Comedy is often associated with the young, the puerile, the playful, or the potty-obsessed. But what happens when a comedian decides it's time to grow up and tackle mature themes like parenting, mortgages, and liposuction?
In their attempt to find out, the founding members of the Cupid Players comedy group hit on a formula that was automatically successful — they end their sketches with a song.
"There's nothing like us," says Cupid's Executive Producer Brian Posen. "Chicago's saturated with sketch comedy and improv. We asked ourselves, 'What would happen if every written satirical vignette moved to song?' When our characters are emotionally moved, they have to go to a fantastical place."
The resulting music mirrors Meat Loaf, torch songs, Billy Joel, and Stephen Sondheim, among other popular artists and art forms.
"Our dudes have incredible voices," Posen says. "They love doing six- or seven-piece harmonies. There are some beautiful ballads, even though they're singing about their private parts. That's the funny of it."
Posen points out that the Players don't spend their whole show in the gutter. Some elements may be infantile (try saying "Cupid has a heart on" really fast) and one awestruck audience member once described them as "gross, perverted, sick, and twisted." But they're always hilarious, as their Chicago Reader "Best Sketch Comedy Troupe" award attests. Posen explains why.
"This is sketch comedy written by the performers, using their perspective. Over the years our material has changed from drinking and dating to a lot more depth of integrity, as we kids became adults." That change has been reflected in their sketches, which now focus heavily on relationships and "the stupid things we do when we're single and under the influence."
The one-hour Piccolo version of Cupid is a distilled version of the Chicagoans' regular 75-minute show, the best of a six-year run. There's plenty of smart satire packed into each song. "She Likes You, But She Doesn't Like You, Like You" explores vanity, plastic surgery, unrequited love, and the awkwardness of intimacy. "Strip Solitaire" and "If I Can't Have You, Nobody Will" have become beloved hits back home.
With a strong balance of male and female performers in their mid-20s to early 40s, the Players are able to hit every note necessary. "We're all well versed in musical theater," says Posen. "But amazing, none of us are gay. Sketch improv has always been such a straight male white bread-driven artform," although he stresses that things are changing with the likes of Tina Fey. "We find humor in what we're struggling with from day to day."
At this cast's age, that means bank loans, babies, and bills. And songs about their private parts. —Nick Smith