Saturday, January 21st, 2017 was a historic day. It marked the most significant single day of protest the US has ever experienced. Nearly one out of every hundred Americans went to the streets to protest the agenda of the incoming administration. It was an amazing and profound experience, and I was proud to participate in it. With it, another, smaller record was broken: on this fateful day, 1,667 people experienced what will be known as the largest improv show in history. (Please don’t fact check this. It’s a joke. Don’t be that person.)
The crowd at the largest A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. performance in the history of the show was largely made up of people from the march earlier that evening, and most of downtown SF was still active when the show began. Throughout the room, people had their posters on display, prompting the core of the comedy team (Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, and Matt Walsh) to begin the show talking about the signs, asking people to read them, and paying tribute to the cause. Of course, since this was a comedy show, the whole thing devolved into a series of pussy jokes, and discussion of which are appropriate to tell in front of your daughter (Roberts’ daughter was in the crowd.) Even worse, they eventually devolved further into a discussion of Harry Potter definitions.
However, that was simply the warm up. If you are unfamiliar with the premise, A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. is an improv comedy show with a team of players and a guest monologist. Like most traditional improv, everything starts with a suggestion from the crowd. However, instead of setting up a scene from that, the monologist is forced to come up with a story, and the sketch troupe bases its scenes on that story, not the word.
Tonight our cast, in addition to the previously mentioned Upright Citizen’s Brigade veterans, included Jon Gabrus and Jessica McKenna. And our monologist was Nathan Fillion, star of Castle and Firefly, two shows that I had never heard of before this night. (I’m lying. I’ve heard of Firefly, but I’m pretty sure Fillion wasn’t the actual firefly, but some sort of human who assists the firefly in the show.)
OK. I think we are all clear on the basics of what we saw. However, since this is a review, you probably want to know how terrible it all was. Right?
Well, it wasn’t terrible. In fact, quite the opposite. Fillion amazed me as a monologist. He seemed born to build absurd stories out of single words. He managed to take the word “poonani” and turn it into a heartfelt tale of finding yourself at a nightclub. “Lost” became a tale of coping with being a human with elephant feet while traveling through Spain. “Sharks” became a tale of family togetherness. He spoke eloquently, with a touch of superhero bravado.
The sketches were fantastic, too. Besser was his usual self, with an arsenal of voices that most actors would kill for, embodying everything from a hunchbacked tour guide to an over protective brother who might be part shark. Walsh tended to be the stoic straight one. Roberts has some impeccable timing, and was great with the surprise laugh. However, the stars were the newcomers. John Gabrus was full of energy, coming up with great characters on the fly. Jessica McKenna was a monster on stage. I’ve never seen such seemingly fully-developed characters come out of an improv show!
A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. is a regular feature of SF Sketchfest, doing a show every year since the second year. And it just keeps getting better and better. It would be a terrible mistake if you neglect 2018. Don’t torture yourself that way.