Two Boston College police men posing as undercover strippers broke up a house-party last Saturday evening in Fulton 511, where BC’s premier sketch comedy group, Hello…Shovelhead!, exhibited their “best-of” sketches from the past four years. Mishmashing violent police stereotypes with obnoxious party anthems, this particular sketch was representative of Shovelhead’s tendency to attack audience expectations. The ensemble touched on topics that ranged from life at BC to generational trends between teens and their parents.
How did Shovelhead come into being? Though no one went in expecting a history lesson, the ensemble nonetheless provided an insightful glimpse into the events precipitating the group’s formation. A Star Wars title card and John Williams theme music transported the audience to a galaxy far, far away—BC circa 1989. A modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Shovelhead originated in a rivalry between two competing sketch groups: “Hello,” a party of “low-key” Frenchmen obsessed with baguettes, berets, and bad accents, and their competitor “Shovelhead,” full of zanily dressed weirdos who spoke in a language of crude potty nonsense. These founding members engaged in such pastimes as shouting at pedestrians to attend their performances, painting in the nude, and eventually waging war over an incident of forbidden love between their members. The ending battle scene, arranged to DMX’s classic ballad “X Gon’ Give It To Ya,” depicted the glorious deaths of these rivaling comedy connoisseurs. The two lovers—one a dog, the other a blind mime—also died by suicide. But, as they say, rough beginnings lead to happy endings—and the remaining group members who didn’t die in the massacre united to form Hello…Shovelhead!.
This nonchalantly crass attitude that characterized the perhaps revisionist history of Shovelhead was evident in the evening’s first performance, wherein a duo of tie-dye shirt wearing camp counselors informed arriving parents of the unfortunate demise of their children. The two took glee in riffing on popular camp activities suitable for first-graders, but which here assumed a dissonant morbidity. “1, 2, 3, we lost your son!” the two counselors shouted, as if throwing a surprise birthday party. In an attempt to tell a scary story, they recounted their own experience canoeing. Their routine becomes increasingly unlawful, until they finally admit to starting a forest fire that killed the scouters—conflating childlike naivety with amoral behavior.
Such innocuous depravity continued in many of the ensemble’s ensuing sketches. When Aladdin and the Genie took the stage, the Genie asked his dear companion what he would like for his last wish. “I want to see a genie die of autoerotic asphyxiation,” Aladdin responded. Genie could only wonder why they put his lamp in a sexshop. Another sketch involved three BC students who returned from a semester abroad. While contrasting the benefits of mac ’n‘ cheese at the Rat and dining hall food to the niche selection offered by foreign cultures, one girl alluded to the practice of hunting her own game during the October harvest. A would-be victim of numerous attempts at ritual sacrifice, as well as a participant in seances and the reading of hieroglyphics, the student is oblivious to what her friends recognize as a cult. The sketch ended with two men in cloaks, one of whom she recognized as Tom Cruise, entering the stage to steal her away.
Aside from humor targeted specifically at college students with a penchant for dirty jokes and references to their community, Shovelhead explored issues of family and modern social conventions through scenarios that were both on the nose and biting. A girl brings home a boy with whom she plans to study, and though nothing lewd or covert is implied necessarily, the mother can’t help but fiddling in their business, at one point returning to collect her Kindle Fire. “I’m not looking, not looking!” she announces to them, thus impressing a hilariously unintended relationship upon the schoolmates. In another sketch, a boy introduces his girlfriend to his family of hipster slam-poets. Dressed in all black, each member of the family takes turns criticizing the nation’s lack of sensitivity, that we judge “students on GPA rather than personality,” and so on. The audience can only cringe at this explicative championing of social crusades a generation or so ancient.
Though the comedy stands magnificently on its own, the set designs contributed immensely to the production, effectively immersing the audience in the particular fashions of the lifestyles and cultural attitudes parodied. A sketch satirizing Dora the Explorer,” in which Dora and her sidekick Boots (played by a student dressed in a blue monkey jumpsuit) are professional morticians, made use of stretchers carrying dead bodies—the victims of Swiper’s illegal organ trade. While investigating the cause of death, Dora dug up a series of bloody intestines that were shockingly realistic. But nothing can beat the final sketch’s ingenious costume-design, which consisted of red leather jackets and fishnets, bizarre nose piercings, and a “Nothing More” T-shirt which perfectly complimented the UK band Piss District’s rebellious fashion statement.
Shovelhead showed off their inclination toward a betrayal of expectations when the supposedly authentic and anarchist Piss District sang the lyrics “I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to follow your rules, I just want to play with pretty dollies.” They ended their barrage of deceivingly quaint content with an amalgamation of every lullaby ever conducted—“I want to eat my vegetables, I just want to ride my tricycle,” sang the frontman Johnny Cockstain over a mild piano measure. As characteristic of their best projects, the sketch clashed conflicting attitudes to subvert typical norms—a manner of degradation I find hilarious.
Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Staff