Wunderjammer is Underwhelming
“There’s a great story about an actor being on stage and he’s got a line like “pass the salt”. One day he does it and it gets a huge laugh. The next day when the line comes up in the same show the actor goes “CAN I HAVE…THE SALT?!” and there’s no laugh. The actor goes “I don’t know what happened, I didn’t get the laugh this time.” The wise actor will say “next time don’t ask for the laugh, ask for the salt” and that’s the trick. If you try too hard the audience knows and they won’t laugh.”- Sam Lloyd
One of the first things I ever learned about acting comedy is that you should always play the scene, and never the joke. Unfortunately, the sketch comedy show Wunderjammer, written by Richard Hemphill and presented by Punchbag Playhouse (the very same folks who brought us Die, Zombie! Die! at last year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival), is chalk full of flat jokes, pulled punchlines, and bad timing all because this cast can’t seem to go five minutes without looking to the audience for reassurance, a major killer when it comes to humour. Though a few of the sketches are funnier and better written than others, the writing and the delivery of these scenes generally leave a lot to be desired. I pride myself on having a fairly well-rounded sense of humour, but this piece seems to be a rather immature offering to be coming from an ensemble that is so involved in the theatre community.
The biggest hindrance to this show is that, in its search for an easy laugh, most of the writing feels incredibly dated and familiar: A stereotypical model mispronouncing words has been done to death since 2001’s Zoolander; suggesting that clams are vaginas and other blatant uses of clichéd innuendo are tired and boring; and there are some sketches that ultimately fall short of humour (an entire scene about cat farts where the punchline is the word “fart-tastic”…seriously!?). In other words, a lot of the comedy in this show smells a little off.
To the credit of Wunderjammer, however, there are a couple scenes that, given a bit of tweaking, would be more than hilarious. Specifically, the “scrotum whisperer” scene, in which two children come across what the audience knows is a well-worn prostitute who asks them if they’d like to take part in a little “fun,” could be much more effective if the comedic reveal is the large black sex toy being carried by the prostitute as opposed to it being shown throughout the entire piece. The sketch concerning the children’s television show with the Ken Ham-esque host, has funny moments though runs on slightly too long. Finally, the ultimate conclusion of the doppelganger scenes, perhaps the most original scenes in the entire show, has definite room for development.
The acting in this show is weak, with the actors never fully allowing the audience to laugh before steamrolling onto their next line, repeatedly indicating towards the punchline, and never really giving any variation in character (Bechemel and Flower are the same person?). Allison Harris is probably the most funny of the entire cast and it is obvious that she spends the entire show working hard in an attempt to bring the ensemble up to her level. Richard Gélinas is saved only by his exclamation of “BLAHGARBLE” which, for the first and only time in the show, drew out of me a genuine belly laugh. The other two cast members, Jordan Hancey and Victoria Luloff, are merely adequate, bringing no real variety or energy to the stage.
Ultimately, I’d like to bring this review back to the quote I’ve supplied as a preface. This show is the definition of trying too hard to be funny and overall its efforts are disappointing. There are laughs, though cheap, but as the show progresses become fewer and far between.