Down two members, Cook County still delivers the laughs 

Lessons in puberty

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Cook County Social Club was missing two of its members Friday night, but they didn't suffer for the loss; in fact, it was one of their most cohesive shows we've seen so far.

The Chicago-based improv troupe are regulars in Charleston's Fringe and Comedy Fest scenes, and as Cook Count took the stage, member Greg Hess admitted that the Holy City is one of their favorite places to visit. Aw, shucks.

Hess was joined by Mark Raterman and Bill Cochran for their long-form set. The audience suggestion that inspired their show (from my very excited friend): potato blanket.

They started out as three adolescent boys in bed together, under a blanket. While the reasons for their being in bed together changed throughout the show, the theme of puberty (and the subsequent growth of pubic hair) was revisited often.

They jumped between scenes unexpectedly but totally seamlessly. One moment they were a bunch of awkward kids, and the next they were having an argument with a Mexican cop looking for "drug-ass." It was random as hell, but we quickly learned to trust the guys, as they made every scene work and tied them all together. It's not uncommon in improvised comedy for some scenes to fizzle out, for the comedians to give up, laugh, and move on. But we didn't see that happen Friday night.

The Cook County guys are known for their chemistry, and maybe just because it was the three of them on this occasion, but it seemed stronger than ever. They each have their strengths — Hess plays flamboyant characters well (like a Southern mother, a dirty cop, or a ribbon dancer), Raterman tends to throw in really imaginative curveballs, and Cochran is just ready for any twist that comes his way.

It was easy to forget we were watching improv, and the ending, though adolescent, couldn't have been written better in a script. Back in bed together, Raterman asked, "What is a potato blanket?" Hess pulled down the imaginary blanket and gestured to his pubic region, and the lights went down.

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