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If comedy were just a matter of breaking a few taboos and goring a few sacred cows, writer-director Billy Bermingham’s aptly named Nothing Sacred would be the funniest thing in town. However, as these vulgar and profane extended sketches illustrate so well, iconoclasm–especially uninformed and intolerant iconoclasm–is not enough. Sometimes you need a little wit and intelligence to make the profanity and character assassination worth watching. And wit and intelligence are the very things missing from two of the evening’s three sketches.
The first one, Donald Trump Versus the Spirit of Christmas, aims for some easy targets–Trump, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the pope. They’re spoofed effortlessly, wrapped up in a premise worthy of a Bob Hope Christmas special: grouchy old Donald Trump hates Christmas. “People are tighter than the pope’s butt at Christmas,” he grumbles, oblivious to the fact that people spend more at Christmas, not less. (Obviously, being a real estate tycoon doesn’t always mean you are hip to people’s spending habits.) After downing a few drinks and pissing on a group of carolers singing under his window (“Here’s some gold!”), Trump passes out on the couch. Moments later, he’s visited by the first of guess how many spirits of Christmas.
This spirit (yes, of Christmas Past) happens to be Zsa Zsa Gabor. She claims to have been married to Trump in the late 60s (clearly Zsa Zsa has mistaken him for Conrad Hilton), and takes him back to that wonderful Christmas when they were still married and living on the broken-down farm near Hooterville with their farmhand, Eb (clearly Zsa Zsa has mistaken herself for Eva). What follows is an overlong parody of Green Acres, complete with hotcakes jokes, a visit from Mr. “HayNee” (he’s selling “Ma Durn Art”), and as a capper, a torrid love scene between Eb and Zsa Zsa that ends with cunnilingus and Zsa Zsa screaming: “Oh! Ah! Ah! Heil Hitler!” (clearly, Zsa Zsa has forgotten she left Hungary before the war).
Next comes–yes, the spirit of Christmas Present: Nelson Rockefeller, who is, oddly enough, wearing a dress. “Are you some kind of a homo?” Trump asks in one of his wittier moments. “Of course not,” Nelson zings back, “I’m a Republican. We only cross-dress. The real perverts are Democrats.” This bit of biting political satire is followed by a trip to Trump’s teen pregnancy center, where unwed mothers are forced to become blackjack dealers in Trump’s Atlantic City casinos in return for room and board, and where the big joke seems to be that no matter what the teen mothers do, they get slapped violently across the face. This running gag is even less funny than it sounds.
This scene ends mercifully quickly, and before you know it Trump is back on his couch waiting for the third spirit: L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard enters complaining about Trump’s book, calling it “a lot of narcissistic spew.” Trump takes this criticism very badly and murders the ghost. Unfortunately, this does not end the sketch, for out of nowhere the pope appears, dressed in a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform and speaking with an Italian accent so bad Chico Marx would have been offended. The pope and Trump cut a deal, the details of which I won’t disclose except to say that it involves the purchase of a major Christian holiday in return for granting the pope the right to perform a most unpapal act. (Someone should tell Mr. Bermingham that the current pontiff is Polish. On second thought, the last thing this homage to ninth-grade gym-class humor needs is a few Polish jokes.)
The second sketch of the evening–Christmas Cocktails–proves no more mature. A bickering husband and wife feel obligated to entertain the wife’s sister for the evening despite the fact that the husband hates her. The sister turns out to be the epitome of rabid, angry feminism. She pronounces the Christmas tree “very phallic,” turns up her nose at her Christmas gift, a gold pin, because it is the “American embodiment of apartheid,” and gives the husband and wife gifts designed to make political points. The wife gets a box of raw meat (“just a friendly reminder that your cosmetics are the result of vivisection”), while the husband is given a latex dildo as a friendly reminder of his failing manhood.
At this point the skit turns ugly. The husband attacks the sister and murders her by shoving the dildo down her throat. Then, discovering what he has done, he slits his own wrists. Naturally, his wife reacts by drinking a bottle of Drano and dies an agonizing death complete with vomited chocolate-syrup blood. The sketch ends with an O. Henry twist that can’t make up for all the gore, cruelty, and just plain dumb misogyny of the previous five minutes.
If I hadn’t been professionally bound to watch the whole show, I would have left at this extremely low point. And if I’d left, I would have missed the only original and successful sketch. The Pageant concerns a Christmas show at a teen drug-abuse center. The show within the show is a retelling of the first Christmas by a rebellious adolescent writer named Vicki Todd (played with bitchy perfection by Janet Albarado), who idolizes David Mamet: “The story is from the Bible, I guess; I only wrote the dialogue.”
The result is a wry, multilayered parody in which Joseph (called simply Joe) and the Angel Gabriel talk like a pair of Mamet’s poker buddies and Mary curses like a marine drill sergeant. Mary’s first comment on seeing the manger is: “What a fucking dump.” Joe shouts back, “Will you stop swearing! . . . It doesn’t seem fitting that the Mother of God has a mouth like a fucking sewer.”
Throughout the play Vicki Todd, cigarette in hand, interjects comments or explains why she made certain creative choices, such as including the scene everyone skips over, the actual birth of Jesus. The sketch ends in a wonderfully funny chaos, precipitated by a fight between the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene (“I get 20 extra for kink”) over one of the boys in the show.
If all of the sketches had been as funny as this last one, the evening would have been glorious. As it is, however, one terrific sketch cannot save an evening this ugly and unfunny.