It’s a neat trick, taking something you and your audience revere and just absolutely tearing it to shreds — but, you know, with love.
That’s the stock in trade of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, which brings its show “The Complete World of Sports (Abridged)” to the 4th Street Theatre on Saturday. Before producing this show skewering sports culture, the company, which began by sending up Shakespeare at Renaissance fairs in the early 1980s, tackled the Bard, the Bible, America, Hollywood, “all the great books” and Christmas.
“It’s been called irreverent celebration,” says Reed Martin, one of the “Sports” show’s writers and performers. “Honestly, we only pick topics that we really like.”
The idea, then, is not really to make fun of sports as sports — or Shakespeare or the Bible or whatever — it’s to make fun of aspects of those worlds that are pretentious or absurd. Comedically, the theory isn’t so much different from Vaudeville or, for that matter, Monty Python.
“It’s a combination of higher and lower brow, verbal and physical and intellectual and scatological,” Martin says.
What the troupe sets out to do, essentially, is to illuminate the utter lack of perspective we sometimes have when dealing with the things we love. Sports lends itself to that treatment, because it’s loaded with people who lack perspective.
“We always look for something that people take very seriously,” Martin says. “So that’s tended toward the historical and the literary. But then we thought, ‘What do people take more seriously than sports?’”
After landing on sports as subject matter, Martin and his writing partner, Austin Tichenor, had to find a framing device on which to rest the show. The obvious choice was an ESPN-style sports broadcast, a milieu overflowing with self-important talking heads and other archetypes ripe for comedic deflation. One scene has Martin introducing himself to the audience matter-of-factly, “I’m the ex-jock turned sportscaster with extensive insider knowledge of the game, which I am unable to articulate,” a single sentence that nails the Catch-22 of athletes-turned-broadcasters.
Martin, who grew up idolizing the Marx Brothers and the guys from Monty Python, understands the comedic allure of bursting the balloons of the pompous. What’s interesting is that those left holding the strings are often laughing the hardest. He’s had Shakespeare scholars and history professors in audiences for shows aimed directly at ridiculing Shakespeare scholars and history professors. And, if they have any degree of self-awareness, they love it, he says. Part of that is that the shows, including “Sports,” are the product of extensive research.
“They appreciate that we get things right, that we’re not twisting it for comedic effect,” Martin says. “Almost universally, whatever the subject matter is, the more they enjoy it the more they enjoy us making fun of it.”
That said, Martin and all of the marketing of the show insist you need not be a sports fan to appreciate this show.
“If you’re a sports fan, you’ll like this show,” he says. “If you’re not a sports fan, you’ll love this show.”
Certainly there is much to enjoy from a pure manic-comedy perspective. There is audience participation, slapstick and farce. There are multiple levels on which the show can be enjoyed. But, marketing slogans notwithstanding, the show is probably funniest to those who live and die with sports — but still have a sense of humor about them.
“I love baseball, but I love to see it taken down a peg,” he says. “I think that’s why it works.”
• Pat Muir can be reached at 509-577-7693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.