It’s said that Improvisational theatre is the best way for an actor to show off his chops. The total lack of script and direction means that the strength of the performance rests on those delivering it. It’s the ultimate stage for quick thinking and creativity, and the true proving ground for those who aim to master the theatrical arts.
Okay, I know I’m laying it on thick, here. But it’s true that improv is a good way to build skills, both as an actor and a performer. Improvisational comedy often leads to some of the funniest and most surreal experiences on stage because of its free-form nature.
Enter Anime Unscripted. Anime Unscripted is one of the regulars at Anime Boston. The event, which is headed by the delightfully deranged Patrick Delahanty and Jekka Cormier, borrows heavily from Whose Line Is It Anyway? In short, everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. That’s right, the points are like soap and water at an anime con. No, they don’t burn like hygiene, they just don’t matter.1
Cristina Vee, John Stocker, Matt Mercer, and Patrick Seitz served as the stars of the evening, as they led viewers through a barrage of skits. “Let’s Make a Date”, a take on The Dating Game, was the leading event. In it, Vee served as a prospective bachelorette as she questioned three prospective suitors:
- Mercer played a cast member from reality show Duck Dynasty
- Stocker portrayed a mama bird feeding its young
- Seitz played a person on the stand for criminal charges
Of the four, Seitz and Vee were the clear winners. Seitz’s antics seemed to rest in the realm of delightfully unhinged. His evasive answers and jerky, panicked motions were a fun contrast to Vee’s perky “bachelorette” persona. The two played off of each other well, with Vee’s cheerful questions just causing Seitz to heap on the intensity until he was skulking behind Vee, ranting about his Constitutional rights.
The next sketch was Newscasters. In this, Seitz played the role of a normal newscaster surrounded by cuckoo co-workers. Specifically, the following roles were filled:
- Vee was cast as co-anchor, who happened to be a girl scout possessed by the devil
- Mercer was on Sports as Prince Charming
- Stocker was put on weather detail as a melting snowman
Before we go on, I have to note that this was possibly my favorite sketch of the evening. Cristina Vee slipping from an Elmyra-esque tone into deep-throated calls for people to devour kittens, and Mercer mugging to an invisible camera man? Priceless.
That said, Seitz seemed to be the real linchpin of the sketch. His portrayal of the straight-man newscaster was simply hilarious. He skillfully played his role, as he squirmed and writhed in his seat at Vee’s outbursts and bantered playfully with Stocker. The real highlight, though, came near the end of the sketch, as Mercer burst into song, which prompted Stocker to give a response in the form of an off-key crooning of Singin’ in the Rain. This was punctuated by a harried request to Seitz to adjust his carrot, which led to some banter that would be better found in South Park than the evening news.
The next event, Sound Effects, required a bit of intervention from the audience. Two volunteers would be tasked with providing the sound effects to a situation provided by the crowd. The topic, “an everyday activity for two”, wound up becoming “Trapped in Wal-Mart after hours.” Mercer and Seitz would drive the overall flow of the story, which started with Mercer meeting Seitz and his band of chinchillas, and escalated into a war with unknown alien forces.
I couldn’t help but feel that this was the low point of the event. While the concept was solid and the players dove right into their roles, the execution seemed to fall flat more often than not. It was zany for sure, but the jokes tended to be hit-or-miss.
The next game, Nitpicky Director, placed John Stocker as the role of the director whose tendency to change scenes would lead to vastly different results from the original intent.
The scene in question was taken from The Godfather. Patrick Seitz played the role of the unfortunate horse, while Cristina Vee and Matt Mercer would portray a pair of mobsters who would eventually do the equine in. Supposedly.
From the get-go, Stocker was on fire. His directions, while sounding plausible, would lead to utter chaos in the scene, much to Seitz’s chagrin. As more and more changes were pushed into the fray, Seitz would pipe up to express his utter contempt, crying out that he auditioned for the role, and that he turned down far more prestigious gigs. Meanwhile, Vee’s character was slowly changed from a perky helper to Jesse Pinkman with tits, and Mercer progressed from a hardened mobster to a bleeding heart metrosexual.
With each take, each revision, the scene grew increasingly chaotic. The four players showed wonderful chemistry, and seemed to react well to one another’s presence. Stocker was brilliant as the director, and Mercer’s progression from no-nonsense gangster to a wistful worrywart was hysterical. Seitz’s angry cries of “I turned down Equuus!” were just icing on the cake.
The next game, Superheroes, saw each of the four players as, you guessed it, superheroes. The first would be chosen by the audience, as well as a crisis. The audience decided on Captain Vegetable, who was tasked with fixing a “Turniped Over Truck.”
I’ll let that sink in. The pun is strong with this one.
Cristina Vee took on the role of the Cauliflowered Crusader, whose green-themed gadgets proved to be no match for the crisis at hand. She didn’t need to wait long, though, as John Stocker swooped in to save the day as the (formerly) nefarious Lettuce Doctor. He quickly determines that Captain Vegetable’s Carrot Gun (I can’t believe I’m writing this out) isn’t being loaded properly. Captain Vegetable’s carrot is too big for the opening.
But, hey, big carrots run in her family. Lettuce Doctor decides to switch to parsnips, as Captain Vegetable looks for a new helper. She finds one in the form of Matthew Mercer as Janus! Just Janus. His special power is “absolutely no real power,” and bullshitting to sound smart. Unfortunately, even Janus proves to be no match for the mighty carrot ammo. With no other option, he calls in his partner-in-action, Extremely Sensitive Nipples Man (played by Patrick Seitz). With the aid of Extremely Sensitive Nipples Man’s diamond-hard teats, the four manage to right the wrong of the Turniped Over truck.
While the sketch itself was generally messy in execution, there were a number of fun jokes and gags that really helped this one work. In particular, Stocker’s random outbursts of things like “That must be the lycopene!” just worked. His comments especially had the audience in stitches, along with Seitz’s antics as Extremely Sensitive Nipples Man, which played out about as well as one would expect.
The next event, the Three Headed Professor, placed Cristina Vee, John Stocker, and Matt Mercer in the role of a three-headed PhD with a special condition: each head could only speak in turn, one word at a time. So, for the length of the sketch, the three would formulate answers to audience questions one word at a time.
Host Patrick Delahanty started things in the “too soon” category with “Where is the missing Malaysian airliner?” The audience groaned, but the three dove right into an answer. “Well, I believe that it drowned somewhere out there in the Bermuda Triangle. Or, perhaps, it’s in the majestic square of the only bathroom within a hundred thousand miles of Boston.”
As questions from the audience began to roll in, the three began to really let loose. The answers ranged from the goofy to the outright absurd, and the three played off each other well.
After hearing the professor regail the audience with tales of absurd non-knowledge, the Professor’s tenure ended, and the situation gave way to a party! Specifically, the sketch Awesome Party. In this, Patrick served as the (somewhat neurotic) host of a party, as three unusual guests arrived to the event. Cristina Vee played a person who couldn’t stop referencing previous sketches, John Stocker was every single death in Game of Thrones, and Matt Mercer portrayed a frat boy at Mardi Gras.
Patrick Seitz was the stand-out in this one. His playful sense of self-loathing really shines, as he sadly mutters about devouring the hours d’oerves on his own, and refers to the audience call-outs as “the voices.” His tone conveyed genuine shock, as guest after guest made their way into the scene, and the reactions grew ever more surreal.
The supporting players weren’t slouching either, though. Vee, as a person trapped in a self-referential nightmare, busted out one corny joke after another, as she bubbled over very recent past events, like the exploits of Extremely Sensitive Nipples Man, or the ever-popular Wal-Mart chinchillas. Mercer, as the frat boy, hooted and hollered, calling for anyone and everyone to show their goods for beads, while bringing up possibly every hard cocktail known to mankind in the span of the sketch. Stocker, well, Stocker’s damn good at dying repeatedly.
Alone, the four would have had strong acts. But, when forced into a scene like this, they created utter chaos. Bad jokes and frat boy hooting mixed with the continued groaning and screaming of Stocker, as Seitz spiralled more and more into confusion and depression. It was surreal, it was quirky, and it was freaking funny.
As the party concluded, Patrick and Jekka introduced the next sketch: The Balcony. In it, Vee and Mercer would play a pair of film critics that describe a film. Whatever they describe would have to be acted by Seitz and Stocker. Vee and Mercer dove right in, talking up a tale of a European flick about a man and his talking two-legged dog. This quickly transitions to an old-school Samurai film starring women with giant breasts, then to a musical, followed by a zombie flick.
While Vee and Mercer did wonderfully as the “hosts”, the real kudos needs to go to Stocker and Seitz. Their chemistry, especially as the samurai segment began, was simply brilliant. As the situations grew more absurd, they proved that they could find new ways to make the scenes even more outlandish. The real winner of the sketch, though, was the musical bit. It proved to be surprisingly catchy and genuinely funny, when the situation could have veered into the realm of “just plain wrong.”
The segment that followed, Quick Change, used John, Patrick, and Cristina. The three would act out a scene. Whenever Jekka would yell “Change”, the last person who said something would have to change his line.
The scene began normally enough: A couple (Seitz and Stocker) were inquiring about having their wedding at a hotel. This quickly changed, from a wedding inquiry to an impromptu dance party, to a nail-biting near break-up over pizza, of all things.
The sketch started slow, but quickly escalated into a chaotic jumble of double entendres and light-hearted silliness. There was no real stand-out in the cast this time, but, to be fair, this particular segment wasn’t very memorable either.
The final sketch was Powerpoint Roulette. In this, each guest would try to explain a PowerPoint presentation with no prior knowledge of the subject matter. Each member would be asked to describe five slides before handing off the baton. The subject of the evening was the migration pattern of the Buffalo.
This was, without a doubt, chaos unchained. What started as a fairly droll subject quickly (very quickly) became a wacky, sometimes disturbing lecture on buffalo, Burt Reynolds crabs, and iPhone cyborgs. Each of the four guests rolled with the silliness of the presentation, and really seemed to relish the utter absurdity of what they were trying to explain to the crowd. There was no winner in this, as each member just built off of the momentum created by those that came before them, just piling on the crazy explanations and batshit theories, until the final slide popped off the screen.
This year’s Anime Unscripted was an uncontested hit. The sketches were fantastic, and everyone seemed to be absolutely thrilled to cut loose. If there were one complaint I could levy, it would be that the show seemed to end far too quickly.
1: Disclaimer. This is a joke. Please, for the love of god, shower every damn day!