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Monday
Oct252010

The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour @ UCBT-NY - 10.22.10

Photo: Ben Stadler

By: Lucas Hazlett

The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour is 30 minutes of well-crafted, pun-laden cop humor involving three NYPD police officers (Joey, Patty and Davey) trying their hands at comedy, proudly exclaiming in the show’s opening number: "We’re cops, hilarious cops!" Thankfully, they are revealed to be so much more.

Writers Adam Levy, Conor Izzet and Darren Nelson, all former sketch students at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, have crafted a slick combination of comedy and tragedy, offering a sharp, refreshing perspective on what could have been nothing more than cliched retread of standard vaudeville.

Joey, played by Dan Black, is a stereotypical Brooklynite who makes no bones about the fact that he views his wife Sheila and her best friend Tanya (played by Kate Riley and Nicole Shabtai) as over-the-top, gum-smacking loudmouths. His fiery repartee with the two women borrows from a tradition of blue-collar sitcom characters who hate their wives yet are unable, for whatever personal flaws, to leave them. The constant swing between high-status torturer and low-status whipping boy intimates a modern kindred with TV-culture icons Archie Bunker and Al Bundy, ultimately creating an immediate likability that saves the character from itself. The way Black approaches Joey, with constant winks and nods to the audience, allows the character to become the joke when so many of the jokes he tells are inevitably humorless.

Beth Appel plays Patty, the lone female officer desperate to shed her butch affectation by revealing a series of romantic exploits with fellow officers. Though this character is funny and has her moments to shine, she is easily the weakest of the three officers and her presence sometimes feels shoehorned. I suspect this has more to do with the difficulty male writers have with convincingly writing a female voice. After all, her character’s depth is explored via sexuality. Despite that handicap, Patty is never reduced to mere totem through which male characters learn and evolve; an accomplishment owing more to Appel’s subtle performance and natural charm than the material itself.

Shaun Diston’s Davey, an African-American rookie cop who’s hazed by Joey and lusted after by Patty, delivers one of the more memorable moments of the night -- a delightfully heartwarming solo spinning anew the relationship between cop and donut. Davey earnestly laments being the "only chocolate donut in the box" whose heart has a “donut hole” in it. It’s a clever song that gets laughs, but it’s also here where the soul of The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour truly emerges.

It’s not about cops poking fun at their loveless marriage, hopeless romanticizing or ignominious rank. The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour is about pathetic characters making pathetic attempts at escaping the lives they’re doomed to remain in. In this way, above all, the writers and cast successfully tap into the true spirit of the American narrative: chasing down a dream that will never be arrested.

Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can. He can be seen performing in the monthly variety show “The Soul Glo Project” at The UCBT-NY and with Herschel SAT, NOV 6 @ 11PM at the Peoples Improv Theater.

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