Playwright/Performers: Devin Middleton and Jordan Stafford
At: Annoyance Theatre, 851 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-697-9693; TheAnnoyance.com; $10. Runs through: Sept. 27 ( Thursdays only )
This new sketch show from the comedy duo of Teen Cudi ( Devin Middleton and Jordan Stafford ) shares its title, Black Boy Joy, with a Twitter hashtag created originally by Chance the Rapper and dedicated to celebrating life as a Black man. As the two note in the press release, "Black kids rarely get to have fun."
Directed by Atra Asdou, the short sketches and songs here mostly focus on the silly-cerebral, with a sly dash of social commentary. Middleton and Stafford have an easy chemistry and an admirable ability to trust their audience to follow them into some of the twistier sketches.
These include a dialogue between two security guards trading lines about how secure their respective locations are, ranging from "My location is so secure it might get really vulnerable with a group of friends at a celebratory dinner" to "My location is so secure it saw a group of Black people in public and decided to mind its own damn business and not call the police." The two know how to draw out the pauses between lines in this piece, so it feels like a cunning mix between two bored guys at work playing a kinder gentler version of "the dozens" and a non-menacing short Pinter play.
Silly wordplay drives a few of the sketches, including one where Middleton, charged with guarding Stafford's hapless witness to a crime, goes through increasingly more tortured takes on "Snitches get stitches," such as "tattle-tellers become sadder fellers."
Most of the work here focuses on characters and relationships, rather than topicality. One exception is Stafford as HUD Secretary Ben Carson, hosting a talk show that "my doorman lovingly refers to as 'no thanks,'" with Middleton as special guest Kanye West. The latter explains his recent comments in support of Trump by saying that he's not affiliated with any party except "the party of the easily influenced, confident and loud."
Midshow, Stafford delivers a monologue that seems to be veering into Hannah Gadsby anti-comedy territory, where he earnestly talks about having fight back against taunts from a racist kid in his high school. Suffice it to say that there's another punch coming in that story that disrupts the narrative in a brilliant fashion.
In general Stafford tends to play the more laid-back characters ( his Carson lives up to his self-description of sounding "like a ghost who is slowly learning English" ), while Middleton's characters exhibit more overt emotionalityfrom an overenthusiastic mother at a spelling bee to a murderous robot. But the real joy here comes from seeing the interplay between the two, who know how to support each other and listen. That generosity and easy confidence carries Black Boy Joy through even the weaker material with an abundance of spirit and smarts.