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Avenue Q Is Not Funny
Last night was the Los Angeles premier of the Tony Award winning musical, Avenue Q at the Ahmanson Theatre. It has been praised from here to heaven during its successful run in Gotham City, where people loved its irreverent and raunchy style.
The New Yorker called it "splendid", USA Today said it was "witty", and the New York Times called it "savvy, sassy and eminently likable".
Avenue Q follows a group of rag tag Muppet-like characters in an eclectic and downtrodden New York City neighborhood. They curse (ha), they have sex (ha!), they get depressed (ha ha), they talk about masturbating (ha! ha !), drinking and marriage (hahahahaha).
Here's the thing: It's not funny.
Musicals are not unique to the arts. Like painters and bands, musicals rely on a singular medium to get across their message. But, like an uninteresting painting or, say, a Keane song, Q's musical numbers are at best not catchy and at worst culturally irrelevant.
Take two of its biggest numbers: "The Internet is For Porn" and "Everybody's a Little Bit Racist." While these may have been funny when the show first premiered in 2003, neither seem relevant today. People masturbate to online porn? No shit. The internet was basically created for porn. Is it still funny and shocking enough to sing about this? Apparently.
And racism? Yes, racism is still a problem in this country. One look at New York City's Burroughs Washington DC's two half's or many of the culturally divided neighborhoods in Los Angeles will tell you that racism still abounds.
However, in light of news stories that we come across everyday about a cultural clash between societies that are squaring off on the international stage for religious, political and ideological supremacy, it would have been more interesting and funny to see a show push the boundaries a bit. How about an Arab Muppet? How about one that wears a Burqa? That's funny.
Maybe it's the fact that we live in a time of existential war. In as much as we are in a constant state of war, it seems, we are battling not a country, per se, but a cultural ideology (even if President Bush denies it). Tackling racism, though worthy, seems overly stale.
The protagonist, an annoyingly peppy and high-pitched voice of an actor named Robert McClure just graduated from college. Which one? His name is Princeton. Funny! He moves to Avenue Q because it's cheap and quickly endears himself to this vibrant community that includes an Asian, a gay Republican, a hipster, a dirty old man, a fat white man and a cute teacher. Oh, and Gary Coleman, or an actor that plays him.
Look, I like child actor jokes as much as the next, but have we not run the gamut on Gary Coleman humor? Is it still funny and cutting edge to laugh at the former Different Strokes kid and current Cash Call spokesman? Plus, if it is, can't the writers come up with a smarter line of jokes than simply just saying his name to try and elicit some laughter?
As I looked around at all the people who had paid very good money to watch this show, I wondered why laughter was in such abundance. And then, as one of the not-Muppets said "Fuck" and then "Shit," it donned on me: It's not Q's perceived wittiness that left people in stitches, but the bad words and so called adult themes that the cast sprinkles in like salt on a flavorless dish.
Yes, curse words are funny. Yes, Muppets cursing is even funnier. Really, it's comic gold. But, there has to be something more. There has to be some real comedy mixed in with the guttural comedy. During one scene (spoiler alert), a not-Muppett drops a penny off the empire state building and kills a passerby, who just happens to be the person her lover is having sex with. She realizes what she's done and says "Shit." Ha!
In another scene, two not-Muppets have wild, raunchy drunken sex. The best part was watching the actors maneuver their puppets to perform a 69 and ride someone doggy-style. The next best part was watching everyone's reaction. 'Look, they're having sex! Ha ha ha!'
The best plays and musicals are the ones that challenge, transport and entertain. If our senses, our norms our challenged when watching a show, or we are transported to another place and time where we can completely escape our current reality, or, at the very least, if we come away with a few well-earned laughs, then the creators and actors have done their job.
Through its stale humor, its unflappably tedious songs and cultural irrelevancy, Avenue Q utterly failed.
In the interest of full disclosure, Avenue Q is running through Oct. 14 at the Ahmanson Theatre.
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