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Primal Machine

PIT sketch comedy group Better Than The Machine taps the inner animal in its best pieces.

Better Than The Machine: Christina Reynolds, Carlos Cabrera, Matt Gallo, Reid Levin and Paul Syracuse.

Sketch comedy quintet Better Than The Machine, just beginning a month-long run of Saturdays at The People’s Improv Theater this June, shows great flashes of originality, but in just about half the sketches in their 45-minute show.

The group is at its best when it taps into a primal weirdness with its material, as when Paul Syracuse plays a cat-obsessed and incestuously inappropriate brother to Christina Reynolds, who’s introducing him to her boyfriend (versatile Carlos Cabrera) for the first time. Better Than The Machine carries this even further with another piece when all four guys in the group do what could be called a post-modern take on SNL’s “Bill Braske” sketches from the mid-1990s, watching sports on TV and taking turns telling taller and taller tales, which is punctuated by strange, and again primal, episodes of ape-like behavior, all lit in red. Matt Gallo and Reid Levin stand out in this sketch in particular.

The flipside with Better Than The Machine, though, is that another sketch with the group all seated looking into an imaginary screen -- this time playing videogames -- shows the type of relationships that have been seen many times before in sketch comedy, movies and TV. That’s the guys who say “bros before hos” and sneer when one of their friends actually gets a girlfriend -- and of course the girlfriend doesn’t know how to fit in. Unfortunately, Better Than The Machine doesn’t have much to add to this idea.

The group succeeds when it injects primal behavior into those nearly-cliched comedy archetypes, as in another sketch that finds a couple taking a relationship quiz from a women’s magazine and failing it miserably … to the point where they get so aggravated with each other that they nearly throw down and fight.

Comedy often relies on surprise, and when Better Than The Machine puts primal behavior into everyday situations, their group gets that element of surprise and amplifies it. They could do well by putting more of that into their more conventional sketches to heighten their impact.




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