Small Men with small-town troubles deliver big laughs 

Toe-curling comedy

I love comedy that curls my toes. The type that makes me squirm, as though a magnifying glass is pointed at me as I say or do something ridiculous for all the world to see.

I love humor that's smart. That doesn't rely on dick and boob jokes for cheap laughs. That makes me think a little, while it makes me laugh until tears fall from my eyes.

That was the kind of humor delivered by Neil Casey (Saturday Night Live) and Will Hines (Upright Citizens Brigade) in their 60-minute sketch comedy masterpiece, Small Men.

The first sketch, about '80s beer commercial guys in cowboy hats, mustaches, and aviator glasses, left me wondering if I could make it through the whole show. They were loud and crass, and even though that was the point, I was just grateful that I'd avoided the first row spit zone created by Casey's overzealous speech (an intentional threat, I imagine).

But then the real show began, and so did the real fun.

Small Men follows people in a small town, living small-town lives, dealing with small-town problems. A city council zoning board arguing over a new left turn lane into a shopping center. A new employee unable to answer a few security questions while setting up his new account password. A minor league baseball mascot gone awry. It doesn't sound like this should be funny, right? But in Hines' and Casey's hands, it's hilarious.

Their writing is masterful. Common threads, like the construction of a Friendly's restaurant, or an ill-fated walk-a-thon, are woven carefully throughout the various sketches, lending the whole show a sense of unity I didn't expect based on those first, frenetic moments.

Their physical comedy is fantastic. Never before have I seen an entire audience reduced to near-hysteria at the sight of two men, staring at each other. But in Small Men, it happened. The two actors clearly have a tremendous chemistry together. Hines' baseball mascot (a frog) never uttered a word, relying instead on body language to tell his side of the story. It was perfect.

The best moment in the show came in their eighth sketch, where things took a turn for the brilliant. Hines is a career-obsessed "cultural trend shaper" (not an ad-man), who takes Casey, dressed in drag, up to check out his uber-trendy office. They're on a date, ready to get hot and heavy, but Hines is utterly pompous. He throws around phrases about "your narrative of yourself" and "zeitgeist wrangling," and is so pretentious it hurts.

Casey's Wendy character steals the show, though, all sagging leggings and bare feet, with her loud, Mad Men inspired climax, and her final zinger.

"You're just a waitress," said Hines, still trying to convey his own career as something more than simple advertising.

"I know," said Casey, pointedly, and the audience cheered.

The whole show is hysterical, and I LOL'd all over the place. While on one hand it's a pretty great look at our own cultural trends, on the other it has some cheap, dirty laughs as well.

June 4, 6 at 8:30pm. Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St., (Above the Bicycle Shoppe). Admission: $16.

Grade: A

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