Friday, July 3, 2009

Picnicface - They're Real, apparently.

Picnicface are left to right: (Standing/sitting on car/elevated) Kyle Dooley, Brian Eldon Macquarrie, Cheryl Hann, Mark Little, Evany Rosen - (Sitting/crouched) Bill Wood, Scott Vrooman and Andy 'Flaming Swan' Bush.

Certain of you with any sort of awareness on the net may have come across an amusing You Tube video called 'Powerthirst', and indeed its sequel, Powerthirst: Redominator. It's a highly amusing spoof of those energy drink adverts beloved of the States and features barking exhortations like, "Now comes with Preposterous amounts of Testosterone: PREPOSTERONE." Funny stuff, and naturally it started a craze with a wearying number of god-awful copycat efforts, and even worse, redubbed shite.

After all this one would be forgiven to throw bricks at the people who made the sketch, a Canadian comedy troupe called 'Picnicface'. But you'd be wrong, and even if you made the attempt I'd hurl my body betwixt them and the mob like some mayoral bodyguard.

Possibly shouting, "Noooo." But quietly, because they might be in the middle of a novel and highly witty new routine.

Because, wow - Picniface are really good! I mean, really. They shame Mitchell & Webb's sporadically amusing effort, and piss all over that ghastly Corden & Horne abomination. How can unpaid low budget comedy be so good? Because you can't throw money at scriptwriting, you fools. You've either got it, or you haven't. Picnicface trade in a rare thing, genuinely novel sketch material. Most sketch groups parody existing films or television shows and occassionally established books. Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes, James-bloody-Bond. Whilst this can be sporadically entertaining (a recent Mitchell & Webb effort contained some laughs with Bond gambling in the mode of village fayre fruit cake weight guessing) it is - let's face it - pretty lazy. It's a mined out vein whose gags rarely even attain the riffing of a decent pub conversation. Picnicface come up with new ideas, character based ideas that so far have eluded any pattern. Witness 'Hey Africa!' - a Sesame Street style educational skit torpedoed by a deranged professorial host. Or the thing of beauty that is 'Changeroom Redux', a surreal sunny David Lynch meets Christian fable. Then there's the epic 'Realzone', a perfect introduction to the group that is endlessly quotable, and graced with original music that is both parodic and yet surprisingly funky. These are ideas that would never occur to the TV hacks, and would be dismissed by less confident comedians lacking the imagination to pull them off.

This happens more often than you'd expect.

I love you Picnicface. They're not perfect, by any means. The two women of the group seem to be struggling when fronting material - they're great performers, but lack a distinctive voice and crucially gags, see the reasonable informative but not inspiring 'Women in Comedy', or the 'Diaries of Dopey', an idea that doesn't quite click and goes on a bit too long. To say they're surplus is wrong though, and I suspect they've some damn good material in the live shows from their joint-writer presence in other sketches - if there's one frustrating thing about Picnicface it's the drip-feed release speed of sketches. Their priority is their live shows.

The stars of Picnicface appear to be Andrew Bush, who directs and produces the sketches and usually plays the straight man (though his timing is impecable - check his 'Lawyers' sketch), Kyle Dooley who brings a lot of physical comedy to the team and has the enthusiastic/brooding psycho thing down pat and Mark Little, arguably the star of the show. I'm pretty certain Mark will be headed to either even greater things, or more troublingly super-star entrapment in laboured comedy vehicles ala every other once great comedian such as Ferrell and Stiller. I'm betting on the former though. Mark Little, of distinctive face, squint and voice surges through the sketch material effortlessly playing a variety of roles, usually antagonistic. He seems to have this strange hybrid character of jock-nerd and is the go-to guy for old-man eccentrics or fucked-up child abusers. That's enough hyphens. He also is pretty passionate about comedy, in interviews he dismisses a good chunk of the sketches they produce as inferior and disposable, and argues pretty hard for an even tighter quality control. He's even gloriously arrogant enough to attack US indie-comedy's sacred cows, citing Mike Judge's (to my mind highly amusing and thoughtful) comedy 'Idiocracy' as having only one decent joke. I certainly hope the scrawny bastard's on a mission, because I can't think of many other upcoming comedians making me laugh, and there's certainly fuck all British ones.

In summary, if you're so disillusioned with sketch comedy that you can't be fussed to click on their videos and check them out, I can not do otherwise than nod with sympathy and yet grit my teeth in frustration. And then bundle you in a burlap bag, drive you to a remote location and force you to enjoy in a remote internet-cave. But Picnicface ARE worth your time, I'm not arguing that they're God-like saviours of comedy who are sweeping YouTube in a messianic march of laughs, but they ARE fucking good. And you should watch.

Three of the Best:

Realzone - My personal favourite.

Powerthirst - the sketch that started it all.

Growing Boy - ace concept this.

You can find more Picnicface sketches on Youtube here - - also check for 'Lawyers' under the usergroup 'Collegehumour', which has other good amateur stuff, like work by Flight of the Conchords Kristen Schaal, sharing a sketch called 'Fact Checkers' with God-like Bill Murray.

Picnicface also have a presence on Will Ferrell's rather splendid 'Funny or Die' website, which is a place where users upload their own sketch videos, other users give the thumbs up or down and champions are lauded and inferiors banished. Indeed, such is Picnicface's talent that Ferrell endorsed them, and indeed invited them to a meet. Nice chap, that Ferrell, check out his landlord videos. On no account visit the British Funny or Die section however, as it appears to be tragically dominated by mainstream TV British sketch artists recylcing their material, such as bloody David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Their mediocrity compared to such inspired amateur efforts like 'David Blaine's Street Magic' speaks volumes.

And finally Picnicface have their own website, Duh.

So please, please, please give Picnicface a chance. I leave you with their official logo/coat of arms, one that signifies excellence in my book:

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