Capital Fringe Festival review: ‘Smellin’ Up the Den’ serves up irreverent laughs

Eric Zitz/Eric Zitz - Michael Cartwright, Katie Zitz, and Justus Hammond star in the production "Smellin' Up the Den."

Lots of people think they’re funny, but coaxing laughs out of a roomful of strangers separates the wannabes from the up-and-comers.

In a fast and funny hour titled “Smellin’ Up the Den!,” the performers of Red Knight Productions show they have the inventiveness, irreverence, timing and discipline to go for pro.

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A six-member cast — Michael Cartwright, Scott Courlander, Jonas David Grey, Justus Hammond, Nick Hitchens and Katie Zitz — race ably through 20-plus skits in an hour. Definitely R-rated, the comic situations riff on medical TV commercials (“I have herpes. . . . Keep those chronic outbreaks under control!”) and corny vampire movies (the master has suffered a “coffin fit.”). There’s a moral debate between Hitler and Jesus and a kind of spelling bee challenging kids to hide the word “penis” in a sentence so teachers won’t hear it.

Clever videos weave in and out, too. A recurring one features Cartwright as a villain in an eye patch, threatening world domination but growing ever more statesmanlike as he goes — “I have destroyed your beloved national debt!” Zitz plays a perky all-American mom in a TV commercial for a new type of Lysol designed for a body cavity.

Courlander, Red Knight’s artistic director, co-wrote the show with David Juliano and notes in the playbill that it debuted at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. He’s working with a new cast here, but it’s clear these guys have got the goods. One skit seems “Saturday Night Live”-ready: Fanboy geeks pretend they don’t care but can’t help diving into a passionate debate on whether Han Solo could take Indiana Jones, among other pointless questions. It’s very funny.

Not every comic idea lands lightly, but even the occasional fizzle gives way to another bit that fizzes.

Julian Rosenberg on bass guitar ably performs at the side of the stage, jazzing up the transitions between skits.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

Smellin’ Up the Den

A sketch comedy show by Scott Courlander and David Juliano. Directed by Courlander. Performed by Red Knight Productions. 60 minutes. Through July 26 at the Capital Fringe Festival. Visit www.capfringe.org.

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