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Mighty Pens

Cartoonists attempt high speed humor onstage in new 92Y Tribeca show

By Bethany Trottier / Jester correspondent

Pictured: Cartoonist Hilary Price with the grand prize in the “Fisticuffs” show.

The Nib & Pick Society’s “Fisticuffs” show, seen at the 92Y Tribeca on Jan. 19, was what one might call a “cartoon-off” with the audience choosing both the content of the various rounds of cartoon challenges and also deciding the winners. Though somewhat lacking in actual, violent fisticuffs – as in the graphics used to advertise this event – the four cartoonists, who have drawn for the New Yorker, Daily Kos and Animal Nuz among others, did display quick wit and energetic sketching.

But the show wasn’t only visuals. A trio of musicians, playing stand-up bass, guitar and trombone played southern style blues riffs to accompany the competitive cartooning throughout the rounds, with each round lasting one song. Still, it took the audience more time to warm up than the cartoonists did. Host Patrick Borelli showed some of his fantastical amateurish and funny cartoon chairs on a screen, as he explained that he had been inspired by industrial design. To try to involve the audience more, one man was asked what inspired him. His answer, “money,” brought stunned silence. Luckily, his lack of artistic interest turned out not to be representative of the rest of the audience.

Since improvisation of any sort can be a tricky business, each of the cartoonists (Hilary Price, Eric Lewis, Drew Dernavich and Matthew Diffee) gave autobiographical introductions, showing samples of their work, just in case inspiration didn’t strike later, to prove they actually had cartoon humor chops.

The competition kicked off in a fashion similar to long-form improv shows, with the audience invited to choose suggestions from among words projected on the screen by shouting their favorites en masse – whichever word rang the loudest became the choice. Yelling in public can be so cathartic! The blues trio played an easy groove as the cartoonists’ minds raced. Paired off into “Leather” and “Lace” teams, each presented their results at the end of each piece of music. Some were funny, and some were simply weird non-sequiturs. To be fair, it’s impressive that anyone can squeeze their brain that hard in three minutes and come up with some amusing idea, much less a drawing illustrating that idea.

There were a few more rounds in this fashion, at one point giving audience members free rein to pull words from the air, or their brain, or wherever this stuff was coming from, with the caveat, “Do not choose a Rabbi. That would make it way too easy for these guys.” The choices were drawn onto a wheel, which was spun, landing on the word “pointe shoes.” Diffee produced the best entry, a dry cartoon showing two pairs of pointe shoes jutting out from under two bathroom stalls, whose wearers were obviously on their knees, caught mid-bulimic evacuation. At the bottom of the page he put the caption, “Your pointe shoes are so cute!” – a dark but funny idea.

Eric Lewis also produced a great piece at one point in the night, playing off the chosen words “dominatrix,” “cat” and “hospital.” There appeared a cat in a hospital bed yelling at a shitting dominatrix in kitty litter, “I said, OUTSIDE the box!” So even among sophisticated New Yorker-style cartoonists, wit can become scatological very quickly.

In closing the show, audience applause deemed the Leather team the winner. Their reward was a wrapped quart of milk, another odd sardonic touch to the night. And it was fat-free milk, adding to the letdown. Then, while the band played us out, the losers did a “fast/slow/fast” improv dance on stage and left us all feeling goofily cheerful.




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