This time last year, I hadn’t yet experienced the delight that is The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Since then, I’ve become a bona fide fan, even subscribing to their podcast. I admit, I was disappointed when the lovely Busy Philipps confirmed via Twitter that she would be missing this year to attend the SAG Awards in LA, but the addition of Rider Strong was a happy consolation. And really, what better way to spend a Saturday night solo in San Francisco than at a charming comedy show? I couldn’t think of anything, either, so I schlepped over to Marines’ Memorial Theatre last night at 7pm sharp and prepared for the fun to ensue!
For those unfamiliar with the format of this show, it follows the style of 1940s radio shows, including commercials by sponsors (namely “Work Juice Brand Coffee” and “Patriot Brand Cigarettes”), as well as several sketches whose serial storylines are constantly evolving. The result is a good time, whether you follow the show regularly or are witnessing it for the first time. After a quick word from sponsors both literal (a Sketchfest representative) and imaginary (a WJBC commercial featuring “Baby New Year” and the outgoing “Old Man Last Year,” (Bill Corbett & Kevin Murphy) as well as the heroic and hilarious Paul F. Tompkins as the “King of Coffee”), the evening began with its first feature: “Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars.” The title character, played by Marc Evan Jackson, hasn’t been himself ever since his best girl and his best friend ran off together. Unfortunately, his help is needed: something has all the animals on Mars speaking! After convincing him to sing a song and get ready to solve the issue, Sparks’s horse Mercury (John Hodgman) finally has a chance to confess: he doesn’t need to be painfully spurred. “Just say hiiii-yah!” The horse asks. “Don’t say it and spur me!”
On their ride’s “galactic trail,” the two are caught in a giant web, which they quickly discover to have been masterfully crafted by a bitter spider named Kevin (Rider Strong) who blames Sparks for the death of his parents and vows to kill him. (Personally, I hadn’t seen much of Strong since his Boy Meets World days, and he’s just as handsome now as then…and perhaps funnier?) When his web fails to contain Sparks and Mercury, he laments, “do you have any idea how much silk I had to pull out of my butt?!” As they get away, he calls after them, “I’ll get you, Sparks Nevada!” Eventually, Sparks and Mercury discover a giant switch in the “on” position: the source of the animals’ sudden new ability to talk as humans. They meet Technos the Advanced (Mark McConville), who mocks them with the “technology of sarcasm” before introducing them to his “robits,” who are impossibly slow and unimpressive…until their hands turn to buzzsaws. Even so, they’re easily avoided, and Kevin the Spider shows up to intervene; technology is bested, as Technos bows to superiority and the machine is switched back to “off.” Having had his life saved by Sparks, Kevin the Spider is left feeling conflicted, and ultimately allows him to pass safely with Mercury, adding that his “blood vow remains!” The sketch closed with a final song.
Up next, another commercial: this time featuring a couple (Annie Savage & John Dimaggio) celebrating their anniversary with Work Juice Coffee and a character called “Beansy,” who infuriates the King of Coffee. (“Pretender to the crown!”) Unfortunately, there can only be one symbol for Workjuice Coffee, and so Beansy must die! This sketchlet was particularly fantastic, as Tompkins is an absolute riot as the King.
Next, a segment I’d yet to see live: “Amelia Earhart: Fearless Flyer” (Autumn Reeser) answered the age-old question, “what ever happened to Amelia Earhart?” Apparently, she’s been time traveling, fighting Nazis throughout history. This particular evening sent her to the turning point in the American Civil War as the scene opens with twins born at exactly the same moment (McConville & Craig Cackowski), killing their mother. Their father (James Urbaniak) is dying, and they fight over which one of them should get his legendary gun. Uninvited, a man enters, identifying himself as Helmut Hellmann (Keegan Michael Key) and insisting that giving the gun instead to an unrelated (but deserving) party would solve their family dispute. Before a decision can be made, Amelia Earhart comes in to save the day (and keep the gun out of Nazi hands). Using fantastic logic, she finds the father’s will, only to discover that everything except his love (which is to be left equally to his sons) has been left…to his gun! He gives the gun to Earhart in appreciation for uniting his family; she shoots Hellmann (using her own pistol, not the mighty gun) and takes the special gun away to a warehouse “for safekeeping…” or until she needs it herself!
The next commercial shows two couples in a soda shop: one older, nostalgic couple watching the younger couple who appear to be on their first date. The King of Coffee shows up and insists that the older couple (Savage & DiMaggio) be seized; the younger couple obey as the younger woman (Reeser) admits she’s having fun and kisses her date. The bit ended with a jingle as the King declares, “suck a cup of Workjuice or I’ll have your head!”
The next feature was a story called “The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam” (DiMaggio), along with the help of his “Adventurekateers” (Savage & Steve Agee). This episode, “Uncanny Exes,” has all the lady villains of the land “uncharacteristically argumentative,” collaborating to create havoc. When the young lady ‘kateer suggests it might be something to do with hormonal alignment, the boy ‘kateer misunderstands. She alludes to “aunt Flo,” and he’s only further confused because he has an aunt Flo of his own: his aunt, “Florence Montenegro,” who’s back in Apex City after a time in Bergopolis. She seems to have much in common with Captain Laserbeam’s ex, Dream Girl, who shows up and explains that it’s not Handsome Devil who’s responsible for all the madness: it’s Lady Justice (Gillian Jacobs), who’s gone rogue! When they get to her, she insists she’s not a villian: she’s still about justice…of a sort. She’s also joined by a sidekick named Garrett (Colin Hanks). Lady Justice explains that she’s not unstable, she’s reacting to injustice of the heart: she recently “teamed up” with Dream Girl. Dream Girl explains that it was like when she teamed up with girls in college, but Lady Justice has been waiting for her…and is still waiting. On Justice’s command, Garrett flips a “swift adjudicator” switch, making Dream Girl instantly fall for her again. They team up again, Captain Laserbeam gets too close and is similarly affected. As they all head out to stop the criminals Justice sicced on them, Phillip Fathom: Deep Sea Detective (Hal Lublin) says there’s need and simply breaks the romantic adjudicator, freeing Dream Girl and Captain Laserbeam from its spell. Lady Justice goes to jail, hailed now as “Lady INjustice.” Dream Girl thanks Captain Laserbeam for saving her from the adjudicator, and kisses him. She kisses Phillip Fathom too. Captain Laserbeam invites her to coffee…she declines, but Phillip Fathom accepts instead.
Another commercial, now at the Coffee Castle: the kids from the previous commercial are excited to be invited to the King’s feast. The ghosts of the older couple, however, occupy the seat of honor the kids had saved for the King. Thinking quickly, the kids give him a cup of Workjuice coffee and the ghosts vanish; the King declares himself a man again!
The final sketch of the evening, “Beyond Belief” is easily my favorite of every Thrilling Adventure Hour, for several reasons. First of all, I just find the humor to be in a tone I can’t get enough. More importantly, though, I just adore Paget Brewster, who is absolutely brilliant as Sadie Doyle, who is a medium alongside husband Frank (Tompkins), lives in New York City’s Plaza hotel. The two would much rather sit around together and drink martinis, but unfortunately, they’re regularly bothered by pesky ghosts needing their help. This particular episode begins with Sadie recounting the first time they met: of course, they’re interrupted by the former occupant of their suite, Slaypurt Frow (Urbaniak), who lets himself in with his own key. They mention they get his mail sometimes, and that once they got his ghosts: a few ghosts who were looking for him, that is. “The Dickens, you say!” he exclaims, adding that he doesn’t care to be haunted. When they ask him if he came to them to be protected, he says “I accept your offer!” and they try to shoo him out the door with Frank seriously annoyed, telling him, “goodbye! On second thought…just regular bye!” Alas, it’s too late: in walks a ghost, who turns out to be the Ghost of Christmas Past (Hanks), apologizing for the mixup. He asks if they can consider it water under the bridge; Sadie laments that she wishes it wasn’t water but whiskey. They discover that Christmas Past is in love with the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jacobs), who he says “lives in the moment!” She comes in at that moment, scolding him for living in the past. She’s there to do a job, she insists, but Christmas Past keeps getting in her way. When no one leaves, Christmas Present tells Frow she wants to show him his employees all working hard instead of attending Christmas parties; Sadie interrupts to be sure she knows it’s well into January by now. Christmas Present is horrified: “oh my God, you’ve gotta be kidding me!” Christmas Past tries to work with her, but she proves to be a somewhat feminist ghost, going into a whole spiel about how she was working on her post-grad degree when she died. It comes out, however, that she’s hung up on the Ghost of Christmas Future (Lublin). Christmas Past starts to trash him, she insists she’s trying to get herself together and is proud of herself when in walks Christmas Future. Immediately, Christmas Present reverts to a giggly, flirty shy girl. Christmas Future wants to show Frow his grave site, and the Doyles excitedly try to get them all to leave so they can return to their martinis. Sadie is in no mood to visit a grave site, but she’ll go if it’s to visit a bartender! Frow doesn’t drink, he explains, and the Doyles are deeply offended at the idea. Meanwhile, Christmas Present throws herself at Christmas Future, who says it could never work. While the ghosts and Frow argue over loves and revisiting old heartache, Sadie continues to try to get them all to leave the apartment. Future does leave, though at first glance he’s not done much…or has he? Frank wants Frow to leave as well, but Frow explains that he came for the aforementioned mail. His time is too valuable to be bothered with the post office, he continues. He finds a Christmas card from his father, who threw him out one Christmas for stealing a bottle of whiskey (he didn’t do it). The father had forgiven him and sent a bottle of the very same whiskey in apology, saying he was dying and had weeks to live…but it’s been years since the card was sent. Naturally, Frank and Sadie urge Frow to drink, and he relents, forgiving his father as his anger “slips away.” Sadie & Frank keep drinking as he runs off, throwing giant snowballs in the streets. As the scene closes, the Doyles remind us to forward our mail. Clink!
And with that, it was time for a much-deserved curtain call full of funny, fantastic actors I look forward to every chance I get. Just like last year, Colin Hanks came out with his San Francisco Giants hat on to raucous applause. (I tweeted to ask if he’s sincerely a fan, since he did the same last year. His response was that he’s done it all three years TAH has been at SF Sketchfest. No word on whether or not the Giants are actually his team.)
**Note: with a show like this, it can be tough to keep up with all the names of the many players on stage, especially when you’re furiously scribbling notes in the dark while trying not to miss anything. If you notice any mis-credited actors (or know the names of the few I had to leave out), please email me and I’ll fix them ASAP! Special thanks/shout out to @ThrillingAdv and the hilarious (and helpful) @HalLublin for the help verifying a few of the names for me! I appreciate the help!