Sketch comedy is alive and well in the Village Black Box

| Junior News Editor

The scene is set: it’s Thanksgiving, and the whole family has gathered to celebrate and enjoy a nice meal. The food looks delicious, Grandma is happy to see everyone, and someone is wearing a really silly straw hat — what could possibly go wrong?

Anyone who has ever seen a Kids on Campus (KOC) show knows the answer: everything can (and will) go wrong, but you’ll be laughing the whole time. 

But the night didn’t start with Cousin Jonah, played by senior Jason Lyons, standing on the dinner table and screaming about his internet girlfriend dumping him. In fact, it didn’t even start with the first sketch, a date night at Olive Garden that gets weird, fast. It began two hours before the doors opened, when the first audience member got in line, wielding a camping chair and admirable motivation, to wait for coveted seats in the Village Black Box. Students who came just before doors opened ended up squeezing together on the floor by the stage, but they were lucky — most nights, some people get turned away. 

For Kids on Campus, Washington University’s biggest comedy sketch group, this is just another end-of-semester show. Senior Amanda Sherman, KOC President, told Student Life that lines this long have been typical since the club began writing and performing their own original content in 2016. 

“We never sell tickets, because it’s ‘Saturday Night Live’-style,” Sherman said. “I remember getting there early and waiting in line my freshman year. Someone put a camping chair outside at 6 p.m., and the show didn’t start until 8 p.m.” 

Classic in-person sketches were intermixed with pre-recorded videos, projected for the audience to watch, including “Mean Tweets,” where KOC members read insulting tweets written by their fellow cast-mates. One example: “Kids on Campus is so happy that our president Amanda Sherman is getting her big break and moving to New York. Hopefully, someone there will be brave enough to tell her to stop talking.”

Sherman laughed at the tweet roasting her when she showed it to me, explaining that the group has had a lot of fun with the segment, which they’ve been doing for years.

The standout pre-recorded sketch was arguably “Happy Birthday from the United States Postal Service,” an ad parody announcing the roll-out of a new promotion. On your birthday, you (yes, you) are eligible to approach any USPS truck, show a form of identification, and then take any package you want from the truck. 

The post office workers, played by seniors Olivia Schriber and Emmett Klein, junior Peter Michalski, and first-year Danny Bruns, showcased their excellent customer service voices, juxtaposed by scenes of a thrilled child with a new adult passport buying drinks and a disgruntled patron missing a prom dress. 

Towards the end, we see an intensely distraught man on the phone who lost his father’s ashes through the program. Cut to junior Jacob Zito sitting alone on the floor, singing Happy Birthday quietly to himself, and blowing out the candles on a single slice of cake, a huge box sitting in front of him. You can fill in the rest with this one. 

In “Death of a ‘Bees Man,” two siblings, played by Zito and junior Sarah Cullinane, visit their dying father in the hospital, bringing along his touch-avoidant, Nintendo-Switch-obsessed grandson, played by freshman Nico McEvoy. Their father has one wish for his final meal; he wants to go to Applebee’s, where he met their mother and conceived his kids in a handicapped bathroom, much to the chagrin of his children.

The pair resort to gaslighting their father, played by senior Emmett Klein, into believing that he wanted to go to Arby’s, rather than Applebee’s, and that he has returned to his service in the Vietnam War. As they finally realize that they will inevitably have to eat soggy mozzarella sticks, tragedy strikes. That’s right — McEvoy’s Nintendo Switch is dead and he can’t play Animal Crossing anymore. 

With dramatic emphasis, he holds up a charger and roots around behind the bed, where the father’s breathing machine is plugged in. At this point, the audience can see what is coming next, but it’s still just as funny when McEvoy delivers the punchline: “I found an outlet!” 

Another highlight came from “Date Night,” where Lyons and sophomore Mary Ziegler play potential love interests on a first date, with Cullinane as their waitress. In true KOC fashion, issues keep popping up: Ziegler thinks their date is the most boring man to ever open his mouth, Lyons is already planning their wedding despite admitting his membership to a beastiality support group, and Cullinane definitely just fled the scene after murdering someone.

The only problem? None of them know any of that information — the jokes are slowly revealed through inner monologues only the audience can hear. The cast members show their non-verbal acting chops through pantomimed gestures as the other members silently continue the scene.

One sketch that highlighted the group’s ability to adapt to extenuating circumstances was “Vigilante.”

Ahead of their first-ever performance as a member of KOC, Ziegler was slated to play a “panting, prancing vigilante” in the tongue-twister-infused sketch. However, during a dress rehearsal for a fight scene in the sketch, they got injured and left on crutches. 

When it came time for Ziegler to perform the fight scene that caused their injury, production member and senior Carlitos Ayma stepped in while Ziegler watched from the side as he jumped in circles and danced an irish jig. 

“He was originally passing me the props for the sketch and for the show,” Ziegler said. “Peter said that we should try it with him as your body double — then he gave the performance of a lifetime, it was awesome.”

As Ayma exited, Ziegler cracked a joke to the civilians that had just been saved from a mugging, saying: “You’re welcome for saving you all by myself, completely alone, with no help.” 

The addition of a live band brought the show to life, playing instrumental versions of hits from artists such as ABBA, Childish Gambino, and Taylor Swift in between sketches.

Sophomore Lance Greenberg, who is KOC’s Co-Music Chair, said that having a band play sets makes the show more fun. 

“I think having a live band on stage is exciting because it helps keep the energy up for sure,” Greenberg said. “Instead of having silence between transitions or while people are getting seated, people can dance [or] sing to the music.”

Sherman described the impact that KOC has had on her since she tried out as a first-year, saying that the process is such a fun way to bond. Her advice to those who might want to try out? Just run with it.

“Sometimes a random thought will turn into a sketch,” Sherman said. “Don’t hold back; if you have what you think is a stupid idea, it’s probably not stupid, and if you’re good at impersonations, that’s always a plus.” 

Lyons echoed similar sentiments about his time with KOC, which he has been a member of since his first semester at WashU.

“The group’s 100% different than it was; I’m the only person that was in the cast that semester who is in it now,” Lyons said. “The style has changed, the tone has changed, but it’s still just as fun.”

KOC closed out its final show of the academic year with a time-honored tradition: the senior sketch. Up to this point, the group had put on eighteen successful sketches up to this point, including three about a detective with the uncanny ability to solve mysteries using post-nut clarity, making expectations high for “Sluts on the Beach.”

“We had a meeting about the sketch and I was so exhausted; I was like, ‘what if we’re just sluts on the beach?’” Lyons explained to Student Life. “Initially, everyone said it made no sense, and we threw it away, but we came back to it.”

The seniors kept everyone, themselves included, laughing through a scene with no real basis beyond its title. Slutty as ever, they showed just how close they’ve gotten over four years by rubbing sunscreen all over each other, ending the show true to form: bizarre and hilarious.

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