The Habit 14
Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Green Lake Ave. N., 800-838-3006, thehabitcomedy.com. $19. Runs Fri.–Sun. Through Nov. 30.
This comedy troupe and its loyal fans have essentially struck a bargain: Fill every seat in the tiny theater, and the five performers will channel-surf through our collective, scrambled memory of childhood TV shows and movie cliches. The trick, as in their past 13 collections of sketch comedy, is for The Habit to circle back again—and again—to a joke. It’s as if the remote control keeps returning to the same cop show, only now the episode is running in reverse, or all the characters are woodland animals, or they’re speaking Esperanto. Everything repeats, and each comic motif bleeds into the next sketch. Once you start laughing, you stop caring if the segues do or don’t make any sense.
Performers Ryan Dobosh, John Osebold, Mark Siano, David Swidler, and Luke Thayer write their more-or-less annual show with director Jeff Schell. (Fans will detect a few old gags in the mix.) In a brisk 70 minutes, with actors jumping in and out of their jumpsuits, some bits work better than others. Among the former, when two old friends meet on a subway, each gasps with incredulity at the other’s recent doings. Their convulsive “No way!” exclamations are like an asthmatic duet with each new revelation. (How’s prison? “It’s awesome”—no rent to pay!) A sect called the Duwamish Amish is limited to pre-1995 technology, naturally including the fanny pack and flip phone, and this yields the rare opportunity to use “Mike Lowry” as a laugh line. (Or wasn’t he ever such?) Two screenwriters consider a werewolf script; then we see how such lupine transformation has made that horror genre impossible to revive today. When a detective sketch about a kidnapped vowel springs into “Who’s on First?”-style wordplay, it’s silly yet refreshingly non-topical, divorced from the headlines.
Most of The Habit’s references are rooted in a rec room past of VHS memories (Top Gun, meet Top Nun), but the final song, with new lyrics set to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” proved a welcome exception for the opening-night crowd. In a city of rising rents and Amazon wealth, the spectre of Tangletown condos binds us all—audience and performers—in fear. Would you, as The Habit imagines, pay $2,000 a month to live in a cupboard? We laugh because it’s true.