Sketchfest Review: Viva Variety! at Eureka Theater, 1/29/11

by Dakin Hardwick on February 1, 2011

At The Eureka Theater last Saturday night, there was a definite air of nostalgia. I often consider Viva Variety! to be the forgotten middle child. It wasn’t nearly as popular as it’s predecessor, The State, nor did it have the longevity of Reno 911. It was a fun program, the fictitious variety show from Europe featuring Thomas Lennon as Mr Meredith Laupin, Kerri Kenney (Silver) as The Former Mrs. Agatha Laupin, and Michael Ian Black as Johnny Blue Jeans, their announcer. But, it never comes up. When you search for the program on YouTube, you will find all of about 4 clips. Where you can find almost anything ever on the internet, the 13 episodes of this show are merely a fading memory.

I don’t think anybody ever expected this reunion. It may be because of the success Sketchfest had with The State in 2009 and Reno 911 in 2010, but the masses snatched up tickets to this show faster than any other gig this year, including Murphy Brown and Saturday Night Live reunions that were far more popular in it’s day, and have lasted in syndication.

The majority of the people in attendance were all around the same age, seemingly in their late 20’s/early 30’s, and like me probably remembered the show from their high school years. Then, as everyone was getting settled, Robin Williams crawled out from backstage and took a seat with the crowd. That’s when you know that you are at the best comedy show in town.

The show opened with an overture from a  Nuevo-Swing combo named The Daygo 5. They did about 5 minutes of music before Johnny Blue Jeans came out in a shiny blue shirt and a giant fake pompadour. He then introduced Laupin & Former Mrs Laupin, he walked through the crowd, kissing many audience members on the cheek, and made an all around spectacular entrance.

When they took the stage, everything felt like we were transported back to 1997. Black, Kenney, and Lennon all looked like they haven’t aged a day in the last 13 years, and seemed to fall right back into the roles as if Comedy Central canceled the show yesterday. They bantered about for about 15 minutes, all in character, all improvised. They joked about getting canceled by Comedy Central, they joked about everything 90’s related, and even made a few comments about how Julian Assange is withholding Viva Variety! as his last great leak. The three were all on point, and it was one of the funniest bits I’ve seen in a long time. These are three of the greatest improv actors of our time, and they were all putting in 110% for this bit.

Sadly, we only got very little stage time from these thespians. The majority of the set became a bit of a “clip show.” The hosts would do a little bit of bantering, and then do a few classic clips from the show. We got to see a lot of the guests from over the years, ranging from contortionists to a human slinky. They also ran through a clips of the musical guests, reminding me that 1997 was a pretty amusing year, with clips from Luscious Jackson, They Might Be Giants, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Jonathan Richman, and many more. It was fun to watch clips from a show that’s faded from memory, but I wish we had more actual live performance.

In the spirit of the show, they did have two “guests.” The first one was the Freidkin’ Brothers, which included Robert Ben Garant, of The State & Reno 911 fame, They played pantsless piano, creating the illusion of playing with, well, their erect penis. The second guest was Mr Rudy Casoni. He did an awesome set of humorous swing music. He flirted with the crowd, told some genuinely funny jokes, played a few parodies, and ended his set with a lounge cover of “California Uber Alles” that he managed to turn in to a genuine cover of the Dead Kennedy’s classic. He plays a regular show in LA, and if you are every down there, I bet his full length show is pretty killer.

The few other “planned” bits that the Viva Variety! cast members did were still hysterical. We got a great fake commercial for “Perma-ham,” the ham so dense that it never goes bad. Black played a brief game with a lucky audience member called “Jefferson or Jefferson,” a quiz where you had to decide if it was George or Thomas. We also had an incredibly amusing dissection of the Police Academy series from Black. All of the material was par excellence.

Maybe I was just being greedy. You know that a great performer always leaves you wanting more, but the show clocked in a little over an hour. Yes, it was the length of 3 episodes of the show, so I shouldn’t feel to upset, but I felt like the show had just started before it ended. Maybe Assange will finally allow the DVD’s to come out. Maybe we will see more of these three actors working together because it’s magic, and given the time to put together enough material, we’ll have a solid regular show. Until then, we just have the re-kindled memories of this program from this seemingly once in a lifetime event.

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NOTE: Sorry, the swimsuit squad was not there. Boo!

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