laugh your axe off

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Laugh Your Axe Off is an event that happens during Big Game week at UC Berkeley. At its inception, it mostly involved sketches written by people from the Squelch, Cal's only intentionally funny campus publication. Later, they added stand-up, and when the Squelch stopped writing sketches, they added an improv troop and an a capella group. One might question how much laughter either group provides, but better to let wannabe Whiffenpoofs sing the "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego" theme song than to have the show clock in at only 20 minutes.

Last year, Laugh Your Axe Off was an electric event. Rally Comm, the campus organization behind the event, had scheduled the show for Room 2060 in the Valley Life Science Building. It was an interesting choice, as opposed to somewhere like the Bear's Lair or Blake's. 2060 isn't even one of the largest rooms in VLSB. It also lacks any kind of stage or equipment for the amplification of sound.

On the lineup that night were two standup comedians – myself and John Jackson Waste - an improv group, and an a capella group called Artists in Residence. We didn't even get through the introduction before there was trouble. Once the crowd applauded for the first time, the professor from Room 2050 stormed in. He yelled, "There are students taking an exam next door! We need quiet!"

The Rally Comm girl in charge looked flustered. She said we would try to keep it down. The professor shot back, "You will keep it down." He returned to his classroom, and it was a little awkward. For a stand-up comic, there's nothing more encouraging than when your audience is ordered to remain as quiet as possible.

Inevitably, the crowd got loud again, due to a hilarious sketch where a Rally Comm member pretended to be a Stanford student. He wore a red shirt, and a red cap. In a conclusion that was in no way predictable, he took off the red clothing to reveal Cal gear underneath. He wasn't a Stanforder at all!

The professor re-entered the room, and this time, he was furious. The crowd immediately booed him. Oski the Bear imitated him in a mocking manner. The professor yelled "Quiet!" as loud as he could a few times. This did not lead to quiet.
After he announced that our event was OVER, John had had enough of this professor. He stood up and yelled, "Who here wants to listen to this old crank?" The professor left Oski and the Rally Comm girl to get in John's face. He demanded John's student ID. I told John, "As your attorney, I advise you not to show anything to this old crank." This made the professor madder. He threatened to call the police and have John arrested for trespassing. As John's attorney, I knew the old crank lacked the authority to do so.

The old crank kept yelling about the police, but he was losing steam. John waved the ID in his face, then asked, "Did you get my name? How about my ID number?" Old Crank tried to grab the ID but missed. I told the old crank he was making a fool of himself. The crowd started the "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" chant. Old Crank shoved Oski aside and stormed out of the room, as John shouted, "Comedy, One. Old Crank, Zero!"

The irony was that John's name was mentioned many times during the show. Had Old Crank stayed for five minutes more, he would have seen John's introduction, though he still wouldn't know his ID number.

This incident changed the entire tenor of the evening. Suddenly Rally Comm wasn't just a bunch of dorks in blue and gold rugby shirts. They were enemies of censorship, and crusaders for free speech. The improv kids got huge applause with their sketches, tentatively titled, "Stanford Has Wealthy Students" and "A Tree is a Subpar Mascot". No one knew why the a capella group sang "Under the Bridge", a song about shooting heroin in Los Angeles, during an event devoted to the Cal-Stanford football game, but it got huge applause as well. John got a big reaction by claiming to have had sex with the Old Crank's mother, despite the unlikely nature of such an occurrence. The crowd even joined in my cheer of, "Give 'em the Axe/Right in the crotch!" You can generally get a standing ovation by simply yelling, "Stanford sucks!" at any Rally Comm event, but this was the first time I'd seen people shedding tears of pride at the reminder of Stanford's suckiness.

I wouldn't have been surprised if the crowd had marched as one next door to further disrupt Old Crank's exam. Throngs of students stomping their feet, yelling about Stanford's suckiness, and refusing to let Old Crank or his assistants correct papers. "Put down that red pen! Put down that red pen!"

This year, while our performances were better across the board, the show lacked the same defiant spirit. In the same way that Cal fans are less excited about the Big Game when Stanford's football team is terrible, so were we less excited about the show without Old Crank to oppose us. The a capella group performed the same songs as in 2005, including "I Touch Myself", meaning they believe the Big Game is about masturbation as well as heroin abuse. John's routine was strong, particularly his joke about Stanford losing their football game to ITT Tech ("The game was played at night, over email.") In hindsight, it may have been a mistake to declare that fifty years ago, we'd have had Stanford students upside down with a fucking fork up their asses. Too soon.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on November 30, 2006 1:26 PM.

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