A Pair of Aces 

High-Concept Comedy from a New Sketch Duo


The Aces is half comedy show and half anthropological investigation. In scene after scene, Shelley McLendon and Michael Fetters assume roles whose humor lies in their precisely captured familiarity: Now they're an elderly couple, bickering over who ate the last chocolate chip cheesecake bite; now they're teenagers flirting at a roller rink; now she's an owl, and he's the blundering bird lover who just "rescued" her from a barn. McLendon's owl is a recurring character, and if it doesn't inspire outright hilarity, her committed impression would demand any ornithologist's respect, from the laser-beam focus of her eyes to the persistent whomp of her arm-wings as she flails against a wall, trying to flee her well-meaning captor.

McLendon and Fetters are regulars in the comedy world, both veterans of Road House: The Play! and sketch troupe Sweat. Their experience shows: The concepts here are solid, the characters sharply drawn, and what could be a limitation—the two-person configuration—is instead taken as an opportunity to twist the sketch format in interesting ways.

The Aces' show never ceases being fun to watch; what was missing, for me, were jokes that elevated the production from enjoyable to hilarious. While I frequently found myself thinking, "Oh, that's clever," I laughed out loud considerably less often. (It should be noted that the crowd on the night I saw the show found the whole thing pretty damn funny.) Part of the problem is that McLendon and Fetters don't always want you to get the joke right away: In two separate sketches, punchlines are delayed until much later in the show, leaving the uncomfortable (albeit temporary) impression that a sketch has either been botched or is coasting on pure Family Guy-style randomness. The aforementioned anthropological bent also tends to keep the audience at a slight remove: A nature channel-style sketch in which voiceover narration described the mating patterns of the American teenager was cute, but the conceit itself was distancing.

This is a strange show to review, because under most circumstances, if a comedy show doesn't make you laugh, then it has failed. But McLendon and Fetters are incredibly assured, smart performers: McLendon is unerringly precise in her choices, while Fetters is an outlandishly talented character actor, and the two have an easy charisma. I might not've laughed out loud, but I still quite enjoyed spending an hour with them.


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