A man sitting on death row with guards conversing doesn't sound like an all too hilarious situation.
Leave it to the Don't We Boys to find the humor in it.
The Grand Rapids-based trio of sketch comedians has carved out a niche in both the local and national comedy scenes with its dark-themed live show. The group, which has wielded its gut-busting show to festivals in Milwaukee, San Francisco and Chicago, will be on stage this month as a part of Gilda's LaughFest.
Last year, the Don't We Boys performed to a standing room-only crowd at the Dog Story Theater as a part of the festivities.
"We deal with a lot of dark and mature themes, but I wouldn't say we're at all remotely dirty," said Joe Anderson, a member of the group and accomplished stand-up comedian in his own right."What we're trying to do is take this situation that is really high stakes or really dark or morose and try to figure out what a normal person would say. A lot of times, what they say would be kind of funny."
Anderson has teamed with local talent in Dave Lyzenga and Matt Sterenberg, both fellow Grand Rapidians that came to the group with experience in the improv arena.
But sketch comedy is a markedly different ball game. In layman's terms, it is more akin to what viewers see on "Saturday Night Live," while the off-the-cuff stylings of improv more resemble the show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
"I think once you reach a certain point, doing improv is actually easier than sketch," said Sterenberg, who has performed with Pop Scholars and Calvin Improv. "There is no preparation. We could do an hour show tonight. You have to prepare for sketch. I think it's tough. You can't trust your improv abilities. Part of you doesn't want to do your lines word-for-word. You think if you change a few things it won't matter, but at the end, it really does. That joke might not make sense at all."
The Don't We Boys have garnered positive feedback during their extensive travels, making what is realistically a difficult craft look easy.
"With sketch comedy, since you have time to prepare for it, it better be good," Sterenberg said. "Out at some shows, we've seen some awful groups. You watch them and wonder 'Out of everyone in your group, no one spoke up and said maybe you shouldn't do this in front of people?'"
In terms of local sketch comedy, the Don't We Boys are trailblazers, bringing this brand of comedy to an area where it essentially does not exist.
The group's growing momentum pushed it to seek different ways to bring the hilarious antics of the Don't We Boys to audiences outside the live show.
Thus, last summer, the Don't We Boys teamed up with a production crew to film a pilot of about 12 sketches to shop around to various networks. The group shot most of the footage in the Grand Haven area.
"Since we were still busy doing a bunch of other stuff, it was petering along as far as getting it finished, but we have a pretty good contact at Comedy Central that is kind of looking at it," Anderson said. "We're really finally kind of pushing it."
The pilot features cartoon portions, animated by local artist Jason Roth.
An animated portion depicts the Don't We Boys combing through the woods, looking for adventure when they approach a man who cannot seem to move or speak.
"They can't figure out what is wrong with him," said Anderson, who said the pilot has the feel of a comedic play on the popular book series, The Hardy Boys. "They find a note or something and it turns out this guy was frozen in a game of ultimate freeze tag in the ‘70s and he was really committed to the rules. So, the Don't We Boys try to figure out how to unfreeze him."
Each member of the Don't We Boys have their own comedic endeavors outside of the group, for instance Anderson, who embarks on a 30-plus-state college stand-up comedy tour every year. He said he translates a lot of the ideas from his stand-up show to the Don't We Boys.
"There are definitely stand-up things that I've turned into sketch stuff because with the scenario and premise of a joke will get me to wonder what it would be like if you could see the scene," Anderson said. "I do lean toward the sketch and improv stuff because I like doing stuff that's scenic a little bit more."