President Trump, the FringeArts Festival and South Philly housewives.
These are just a few topics subject to mockery in WaitStaff Sketch Comedy’s latest variety extravaganza, “Sock It To Me!,” an hour-long series of sketches inspired by the 50th anniversary of the ‘60s and ‘70s television hit “Laugh In.”
After a one-year hiatus, the nearly 20-year-old Philly-based comedy troupe, which is widely renowned for its recurring sketch, “The Real Housewives of South Philly,” is returning to the FringeArts Festival through Sept. 21 at L’Etage Cabaret, 624 S. 6th St.
Though it’s gone through various transformations over the years, WaitStaff, which is currently comprised of six members, retains its original mission – producing humor geared toward everyone.
Performing sketches for a span of audiences starts with writing from a range of comedians.
“For me, one of the best things about (WaitStaff) is that there are so many different voices…and different sensibilities, different senses of humor,” said associate producer Gerre Garrett.
“Sock It To Me!,” in particular, was written by longtime WaitStaff members Chris McGovern and Eric Singel, an East Passyunk Crossing resident.
While brainstorming ideas for this year’s FringeArts production, McGovern and Singel knew they wanted to derive from the controversial social, political and racial humor of “Laugh In.” In an ironic twist, they thought to revive this type of comedy to suit today’s era of – what some may see as – hypersensitivity toward political correctness.
“One of the sensibilities of those old shows is there was just no sense of political correctness back then,” McGovern said. “…And everybody was – black, white, women, Asians – it was just a free-for-all. So we kind of thought in this show, in the age of kind of ‘wokeness’ and everything like that, we weren’t going to follow any particular rules as far as that went.”
“A lot of (Laugh In) does hold up, still,” Singel added.
Though the sketches satirize everything from Christianity to homosexuality, the cast says each one contains something that would offend a “woke person.”
Fusing mid-’60s’ and early ‘70s references into contemporary topics, the sketches are woven together by a game show-type host, mirroring the personalities of Laugh In’s Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.
With chances to win Barbra Streisand and Donny Osmond records, the host guides audiences through a “Fringe-ify” game, as attendees guess old-time TV shows based upon their slightly ostentatious “Fringe” description.
“We always use the Fringe Festival to poke fun at the Fringe Festival,” Garrett said.
Marking its 18th annual Fringe production, WaitStaff has been a part of the citywide three-week-long event nearly since the event’s inception in 1997.
Looking back on the festival’s infancy, WaitStaff members reflect on how much it has evolved – for better or worse – since its original, arguably more modest, nature that was exclusive to a few days in Old City.
“We sort of were the ones who were at the forefront of it – of creating something new,” said WaitStaff associate producer Catherine Mary Moroney, a resident of East Passyunk Crossing. “And then it became something very commercial…It grew and it’s kind of interesting looking back at it – just on the etymology of just how theater has grown in Philadelphia in the past 25 years. It’s taken leaps and bounds.”
Of course, a WaitStaff production would not be complete without appearances from a few South Philly housewives.
Since the ongoing gag sparked close to a decade ago, the provincial parking-spot-hungry housewives clinch their time to shine each show – and “Sock It To Me!” is no exception.
Serving as a centerpiece of the production, the chitter-chattering ladies have returned with their hair curlers and South Philly accents.
“Just having the writing done by Eric and Chris – when you have that base to work with, it’s a lot easier to flush out your character even more when you’ve given such great material to work with,” said Moroney, one of the South Philly housewives. “…Sketch also gives audiences the opportunity to enjoy something for, like, five minutes, and if you don’t like it, don’t worry about it, because there’s another sketch coming.”
In a time of heightened political correctness and some intensely cerebral Fringe productions, the WaitStaff team intends for “Sock It To Me!” to be an unwinding experience for audiences.
For individuals who may find themselves offended, they shouldn’t be taking it too seriously, anyway.
“And I hear a lot from people who’ve been coming year after year that the WaitStaff show is always something they look forward to as kind of a palate cleaner from all the really deep, dark,” Garrett said. “The Fringy stuff that takes you someplace psychological and emotional and all of that kind of stuff. And then you just come here and it is what it is. It’s a fun night.”
To learn more about the show, visit: fringearts.com/event/sock-it-to-me/.