at Kiku’s

Watching Kiku’s Komedy Workout, three principles of comedy occurred to me.

(1) A joke is funnier when it is coherent. Here’s one that still mystifies me: “My mother always told me, “Coffee makes you black,’ but later I found out it wasn’t the coffee–it was the Bacardi she was putting into the coffee. Bacardi makes you black!” The comedian who told the joke was black, and maybe it would have had some meaning for a black audience, but it was lost on the crowd at Kiku’s.

(2) Character jokes aren’t funnier when the actors don’t take their characters seriously.

(3) Jokes about advertising are so cheap and easy as to be virtually worthless.

Yes, I had plenty of time to ruminate philosophically on laughs because only one of the acts the Saturday I was there achieved any consistency in generating them. Kiku’s Komedy Workout is a revolving showcase for various Chicago comedy acts. The lineup my night consisted of three stand-up comics–Tim Joyce, Ty Phipps, and Jim Kopsian–and two comedy troupes, Creature Feature and the Underground Theatre Conspiracy.

Ty Phipps is a recent graduate of the Funny Firm Comedyworks (a training workshop for neophyte comedians), which makes him still a beginner as far as actual onstage experience goes–and it shows. Phipps’s material consists of several good starts that never get developed or develop so predictably that by the time the punch line comes the audience has stopped listening. Jim Kopsian is a semifinalist in the National Lampoon Comedy Contest, which may partly explain his scattershot style of delivery in which no gag takes longer than 20 seconds. He does some amusingly accurate rock ‘n’ roll impressions, explaining why Bob Dylan sings like he’s flying away in a balloon, Jim Morrison like he’s sliding down a tunnel, Robert Plant like he’s falling off a cliff. Tim Joyce utilizes a more intellectual humor–“Failure is God’s way of reminding us that He might not exist.” “Am I an optimist or a pessimist? I see the glass as half full of something I probably won’t like.” He also does a semistraight rendition of “Misty” that you could almost take to the Moulin Rouge.

Creature Feature is an improvisational comedy group that does moderately well with the improv exercise known as the Harold–which has a team free-associating away from a topic and then back to it again. Some surprisingly coherent story lines can emerge from this plate of spaghetti–noteworthy was John Favreau as a son being taught by his father how to rob a convenience store and Peter David as a sensitive student who turned the tables on a bullying teacher. Less successful was the panel discussion on serial killers with the actors making it clear they were too hip for their roles.

The Underground Theatre Conspiracy has abandoned the mostly improvised format of their Batman Died for Our Sins in favor of all scripted material, of which we got a sample here–which is to say, we got more of the fresh and intelligent ideas and sharp execution that have made the best of the Batman show so memorable. “Neurotic Dating Service” matched people on the basis of their most irritating flaws; a comedian played to an all-Amish audience in “the hottest comedy club in Lancaster County”; “Interfamily Videos” provided boring lectures on life to children of busy working parents. There was also a sweet and touching sketch about an interracial couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary–its inclusion in the Conspiracy’s repertoire is yet another demonstration of their courage and innovativeness.

The Conspiracy showed us what they found funny and invited us to laugh along. The others showed us what they thought we would find funny, and not knowing us as well as they knew themselves, they guessed wrong much of the time.

This might be reducible to another principle.