Do you remember that famous sequence from Mary Poppins, the one where real human beings are placed in a world of animation? That’s how I imagine Aaf Brandt Corstius felt last night, watching her anecdotes be converted into improvised comedy.
The format for the show, which was entitled Musical Improv Spectacular and opened the Boom Chicago Comedy Festival, went like this. Corstius would stand at the centre of the stage and recount a story about her time living in America. She would tell these stories simply and casually, without dramatisation. Naturally witty, she felt no need to exaggerate what she had to say, to nudge the stories in the direction of a punchline. I enjoyed this part of the show, listening to Corstius, more than any other. Then the improv began.
Already we have run into a problem: the word ‘improv’. It was obvious to me (and, I hope, the rest of the audience) that the sketches unfolding before us were about as improvisational in their content as the State Opening of Parliament. Had they been funny, this probably wouldn’t have been a problem. But the sketches weren’t funny: or not to me, anyway. For reasons of fairness, I should include the detail that there were plenty of people in the room who didn’t share my opinion, and frequently erupted into wild laughter at what was being acted out on the stage.
Much of the humour of the sketches derived from the identification of national stereotypes. For example: Dutch people are brusque to the point of coming across as insulting, Americans are fat and obsessed with lawsuits. I take the position that there is absolutely nothing wrong with making these kind of jokes (if the comedian is talented enough, valuable material can be found in the most moribund of subjects); my objection to them in last night’s show was the way in which they were executed. There was no depth involved. Once the stereotype had been identified, the sketch immediately moved on – the joke was finished. Jacob John Shale 8th July 2022
The Boom Chicago Comedy Festival continues until 17th July. For more info and full programme, click here