2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Smellin’ Up the Den!’ by Scott Courlander

Smellin’ Up the Den!: The Classiest Potty Humor at Fringe

“Will we lose the audience when Jesus calls Hitler a little bitch?” I wonder aloud. “Well he was a little bitch,” Katie pipes in. “If we didn’t lose them with the poopshake sketch, I think we’re safe,” says Nick, referring to an elevated scene in which two friends discuss the circumstances under which they would eat a milkshake made out of poop. “I mean, the show starts with the line, ‘I have herpes,’ so where else is there to go?”

Michael Cartwright, Katie Zitz, and Justus Hammond.
Michael Cartwright, Katie Zitz, and Justus Hammond. Photo by Eric Zitz.

Smellin’ Up the Den! is not a family show. After having great success with our hit grated adventure comedy Medieval Story Land at last year’s Fringe Festival, we thought it was important to show that Red Knight Productions had a little edge to it too. Smellin’ Up the Den! is a collection of fifteen SNLlike sketches definitely geared for adults.

We are discussing how to market the production. The question we’re debating right now: do we sell this as a “raunchy” show? I have a vested interest as one of the authors – I don’t think my writing is “raunchy;” I think my writing is “smart.” Sure there’s mention of a milkshake made out of poop, but does one poopapple spoil the whole bunch?

“That sketch isn’t even about the poopshake!” I try to explain. It’s just there to distract the audience while we set up the real joke – the smart joke. Why does no one understand writing! The herpes sketch isn’t about herpes – it’s a satire of the medical industry. It’s clever! It’s smart! “It is smart,” Nick reassures me, “but smart doesn’t sell; raunchy does.” “It’s classy potty humor,” Katie explains. I wonder if that sells. I think somehow we’ve missed the point. Most of the sketches aren’t sophomoric; so why should we sell it as a dirty show? Charlie Brown comes home to discover that Snoopy has been shot down by the Red Baron. Hilarious? Yes. Dirty? No. The muppets interrogate a murder suspect. A vampire can’t stop making puns. This show isn’t raunchy, it’s silly! Does silly sell?

“Fine, we won’t call it raunchy,” Nick concedes. “We do say ‘fuck’ a lot, though,” points out Katie. True.

Katie is afraid that we’ll get lumped in with all the other Fringe shows that try so hard to shock their audiences, to deal with taboo issues, or to be overtly and aggressively sexual. She seems to think that some artists are obsessed with the female reproductive system. She starts throwing out taglines: Smellin’ Up the Den! – Finally, a show that’s not about rape!” Nick and I laugh. Katie is serious. “Smellin’ Up the Den! – No one touched us as children.” We kind of like where she’s headed, and finally she drops this gem: “Rape. Depression. Women talking about their vaginas. Smellin’ up the Den! has none of that…it’s actually good.” Winner winner chicken dinner.

A sketch show is hard to market. How do you sell a show consisting of fifteen completely unrelated vignettes? At the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, where the show first debuted, sketch comedy is the main fare. Just write some funny sketches, pick a nonsense title and the experienced audience will be there with you. This week, for example, audiences can catch Asscat 3000, Scrambled Legs, and Grandma’s Ashes. Any idea what those shows are about? Me neither, but UCB’s audiences know what to expect. Here in DC, the sketch comedy scene is in its nascent stages, with little out there other than the explicitly political themed genre made most popular by The Capitol Steps. So how do we sell this random smorgasbord of funniness?

Katie’s nailed it. We’ll tell them what we aren’t. Our show is not about vaginas. I think it’s catchy, and irreverent, and hope it doesn’t offend any other Fringe performers. “If they have a sense of humor, they won’t be offended,” says Nick. Nonetheless, we should probably say what our show is, not just what it isn’t. This time I strike gold. Nick says “it’s like SNL.” “But with the F-Word,” I quip. Bingo. “That’s what I said!” says Katie. Nick and I are always two steps behind her.

Rape. Depression. Women talking about their vaginas. Smellin’ up the Den! has none of that…it’s actually good. Smellin’ Up the Den! is a hilarious in-your-face sketch comedy show, like Saturday Night Live… but with the F-Word.

I feel good about this marketing message. It’s funny, it playfully describes the show and I don’t have to call my work raunchy. Now, with our marketing meeting over, I can finally finish editing the last sketch. This is a smart sketch, a classy sketch with an intellectual premise – ever notice how much the word “splurge” sounds like the word “splooge?”

(c) Rebecca Rice.
(c) Rebecca Rice.

Goethe Institut – Gallery, 812 7th Street NW, in Washington, DC 
When: July 12 @ 9:45
July 14 @ 7:15
July 17 @ 8:15
July 20 @ 7:15
July 26 @ 9:15

or call (866) 811-4111.

Capital Fringe is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 2005 with the purpose of connecting exploratory artists with adventurous audiences by creating outlets and spaces for creative, cutting-edge, and contemporary performance in the District. Capital Fringe’s vital programs ensure the growth and continued health of the local and regional performing arts community by helping artists become independent producers while stimulating the vibrant cultural landscape in our city. Official Hashtags: #outsidetwire #capfringe13 #CapFringeSoldOut


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