’s search to find love despite his obsession with his own status as a worker in a sludge pit, an overly self-loathing stand-up comedian dumping his problems on the audience, a friendly hip hop group, and a nosy cooking show host that ends up looking for secrets of the wrong home cooked meal. We’re Matt Weir combines high energy performances and offbeat premises or twists with strong joke writing to put on a consistently great show. Their style also uses many sketches that have the characters directly addressing the audience – making them feel a part of the show the entire time.
Camp Woods closed out the show, as always, with a set that well-represented their wide range of talents and showcased their unique style and comedic point of view. The set opened with a fantastic sketch about a group of heroes known as The Fart Fuckers set to embark on a quest. The sketch revealed the heroes were toys being played with by three brothers, one of which inserts his real life father issues into his characters actions and words. The sketch showcased Camp Woods’ ability to pinpoint a dark issue or deep emotional problem a character has that manifests itself in a hilarious way that makes for a brilliant sketch. This is a tool they have used before, and will surely will use again, as it creates a sketch that is not only funny on the surface, but also has a deep, emotional backbone. The set took a turn for the bizarre with a pair of sketches featuring Mr. Abernathy, a man who tricks his neighbor into stealing a dog, and an Admiral with a strange problem that makes his saliva dissolve human hair. The sketches worked well, anchored by strong performances in those roles by Billy Bob Thompson (as Mr. Abernathy) and Brendan Kennedy (as the Admiral) as well as Sam Narisi and Madonna Refugia in the sketches supporting roles. Next we saw JP Boudwin as the Communist Math Teacher – who learns a little something from his students about America followed by Pat Foy as an Austin Powers impersonator who slowly realizes his life may not be as great as it used to seem. The set closed with a mourner (Rob Baniewicz) being consoled by a chain of stand-up spooners who may or may not actually know the deceased. The final sketches were full of great individual jokes as well as characters with a strong hook that comes through in their actions. With Camp Woods, it’s always show and not tell – as the characters’ true feelings and real personality come through in what they do and how they do it – never in exposition.
Camp Woods is working harder than anybody else in Philly right now, and it shows. They produce a new half hour of material every month and their shows are getting steadily stronger. They are a group that is hitting their stride, have found their voice, and know how each of their members individually fit in and work best. And it a joy to watch.