The Thinking Man's Idiot

The unruly brain and bad habits of a writer, artist, and grilled cheese sandwich-enthusiast.

Design of a Decade: ‘Y2K’ by Killing My Lobster

Poster by Cody Rishell for Killing My Lobster

Teen 1: “Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He’s cool.”
Teen 2: “Are you bein’ sarcastic, dude?”
Teen 1: “I don’t even know anymore.”
The Simpsons, “Homerpalooza” (s7e24), written by Wes Archer

Y’know what we ‘90s folk took for granted? No, it wasn’t (just) the fact that the face of terrorism was White; it wasn’t (just) the fact that a multi-ethnic Cinderella with a still-living Whitney Houston and a not-crazy Brandy could be a tv ratings smash without people shouting “PC propaganda!”; it wasn’t even (just) the fact that the music industry was open enough that one could start a new summer gig like the Lilith’s Faire, which provided both good music and raised millions for Planned Parenthood and battered women’s shelters. No, the thing we took for granted was Dan Quayle.

Yes, Dan fucking Quayle.

Someone knows what this teen (Nicole Odell) did last summer… it was a hot one. (Kayleigh McCollum/KML)

He was George HW Bush’s VP. And he was a fucking idiot. Whilst ol’ Georgie-boy was doing things like bombing the Middle East and framing Black people to scare White America, dear ol’ Danny was comparing himself to Kennedy, Whitesplaining racism to Rep. Maxine Waters, failing the grasp the simple spelling of the word ‘potato’, and publicly lashing out at Murphy Brown for daring to show an unwed single mother on network television. And yet, it was all okay because we as a country were able to agree on one incontrovertible fact: he was an idiot. Even his own party thought so. It was predicted that he’d be nothing more than a footnote of history and that the Republican party would aim higher in their presidential prospects from that point forward.

We were half-right.

But I digress: it’s the tail-end of the Clinton era that is the focus of KML’s latest entry, led by head writer Molly “Fuckin’” Sanchez. As the title suggests, it’s about reminiscing about the build-up to the year 2000. Specifically, the technophobia built up over the Gen-X decade that had the world convinced we were on the brink of Armageddon because of a few faulty lines of digital code. (I blame said phobia on Sandra Bullock and her movie The Net.) Considering that it was the year that saw the rise of Kid Rock, it’s no wonder we thought the world had reached its nadir. And since laughing at your elders is a time-honored comedy staple, my nearly-40-year-old ass took a seat in PianoFight’s mainstage to watch these damn Millennials make a farce of my adolescent years.

After funny spots about JNCO Jeans (which I had to look up, as I somehow never heard of them in their proper time), jacking into The Matrix via dial-up, and being reminded that M. Night Shyamalan wrote the film Stuart Little, we get a solo spot featuring PianoFight’s own Ray Hobbs as then-Republican nominee Dubya. It’s a sad state of affairs when one considers that all of Junior’s crimes somehow pale in comparison to what we see in today’s headlines (much the same way Dubya made Nixon’s crimes, wife-beating, and racism look quaint in hindsight). It’s a great showcase for Hobbs, combining his love of accents, just-above-deadpan delivery, and razor-sharp timing to best use. Opening night even showcases his improv when Dubya-esque word slip led to a quick back-and-forth between he and an audience member.

George W. Bush (Raymond Hobbs) will obviously be the worst the Republican Party can offer, right?
(Kayleigh McCollum/KML)

Two similarly hindsight sketches make use of Marshall Scott’s infectious enthusiasm. One features him as a fill-in host on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. As a Black man, he’s looking forward to the new millennium, given how badly the last one treated… people of our hue. {ahem} He’s so hopeful about what the next thousand years will bring for Black folks that it genuinely breaks your heart to know what he’ll have to go through over the next twenty. The other sketch features him as a closeted high schooler whose love of boy bands betrays none-too-subtle homosexuality. When he’s confronted about his sexuality by a marionette of the not-yet-out Lance Bass, he asks a genuinely sad question: “If the real Lance Bass hasn’t come out yet, why should I?”

These are the sketches that work strongest for the show, and this is a winning entry through and through. Even a weak sketch about the trying to birth the first “baby” for the year 2000 is redeemed by the fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. A sketch about True (the short film later adapted into a Budweiser campaign) also falls short, but succeeds in not sticking around too long. Much better are sketches about the creation of the inception of “Who let the Dogs Out?” and the ridiculous naming process behind Now That’s What I Call Music (both of which feature KML regular Bryan Guo as an hilarious straight man). Like preceding decades, the politics and strides ‘90s have been all-but-erased from public consciousness, reducing the era to a series of Top 40 hits and dated fashion choices. Sanchez and her writers fare best when they find the balance between the overhyped pop culture (a Making the Band sketch ended in a way I didn’t expect) and the socio-political realities of the era (the aforementioned NYE and Lance Bass sketches).

And they have another fine cast at their disposal. Under the direction of Alissa Sanchez (relation?), the troupe of mostly-KML vets know their way around the material. Mikah Kavita’s best moments are when her characters are on the brink of losing their patience, be they a talk show host barely coping with M. Night Shyamalan’s bullshit or a Making the Band contestant whose style could generously be called “aggressive”. One of the best moments is when she plays a restaurant employee so obsessed with Freak Nasty’s “Da Dip” that it threatens her job security. You just have to see it to understand. Equally reliable is KML regular and Second City alumnus Nicole Odell, whose current collection of characters include a ditzy whose boyfriend knows what she did last summer to a Britney-style office worker who isn’t so “Lucky” in the body image department. Odell also plays a couple of pissed off mothers throughout the night, because when you find what you’re good at, you stick with it.

M. Night Shyamalan (Marshall Scott) may just have the wrong perspective about his career.
(Kayleigh McCollum)

Rounding out the cast is sketch newcomer Alisha Ehrlich. Those of us who’ve worked with and seen her work before know how skilled she is, having played everything from Eurydice to a Gay divorcee to even a love-struck zombie. She takes just as well to her first overtly comedic work. She starts off the show as the somewhat loopy office employee whose JNCO Jeans are not only stylish, but potentially life-saving. Oddly enough, her two best showcases of this show were two sketches in which she proves unlucky in love. The first has her lovelorn bar-hopper who seems to get no action, despite the fact that she single-handedly prevented Y2K from occurring. The other features her as a woman at a NYE giddy with the idea that her partner (Nicole Odell) will likely propose. To her consternation, said partner just wants to save their lives from disaster… via hot-air balloon, of course. Both sketches highlight Alisha’s sense of comedic timing while showing off her ability to easily slip from emotional highs to lows. Not bad for her first comedy.

As I look over what I’ve written, I can’t help but notice I haven’t mentioned much about how the music of the time figures into the show. The writers have a blast numerous shots the writers take at nü-Metal, that horrid sub-genre which gained prominence in ’99 and cursed the world with the likes of Kid Rock and Fred Durst. In fact, one of the funniest sketches involves a deadbeat dad (Scott) gifting his daughter (Ehrlich) a “Fred Durst Furby” (a terrifying Ray Hobbs). Whereas normal Furbys spoke their own language, this one angrily shouts the lyrics from “Nookie” and “Just One of Those Days”.

TFW a bachelor’s (Bryan Guo, right) date is interrupted by a bearded man (Raymond Hobbs) with an affinity for Brendan Fraser.
(Kayleigh McCollum/KML)

The latter song is played as the sketch transitions into the next. It was the only one to which I didn’t sing along, as I didn’t know the words. And this is a show chock-full of such memorable throwbacks as “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, “The Thong Song”, and TLC’s “No Scrubs”. The I Know What You Did Last Summer parody revolves around – I shit you not – Santana and Rob Thomas’s “Smooth” (which recently got the oral history treatment). Naturally, the Lance Bass sketch is followed by, well, “Bye Bye Bye”. And each and every one of the songs turns the theatre into an impromptu karaoke night, even if for just 30 seconds. It demands to be seen with a full audience.

Y2K is KML at its best and a fine way to start off their 2020 season. It acknowledges the insecurity of those of us coming up after Gen X, but it has just the right amount of fun looking back on its dated tropes. (One sketch is a PSA for She’s All That Condition, “formerly My Fair Lady Syndrome”.) With a cast full of veterans and one incredibly eager newbie, it’s the sort of flashback that makes you cringe for all the right reasons.

GRADE:                                                              A

Y2K is scheduled to run until the 29th of February on the mainstage of PianoFight in San Francisco.
The show runs one hour with no intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.

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