Sketchy People

One group is bringing the humor of SNL and Mad TV to local stages.

Harry Riley, left, and Jason Komm as Magneto from X-Men. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Harry Riley, left, and Jason Komm as Magneto from X-Men.

Darth Vader is on his deathbed. Sucking his last breaths, he gazes up at his son, Luke Skywalker, and delivers his dying wish: Tell Leia that she is getting kind of chubby. Also, that she has man hands. “Big, Danny DeVito man hands.”

This is a scene put on by the Rube Goldberg Device, a group of local comedians and actors who have introduced a different type of entertainment to the area in the last year: sketch comedy.

The format is familiar, of course. The popularity of shows like Saturday Night Live, Mad TV and The Whitest Kids U’Know attests to that. But chances are, most haven’t seen it live, in its true element. Without the editing, fancy sets, commercial breaks and laugh track, you’re left with the purest form of sketch comedy. Actors perform pieces they’ve written with a few props and thrown-together costumes and, most importantly, they do it all completely on the spot.

“[In Spokane] there’s really just standup and improv, when it comes to comedy, and most bars are either a DJ, a jukebox, a band or karaoke,” says Rube Goldberg Device member Will Gilman. “And those things are fun, but after a while you’re looking for other things to do.”

Gilman and others saw an opportunity. Through a play he was working on, called The Complete History of America Abridged, Gilman met Tom Meisfjord, his co-star. Meisfjord, who had been involved with both the theater and comedy scenes, was interested in forming a sketch troupe. More members came and went until they reached their current eight-person lineup.

The group’s process requires it to function as a unit way before they take the stage. They write some of the sketches on their own and some together, but the critique of sketches always happens as a group. For some, this is a stressful process.

“I came along thinking I’m funny. Now I’m going to be judged on how funny I think I am,” says Greg Wulczynski, the newest member to RGD. “It challenges you to be better, to work on being funny.

Meisfjord and Jason Komm are the main writers for the group and are responsible for some of its strongest sketches — like “Darth Vader is a Dick.”

“It’s rewarding and frustrating at the same time, because you have these things, they’re your ideas, they’re your babies, you think they’re great,” says Komm. “You write this stuff, you rehearse it, and then you just kind of sit back and see if it will resonate with people or not. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s always the danger with it. It’s like Saturday Night Live — not every sketch is a winner.”

Though they do their best to rule the duds out in rehearsals and run-throughs, it’s not always easy to predict an audience. The danger there goes beyond people just not laughing — they also have to worry about offending people.

In other groups, Meisfjord says, sometimes it’s been a cast member who has been offended, and unwilling to do a sketch. Although Meisfjord acknowledges the need for discretion, he says there’s merit in pushing the envelope as well.

“[This is] a group of enormously brave people who are willing to do sketches, to cover topics that scare other people off,” says Meisfjord, citing religion as one of those tender topics. “That makes me just egregiously proud of this group.”

The Rube Goldberg Device presents: Older! • Fri, Aug. 19 at 10 pm; Sat, August 20 at 9 pm • The Blue Door Theater • 815 W. Garland Ave. • $9 • To reserve tickets, call 747-7045

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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