REVIEW: Blind Pig Comedy

This past Monday, I attended the weekly Blind Pig Comedy Night, a stand-up open mic that serves as a consistent place for up-and-coming Michigander comedians to try out material and secure performance time. Located on South 1st Street, The Bling Pig is a popular bar and artistic venue that frequently hosts artists of all mediums. 

While some events only require attendees to be 18+, Bling Pig Comedy Night requires their audience to be 21 years of age or older. As a recent 21-year-old, I was excited to take the opportunity to engage with more stand-up comedy in the Ann Arbor area. Earlier this semester, I attended a somewhat underwhelming and slightly awkward show at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and the Blind Pig piqued my interest by providing a second chance for the downtown comedy scene. 

Upon arriving at the Blind Pig several minutes after the first comedian’s set began, I was surprised to see the minuteness of the crowd, although in hindsight I’m unsure why I anticipated a large crowd at 8:30 p.m. on a Monday. Grouped at high-top tables the audience was small but engaged – I was certainly the youngest attendee, and I predict the majority of audience members were in their thirties and forties. 

Each comedian’s set catered to the generational makeup of the audience. While I understood every pop culture reference and joke about taxes, I didn’t find any of the sets particularly funny or entertaining. I did not attend this event anticipating Second-City-level performances, but I was slightly disappointed by my lack of enjoyment at the Blind Pig. I simply don’t think these comedians are for me; while they did elicit some giggles from older audience members, the energy of the crowd that night was by no means raucous or terribly dynamic. 

My biggest gripe with the performances at this open mic was the heavy reliance on juvenile sexual jokes. While I will not get too specific or graphic in describing these, the frequency with which each comedian, regardless of gender, relied on making highly sexualized comments about women’s bodies was disappointing. It was clear that each comedian was attempting to evoke a shocked reaction from the audience members with these crass and overplayed jokes, but this hardly worked. I was also surprised at the frequency with which the comedians cracked jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community – some tasteful, some not. It appeared as though each performer felt some sort of obligation to lean on jokes about sex or the queer community when all else failed. 

While the content of the stand-up sets was not my favorite, I did really appreciate the environment that The Blind Pig created for both its audience and performers. The energy of the room was very tight-knit and conversational, and it’s clear that the venue succeeded at creating a casual space for comedians to test out material and audiences to unwind after a long day at work. The staff was kind, the drink affordable, and the audience warm, which provided an overall pleasant experience. 

While my quest for laughter on a Monday night following the completion of my finals was not quite fulfilled, I still enjoyed my time at the Blind Pig Comedy Night. Although I may not attend this specific event again, I look forward to attending more artistic happenings at this venue in the future.

REVIEW: The Cherry Orchard

Last weekend, I attended the University of Michigan Department of Theatre & Drama’s production of The Cherry Orchard directed by Dan Cantor. As a frequent attendee of this department’s University Productions, I was interested to see the show they selected for their two-weekend Arthur Miller Theatre slot, especially because I have never seen an Anton Chekhov piece staged.

Overall, I was impressed by the actors. While I have found the season selected for the Department of Theatre & Drama’s University Productions season in the 2023-24 school year to be somewhat underwhelming from a personal artistic preference standpoint, the performances of these students never fail to impress me. Generally, I thought the play was fairly well-directed for the thrust (which incorporates audience members on all three sides, a favorite theatrical layout of mine), but I found myself to be somewhat disconnected from the story and the characters.

I’m unsure if it’s the directing or the translation of Chekhov’s work that I didn’t enjoy. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but regardless of the dramatics occurring onstage, I couldn’t help but feel very isolated from the stakes of the show. I am typically a very engaged audience member – however, this two-hour and forty-minute play failed to keep my attention in its entirety. I did feel that some of the lines felt very heavily prescribed to actors, and I’m curious if line readings were a tool frequently utilized by the directing team in rehearsal.

Admittedly, I struggled with the relationships between the characters. This is not the fault of the actors in any respect – when you select a show for your season that exclusively utilizes eighteen to twenty-three-year-olds, there’s bound to be some confusion when it comes to the ages of certain characters. Typically, these University Productions will utilize hair and makeup design to emphasize the intended ages of each character. I’m rarely a fan of this, but I think a large cast show such as Cherry Orchard would’ve benefitted more from the use of physical differences to emphasize older age. While the script roughly explains each character’s relationships and ages, a little would’ve gone a long way with using design elements to display the intended difference in age.

One aspect of the show I enjoyed was the transitions and scenic changes. These were masterfully and beautifully choreographed, incorporating not only the backstage team but also the cast and onstage musicians. These transitions were accompanied by beautiful lighting and sound design – another highlight of the show. The ensemble work during the show, but especially these unscripted moments, was a clear display of the camaraderie the show’s whole company no doubt shared.

I’m looking forward to attending the Department of Theatre & Drama’s next season, and I am eagerly waiting for the season’s announcement. While the school year is coming to a close, I’m certain that the 2024-25 year will bring a new batch of remarkable theatre, both U-M affiliated and not.


REVIEW: The G-Men’s Winter Concert, ‘One G-Rection’

Last Friday, I decided to attend my first acapella concert in two years on a whim. After learning about the G-Men’s winter concert last week, I was intrigued – I had attended several years of G-Fest in the past, an “annual showcase of the best student groups the University of Michigan has to offer,” per the G-Men’s website. I’ve always enjoyed this eclectic collection of performance groups and was curious to see what a different style of showcasing looked like for this all-male acapella ensemble.  

Upon arriving at Rackham Auditorium and picking up my ticket, I was immediately invited to scan a QR code to view the concert’s program. This provided an instant glimpse into the essence of the evening. From the beginning of their concert, the G-Men exuded an energy that was both goofy and charmingly awkward, yet unmistakably self-aware. This tone was established from the moment I opened the virtual program. One of the highlights for me was the group members’ comical bios and photos, which set the stage for the tone of the night’s festivities. Despite the lighthearted approach, the program still provided essential information, such as the set list and social media handles. Throughout the evening, each song was introduced with a cheesy yet endearing preamble, perfectly capturing the group’s spirit of ‘silly men, serious music’. This energy was also evident in the group’s comedic approach to explaining their concert title, ‘One G-Rection’.

If you were wondering, I can confirm: Pitch Perfect really does emulate the accurate energy of college acapella concerts. The G-Men’s performance never disappoints. Senior G-Men member Max Crandell arranged seven songs for the evening, and I remain consistently impressed by his theory skills. The group’s blend was impressive, and each soloist brought their own personality to the song as they stepped forward to lead. I particularly enjoyed the soloist performance by Leo Kupferberg, a junior member who performed “Blow” by Kesha, as he exuded confidence and joy that are no doubt characteristic of his approach to the G-Men as a group. Overall, I was impressed by the musical performances of the G-Men in their winter concert. This came as no surprise to me, as the quality of each song I’ve seen performed by this group is always high.

The only other student performance group listed on the bill was Midnight Book Club, known across campus for their short-form improvisational comedy. I have to admit, I’m not always the biggest fan of college improv, but I thought this group did well in their scene work, especially considering the number of audience members they had to work with.

Unfortunately, the concert itself was not highly attended. As I looked around at the audience, I noted the age of my fellow spectators. I saw very few University of Michigan students – it seemed that most of the attendees were parents or family members of the G-Men’s members, and I would estimate that the Rackham Auditorium seats were about 25% full, give or take. While I did love the amusing song introductions and I mostly enjoyed Midnight Book Club’s performance, the minimal audience attendance definitely skewed the comedy of the night to prompt an awkward chuckle, as opposed to raucous laughter. After attending G-Fest for several years, I know this group has the potential to draw a larger crowd. I believe that there is room for growth in the G-Men’s marketing strategy, and the performance itself may have been better attended if more performance groups were listed on the bill, similarly to G-Fest. 

The University of Michigan boasts an established and engaged acapella community, with fourteen groups affiliated with the Michigan Acapella Council, but this minimally attended performance led me to ponder how frequently these groups interact after the ICCAs conclude each year. When each group gets immersed in their own winter programming, does the community momentarily disband?

I look forward to attending more G-Men events in the future, and I sincerely hope that more students get the opportunity to check out their impressive performances. Keep an eye out for the next G-Men album, which was recorded recently and will be released in late 2024.

REVIEW: Love Lies Bleeding

To say that no trailer could have adequately prepared me for the intense gore, smut, and hilarity of Love Lies Bleeding is a major understatement.

This past weekend, I attended a screening of Love Lies Bleeding, the recently released film by Rose Glass starring Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian, at the Michigan Theatre in downtown Ann Arbor. The movie follows gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) as she embarks on a whirlwind romance with bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian), finding themselves at the center of a series of homicides.

I decided to see this movie on a whim after my original plan to watch Drive Away Dolls was foiled by its unavailability near campus. Apart from a cursory glance at the trailer, I went in blind, a decision I’m grateful for after experiencing this bizarre yet enthralling flick. The majority of the audience seemed to share my sentiment, as we collectively gasped, screamed, and burst into laughter in response to the sheer shock factor. It may sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. As a fervent movie enthusiast, this viewing experience fulfilled my need to engage with the screen, surrounded by a predominantly queer and female-presenting audience, fostering a sense of camaraderie.

The remainder of this review contains minor spoilers, so I recommend stopping here if you wish to see the movie without further knowledge of its contents, which I highly recommend.

Love Lies Bleeding was a tight 104 minutes, maintaining a brisk pace without allowing the plot to meander. Following a year of films that took their time (looking at you, Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon), I welcomed the prospect of a movie I could watch without needing multiple bathroom breaks. All jokes aside, the pacing worked beautifully, keeping me deeply engaged while still delivering surprises.

Some artistic choices didn’t quite satisfy me, particularly the part where Jackie grows to fifty feet tall, followed by Lou joining her in frolicking through the clouds after escaping from Lou’s shady criminal father. While I understood the symbolic purpose behind this growth, I found it a bit too on-the-nose, detracting from the grounded, realistic elements of the story. Similarly, while I comprehend the intention behind Jackie’s muscles bulging and growing due to her increasing self-confidence and steroid usage, it significantly altered the movie’s tone, adding a science-fiction element that made the overall story feel disjointed.

I must admit that the ‘point’ of Love Lies Bleeding, as assumed in every movie, may have eluded me… but I couldn’t care less. This was the most enjoyable and magnetic theater experience I’ve had since the release of Bottoms, another favorite among the queer female community. The increasing release of movies featuring queer women across genres and exploring the intersection of these identities excites me immensely. This somewhat absurd yet enjoyable thriller excites me about the potential of queer cinema in the 21st century – the lines between mainstream and queer media are blurring significantly. 

Featured image available courtesy of Google Images. Love Lies Bleeding is now playing in theatres. 

REVIEW: Jack and Jacob

The art of clowning may be funny, but it’s no joke.

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending Jack and Jacob: The World Tour in the Walgreen Drama Center’s Newman Studio. This piece, part magic show, part clown show, was all entertaining. Conceived by Professor Malcolm Tulip and senior acting major Jack Weaver, this one-hour laugh fest follows the journey of professional performer Jack as he grapples with the abandonment of his partner, Jacob, on the last leg of their comedy-magic fusion world tour.

The performance itself was led by Weaver, who played a heightened, fictionalized version of himself. The show also featured the voice and stage talents of Priscilla Lindsay, Mark Colson, Malcolm Tulip, Hugh Finnigan, Caitlyn Bogart, Amilia Fontaine, Ella Lewis, and Tate Zeleznik. The ensemble was delightful, and Weaver’s performance was nothing short of wonderful. He possesses a unique sense of humor with exceptional improvisational and audience interaction skills, and it was clear that this performer was in his element, utilizing the training he has received both in and out of the classroom over the past four years.

I was immersed in this highly interactive, comical experience before even entering the performance space. Upon arrival at the Newman Studio, audience members were stopped by a bouncer who demanded they reveal personal information about Weaver before answering. After a sufficiently comical interaction, the bouncer ultimately allowed the audience members to enter the performance area. I looked behind me as I entered the darkened space and saw the same routine being repeated with the group entering behind me, giving me the sense that we were all in for the same experience. The highly interactive nature of the bouncer’s greeting continued throughout the performance itself, which begs the question of when the performance began in the first place – a truly engaging and exciting way to spend my Friday night that kept me locked into the performance from the moment I entered the building. Throughout the show itself, audience members were consulted, questioned, spoken to, and even pulled up onstage.

The fictional conflict of the show, the abandonment of Jacob, created a clear arc for the fictionalized Weaver, who subsequently attempted to run the show himself and take on the role of Jacob when needed. It provided the perfect level of storytelling that sparked a sense of empathy in the audience towards Weaver while still allowing us to enjoy the spectacle and physical comedy of the performance itself.

It’s performances like these that remind me of the power that live theatre can have. At Jack and Jacob, I truly felt in community with the audience and actors alike. This production was conceived as a part of an independent study housed in the Department of Theatre & Drama, which only excites me for future projects that have the potential to be created and produced as an academic escapade. In the future, I would love to see more performances that could strike audiences as a more untraditional theatre-going experience, such as Jack and Jacob. Weaver’s passion for clowning, magic, and comedy shone through during this production, and I sincerely hope that other arts students will feel inspired to bring their creative minds to life onstage in a similar way.