Last Friday, the Muhlenberg Activities Council hosted a comedy night, bringing in prominent comedy Mikey Day, a writer and performer on “SNL,” and his opener Streeter Seidell, a writer on SNL also known for his work with the internet-based comedy group CollegeHumor. It is no surprise that this event was very interesting to the student body, evident from the line to the doors of the event space snaking all the way out the front doors of Seegers Union a full 15 minutes before doors opened, due to how popular “SNL” is now. Conversely, it was no small task for the MAC to bring in big names like Day and Seidell, even flying Day out from where he lives in California just to perform for us.
During the performance, Seidell did a quick warm-up bit consisting of basic pleasantries, anecdotes and a good old crazy college story. Seidell asked the audience a few starter questions about their experience with comedy and reminded us how bad his job is and how much we shouldn’t pursue a career in writing comedy, in true comedic tradition. After that, Seidell switched to a few words of wisdom ranging from the faux pas that is eating McDonalds on a plane to the true danger of agreeing with the voice in your head for a change to the unnecessarily humanistic names people give to their dogs. Seidell wrapped up his set with a longer story highlighting the insanity and intrigue that comes from your crazy freshman roommates. Then the main event, Mikey Day, came on stage to round out the show. Day covered a wide range of topics and forms during his stand-up bit, from a powerpoint about prank texting his father to more crazy college stories to some unaired SNL skits he worked on, ultimately ending with a Q and A.
Obviously, Day and Seidell are extremely funny individuals who have made it quite far in the world of comedy as a testament to that fact. They are not, however, stand-up comedians. Going off the mixed reactions from the students after the show, it was pretty clear that Day and Seidell were sketch based comedians and not completely used to doing stand-up. While both stand-up and sketch are styles of comedy, they are performed by very different types of comedians. Sketch comedians are primarily actors and other theater minded people, which is why actors on “SNL” (a sketch-based show) typically go on to become movie stars or enter other acting careers — not do stand-up. It’s the same reason why stand-up comedians don’t go onto pursue professional acting, even stand-up comedians that are far more famous than the sketch comedians that do go on to acting. A stand-up comedian isn’t going to do as well in a sketch because they’re not used to playing off another scripted character as they are the live audience; the same is true for a sketch comedian not being as good at playing off the audience as they would another actor in a sketch.
There were several problems that came through during the program that held it back as a stand-up performance. One main problem that made some students uncomfortable was the disconnect between what we were expecting and what the comedians were expecting. Because this event was free and fully open to the campus, like most of our events typically are, we think it as normal to stop by for a bit and maybe head out when you get bored or you just have something else to do. This is not what Day and Seidell were expecting. Periodically throughout the night, students would get up and start to leave, and every time this happened the comedians would call them out on it, as you might expect a stand-up comedian to do at a club or their own event. Another problem was that this is a liberal arts campus, which again holds a very different crowd than what you would typically imagine a stand-up club in the city would. The foundation for humor basically stems from non-socially accepted topics, or at least involves inappropriate topics. Now I’m not saying that political correctness is where comedy goes to die, but most of the popular stand-up bits are inherently pretty bad if you think it through. One example of this was a joke Seidell made about Native American names that was still very tame in the world of stand-up jokes, but toed the line for what some students felt comfortable laughing at.
Ultimately, a stand-up performance is one of the only types events that can be easily held with only a famous comedian or two, which is why it was a good go-to for MAC. While the draw of a big name and already proven funny comedian is great for promoting an event, getting a stand-up comedian to do what they’re good at might work out better.