I love Christmas shows. Not that multi-cultural holiday crap, but good, old fashioned birth of Jesus programming. So while sifting through the dozens of live-radio “It’s a Wonderful Life” options at my disposal in Chicago, I was greeted with a facebook invite featuring the cheeky smile of emberrorist extraordinaire Matt Castellvi.
If there’s one thing I love more than Christmas movies and Matt Castellvi, it’s 1988. What a banner year! Hoffman and Cruise light up the big screen in the action-packed “Rain Man,” The Los Angeles Lakers, led by the big three of Michael Cooper, Tony Campbell, and Mike Smrek, ruled over the basketball world, and Reagan and Gorbachev traded stories of summer days and friendly boy scout masters in Reykjavik.
Just as improv and sketch comedy are both synonymous with Chicago, “Die Hard,” a little-known chestnut of a film from 1988, has been gaining momentum as a bona fide Christmas movie classic. Fittingly, local improv trope Octavarius presented their year-end finale last night at Comedy Sportz, pondering “How Hans Gruber Stole Christmas: A Die Hard Holiday Spectacular.”
Octavarius, an improv/sketch group spawned from the ashes Illinois State University Bachelor of Science Degrees in Acting, is made up of seven men and one woman. Including veterans from ISU’s legendary Improv Mafia, Octavarius has been on quite the hot streak, capping off a 15-week run at CS Sunday night, while also earning selection as the Chicago Reader’s runner-up for Best Improv/Sketch group of 2010.
ComedySportz, the hosting venue, is also on a hot streak. “We do 17 shows a week. Why do you ask?” Managing Director Benjamin Young stated via text (Mr. Young was at home icing his back after a nasty fall at the time of the performance.)
As my lovely British-Indian girlfriend and I took our seats, we eagerly awaited the festivities at this year’s Nakatomi Christmas party. Based on my previous experience with ComedySportz, I was looking forward to witty banter, ‘clap-clap-rotate games,’ and hilarious audience suggestions like ‘Kate Gosselin’ or ‘Justin Beiber.’
Sadly, we were disappointed when a group of lily-white German terrorists busted in and took back our Christmas gifts that had been neatly placed on our tables. If you’re a fan of diversity like me, you hate nothing more than pale, pasty Bavarians spoiling a wholesome game of Ta-Do Run Run.’ (Though I did feel their firmly shouted ‘Schnell’s were very authentic based on my experiences watching “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “Inglorious Bastards.”)
Thinks started to pick up when Hans Gruber, immortalized by the Sheriff of Nottingham in the original film, pulled ComedySportz mainstay Matt Elwell from the crowd. This led to the first of many glittery, gut-blasting, brain–gushing executions right in front of our very eyes. My girlfriend was splattered with some of Keith "Keith" Habersberger’s small intestine before she herself was hit with a stray bullet.
I was beginning to think these Germans might possibly have something against her, perhaps for being of Indian decent, or maybe due her British accent (remember, remember the 6th of June!) After all, she was the only non-white person in the house except for the guy playing kid-killing, twinky-dissecting officer Carl Winslow. Then I realized all of the harsh treatment was likely caused by her turning her nose up at the popular five-dollar Foster’s special for a six dollar glass of oak-flavored Chardonnay.
The show gained even more steam when Nick Mikula entered dressed as either Stanley Kowalski or Two-Bit Matthews from ‘The Outsiders.’ Turns out it was actually officer John McClane, the wife-beater-clad New York cop, who was simply looking to patch things up with estranged wife Holly Gennaro.
The eight-member group had the audience in the palm of their hand (and another bullet in my girlfriend) by the half-hour point before abruptly turning it over to The Crocodile Players, a four member improv team made up of two young looking old guys and a pair or old looking youngsters (think Taylor Hicks). They served their purpose as about twenty-minutes later, Stockholm Syndrome kicked in and we were begging for our Eastern European revolutionaries to return. They did and it was nerf shots the back of the head for TCP.
Back to the Nefarious ones…
There was an uncanny reenactment of Hans’ Hungarian indentured servant bringing a can of coke to the ill-fated, coked out Harry Ellis, played by the dashing Castellvi, as he “negotiates million dollar deals for breakfast” and handles the “Eurotrash.” Then my lady was hit by another stray bullet. What does Germany have against India, anyways? Other than condemning their 1998 Nuclear Arms test, which isn’t for another ten years.
After a hip reference to the Mole King brought the front row out of their seats, a player casually mentioned that he had recently completed an all night Star Wars marathon. The crowd went ape shit!
...until he followed up with ‘after watching all six movies,’ which got a smattering of boos.
Overall, it was a four star night. The gang recounted warm holiday memories, substituted the Grinch with Gruber for a hilarious musical interlude, and Mikula even walked blinded through a gauntlet of mousetraps. We were treated to spins on ‘Home Alone,’ which if you can picture Macaulay Culkin being a good actor, then you’ll probably be envisioning something along the lines of Brian Wohl’s layered, introspective portrayal of Kevin McCallister.
In the end, it was smiles all around. Wohl even gave my girlfriend a half hand slap/half hug. Tolerance is alive and well in 2010!
While their run at ComedySportz has come to end, expect great things from Octavarius in 2011. There are eight of them. And they are damn funny!