Even when they go to wretched excess, the Video Buddies don't lose their appeal. And with their satirical revue "Gross National Product," at Columbia Station's cabaret, they prove they know what makes for an evening's entertainment.

The manic five-member troupe, directed by Washington native John Simmons (who also writes much of the material), is in the tradition of Chicago's Second City and San Francisco's Company. That is, they draw from their surroundings -- in this case, the Federal City -- and aim between the eyes, sometimes with a sledgehammer.

An ambitious sketch titled "Alex in Washington," the centerpiece of the show, offers so many biting and zany conceits that you hardly mind the sophomoric and preachy ones. Alex (not Haig), an underling at the Bechtel Corp., comes to town as an innocent, only to be shocked and dismayed by the dark secrets of Washington parties, the Smithsonian, the Pentagon, Congress and the White House.

Highlights are Simmons as James Watt, "The Mad Flattener" -- stalking around stage in hardhat, with a dangerous gleam in his eye -- and Joel Perry as a conservative Southern orator who can't help but declaim like a chicken.

Of the other sketches, more than a few travel well-trod ground -- "Beat The Press" (world affairs in a game-show format), "The PTL" (crass evangelists) and "The Descent of Man" (yet another PBS parody, replete with an Alistair Cooke character) -- but almost always, they bring along some unexpected pleasure. GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT -- Video Buddies, at Columbia Station through August 14. 342-1387.