Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Dark Room—Uphill Both Ways in "Stuff and Things"

A decade or two back (who's counting?) while under the thrall of John Baldessari, I embarked upon a photography project whose working title was "Stuff and Things." The premise, derivative as it may have been, was to photograph storefront signage that included either "& Things" or "& Stuff". So here and there across the great United States I would photograph businesses with such names as "Guns & Stuff" or "Boots & Things". In Oxtotitlan, Chiapas, Mexico I even came across a store called "Quesos y Cosas", and I figured I could never get better than that so the project died a wheezy death in a foreign country with the taste of lime on papaya lingering on the tongue. Nevertheless I still retain a fondness for the project and for John Baldessari.

Recently, reviewing the calendar for the Dark Room's Bad Movie nights, I came across a plug for an upcoming performance of "Stuff and Things" by the sketch comedy group Uphill Both Ways. How could I resist? So after watching the trance films at Oddball Films, I walked over a block or so to the Dark Room to catch "Stuff and Things."

Uphill Both Ways is comprised of sketch comedians Colin Benoit and Dave McKew and technician Chip Clofine. They announced that they have made it as finalists into the International Sketch Comedy Competition upcoming in Los Angeles so it's quite possible Uphill Both Ways might be famous before you know it. As is, they had a packed house of adoring, appreciative fans, of which I have become a member.

The program biographies state that Colin Benoit "is many things. Colin does lots of stuff. He is interested in things, he likes to look at stuff, and when he eats, he stuffs his face with things until he's stuffed. He's been doing this sketch comedy thing since college, where he met up with that Dave guy, who was also doing comedy stuff. Since then, he's done even more stuff, and even a few things. In his spare time, he studies infrared imaging and spectroscopy of luminous infrared galaxies as it applies to computational nuclear astrophysics.

"Dave McKew, the more articulate of the UBW duo, says, 'What Colin said, but also additional stuff.'

"Chip Clofine has been working for Uphill Both Ways doing technical stuff, including sound things and light things, since January 2003. 'Working with these two idiots is absolutely embarrassing,' adds Chip."

Their humor is broad slapstick fueled by charmingly clever ideas and piqued by frequent adlibs and truly bad wigs. Their first sketch—"A Slow Morning At Montgomery Station"—done totally in voiceover on a dark stage, might be a conceit only San Franciscans could appreciate: a hilarious gender squabble between the female voice that announces the trains going towards Daly City and the male voice announcing the trains going towards the East Bay. What commuter hasn't been caught between these two? Laughing from the get-go at this brilliant joke, I sat back to enjoy the next 17 skits. Three of them were films, and that's why I review Uphill Both Ways here on The Evening Class because of their multimedia approach towards comedy. The first film—Rock/Paper/Scissors Peace Conference—can actually be viewed at Uphill Both Ways' website and warrants a peek:

Among that rich amusing assortment of video samples, I further recommend the "Pope Audition" sketch captured live and ridiculous at The Dark Room.

The second film—Roll Credits—riffs on the idea of a relationship's breakup, with each individual offering their final credits on the screen. The third—Sock Puppet Porn—eroticizes the bare hand and might explain why black socks end up missing at the laundromat.

Uphill Both Ways has one more performance of "Stuff and Things" this coming Friday, March 10, at 10:00 p.m. at The Dark Room, then they go on tour, and won't be back until May. The Evening Class wishes them the best at the International Sketch Comedy Competition in Los Angeles!

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