"Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard." Warren Bennis
Impressions of Jeff Seal and The Raving Jaynes
An Evening of Comedy at Triskelion Arts
The Goddamn Truth / Written and performed by Jeff Seal
Rave Plus / Created and performed by Jamie Graham and Amy Larimer
Music by Richard Kim / Lighting Design by Andy Dickerson
“Once the audience buys a ticket, they enter into a social contract not to say anything,” says comedian Jeff Seal. He’s not wrong, but he’s not right either.
Performers expect the audience to maintain a respectful silence. Courteous applause, fervent cheering, and the occasional sneeze or cough: these stand as acceptable noises from spectators. Yet, our silence reveals much.
Nowhere is this more apparent than a comedy show. When the jokes fall flat, everyone knows. Politeness turns pained, and grins pucker into winces. We might not say a thing, but the artists feel our judgment.
In their split-bill program at Triskelion Arts, Seal and improv duo the Raving Jaynes make it their goal to elicit laughter — lots of it. Their brand of comedy isn’t subversive or political or even particularly physical. Instead, Seal and the Raving Jaynes wield wit to highlight the sweet absurdity of humanity.
With his twinkly eyes and manic hands that he shoves into his pockets, Seal resembles a dippy, dorky dad. In The Goddamn Truth, his humor — although plentifully studded with profanity — runs in the same vein. Using storytelling and stand-up, he hopscotches through a variety of hashtag-worthy subjects like #manchupicchu pictures on Tinder and JetBlue’s #tellyourstory campaign. He flaunts his stick-of-dynamite tattoo that (#whoops) ended up resembling a used tampon (#gross).
As with all comedy, the effect can be patchy. It’s fun to see what sticks its landing (a deliciously ribald story about Judy Blume and Maurice Sendak) and what doesn’t (the visceral pleasure of swear words). It’s even more fun to see on whom it lands. One brunette in the front row honks at everything. Two burly dudes with trendy glasses sit with their arms crossed; their faces remain pinched for the entire set.
Seal’s greatest asset proves to be himself. He brims with "aw-shucks" affability. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine if we’re laughing because his wisecracks are amusing or because he’s so darned earnest. Does this distinction even matter? We’re laughing more often than not.
The Raving Jaynes sound like a joke: Two lissome women with the patrician accents of a 1940s movie star blend modern dance with sketch comedy. It’s funny, but it’s no joke. Jamie Graham and Amy Larimer are the real deal: sharp, witty, gorgeous, and utterly unique.
In Rave Plus, the twosome assumes a variety of characters from birds to surfers, yet certain traits materialize across the board. Graham acts as the cerebral, nervous Nellie to Amy Larimer’s brash extravert. Their movement contrasts this individuality: Graham flits through refined attitudes with feather-light elegance while Larimer swings and arcs her limbs with casual pluckiness.
The Raving Jaynes work exclusively with improvisation. Even their terrific support team of lighting designer Andy Dickerson and violinist Richard Kim ad-libs based on the decisions the duo makes in the moment.
It’s risky. Riding an impulse can lead to hilarity, to awkwardness, or to disaster from which recovery is near impossible. To the audience, improvisation may bewilder with its proliferation of scenarios that never coalesces into anything meaningful.
The Raving Jaynes keep their work from skidding off the rails by revisiting themes. In the opening vignette, Graham plaintively clucks as a baby bird that refuses to leave the nest. Over the piece, they refer to this bird motif again and again. Larimer poses an osprey that’s swapping a life of unrelenting egg laying for one devoted to following her dreams (which may involve painting). At another point, Larimer — all gnarly bonhomie as surfer/waitress Strawberry Board — encourages the neurotically paralyzed Graham to “fly the nest.” These repeated references don’t create a through line so much as a tie a knot where everything intersects.
The addition of movement adds finesse to The Raving Jaynes’ PG comedy. Contemporary dance doesn’t usually play for laughs, and Graham and Larimer recognize its limitations. Their dancing doesn’t bolster the text so much as expand it. As a result, they forge an intriguing ethos: humor as beauty.
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