by Pat Reber
I am truly disgusted. That doesn’t happen very often, but High Dramma has managed to do it. I’m watching a man, in his desperation to get laid, lick and suck on a young woman’s parasitic twin as it leaks a milky fluid onto his face and into his mouth. “It tastes like hot Miracle Whip!” he says in disgust. But this certainly isn’t the first liquid I’ve watched squirt onto the stage this evening. That’s right, I had the privilege of attending Philly Sketchfest’s “Dirtiest Sketch in Philadelphia” competition.
Let’s go back, though, about an hour. This audience is giddy. We know the show is starting in about five minutes, and we cannot wait. We have no idea what to expect. Tales of seeing real vomit and human testicles at past competitions are circulating the seats, and all we know is that every sketch tonight will try to top those stories. See, “Dirtiest Sketch” has become a staple of Philly Sketchfest over the last few years, developing a reputation for getting both grosser and funnier each time. Here we go.
House lights go down, stage lights go up, and we are welcomed to the show. We explode with applause. We’re ready. The first bit is to warm us up; make sure our gross/funny bones are in good shape. The hosts call two volunteers from the audience, who proceed to read a script transcribed from a pornographic film, line for line, including phonetic interpretations of every moan. It’s brilliant. The stilted dialogue can only be made more uncomfortable by the awkward readings from two audience members who had no idea what they were getting into. The laughter is already rolling.
Our first sketch comes from Accelerate Into Oblivion. Two groups of homeless people are feuding over a strip of land under I-95 that seems perfect for setting up camp, until one crustpunk goes into labor. The two groups are reminded of how valuable life is, and decide to share the land. The baby, of course, is dead, but the vagrants are already partying, so they (literally) toss it aside and become friends. Gross. Riotously funny. And this is only the beginning.
Next, pus shoots across the stage in Kids With Rickets’ sketch, as a doctor lances the boils caused by a man who has been wearing his zip-tie cock ring for a week straight. (“I got a little bit in my mouth!”) Merilyn Jackson reads us a medieval curse, loosely based on the Lord’s Prayer, about clergymen molesting children. (“Our Father, who art on top of me…”) Specific Jawns invites audience members to take part in a Rape/Murder Mystery Party. (The killer, we learn, is obsessed with young girls, genital mutilation, and the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes.”) This night is going disgustingly well!
On comes High Dramma. An amorous young couple is ready to sleep together for the first time, when the woman reveals that she’s got a strange sexual preference. She takes off her robe to reveal her parasitic twin, googly-eyed and growing out of her hip. She insists that her date plays with it for her pleasure. Desperate for some action, he reluctantly starts kissing it, licking it, and sticking fingers inside of it. (“There’s teeth everywhere,” she says, “you’ll get used to it.”) And, as previously described, it squirts all over his face. Delightful! The applause, laughter, and appalled faces are all at their strongest yet!
The Feeko Brothers, reigning “Dirtiest Sketch” champs two years running, come out to close the set and do not dissapoint. We’re taken to the old West, where two men exchange murderous threats and prepare to fight. The sheriff pulls his hands out from his poncho to reveal two whole, defeathered ducks as fists. The other, ready to kill the sheriff, reveals that his fists are actually two giant catfish. The two men exchange dramatic dialogue while slapping themselves and each other with raw meat for a few minutes, until the sheriff emerges the victor. Tragically disturbing. Incredibly funny.
The lights go down, and the crowd goes nuts. These performers have done their job, eclipsing past performances and turning gross-out into an art form. We all vote for our favorites. As we wait for the tally, we’re treated to another audience-read adult script. Then, finally, High Dramma is announced as the winner! We all cheer and try not to throw up!
Afterwards, I interviewed a very excited High Dramma. The members present tonight are Jackie Wolfson, artistic director; D.C. Fisher, head writer; and the sketch’s two stars, Sarah Brown and Curt Riedy.
Pat Reber: First of all, how proud are all of you of yourselves?
All: Way too proud! Super proud!
D.C. Fisher: I just told Jackie that I am more proud than I was when I graduated college.
PR: Why were you interested in doing dirtiest sketch?
Jackie Wolfson: We did the dirtiest sketch last year, and we didn’t come in first, but we got a really good feel for how funny and how dirty it was. This year, since we’re doing the Sketchfest for the first time on Thursday at 8, we decided to enter again because we were already doing the festival. Why not do as much as we could?
Curt Riedy: We really try to go for broke as often as we can. For our full shows, we try to give a nice balance of filthiness and good, clever, PG comedy every once in a while, too. We never really get to go full, full nasty, and this is just a great opportunity to make that happen.
PR: That kind of answers my next question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. How much of a stretch was this for you, as far as writing and performing goes?
CR: I think we just kind of let ourselves be more unhinged than we [usually] do.
JW: This is definitely further, what we did. [D.C., Curt, and I] sat around and tried to come up with an idea, and then Curt and I mostly wrote it, and then Sarah graciously stepped in to act in it with Curt, and D.C. was there to lend a hand…We really, honestly, haven’t done as much dirty, dirty stuff in a long time, so we kind of had to go back to a few years ago and think of what we think is dirty. But still funny.
JW: That’s the line that we didn’t want to cross: going too far into dirty, and not being funny anymore.
CR: Sometimes, when you’re trying to go as filthy as possible, you try to just get the gross laughs instead of trying to mix a little bit of creativity in it.
DCF: You’re almost going for more of just a straight reaction when you go for the real gross stuff. As opposed to “Hahaha, that’s funny,” it’s “Haha, that’s funny and gross!” We always try to aim for, when we’re doing something like this, a really unique take on the grossness.
CR: An amalgamation, if you will.
JW: I do think that this year, though, the other groups did a really good job of finding that balance, too. The other ones were really funny.
CR: All around, it was a really solid evening. Everyone just brought a great level of both gross-out and creativity. The Feeko Brothers, I thought, killed it. I was dying the entire time that was happening.
JW: We want to win Miss Congeniality, too.
DCF: We were especially proud of ourselves for being able to beat them, the guys who had absolutely dominated the last two years with incredibly gross stuff. That is another level of our pride, that we managed to out-gross the Feeko Brothers, at least on this one night.
PR: What was the parasitic twin made out of?
JW: That prop was actually made by Matt Gussie, who is not in the group, but he’s very artistic. It is styrofoam, molding clay, googly eyes, and very milky vanilla pudding. And plastic, of course.
Passer-by: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it sounds good!
High Dramma will be appearing at Philly Sketchfest on Thursday, November 15th at 8pm at Prince Music Theater (1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia). They will also be at the Walking Fish Theater (2509 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia) from December 5th-8th.
Pat Reber performs sketch comedy with the Win Show, and also has his hands in a constantly shifting menagerie of other projects. He’ll be on twitter @patreberyeah and he think’s you’re nice.