REVIEW: Swear Jar (The Annoyance Theatre)


Veteran sketch director can’t save “Swear Jar”

Annoyance Theatre presents
Swear Jar
Directed by Mick Napier
Musical direction by
Lisa McQueen
Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through May 1st   (more info | tickets$15)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Annoyance Theatre‘s founder and artistic director Mick Napier has never once directed a sketch show for his own company in its 22-year history. It’s not that he doesn’t have experience in the medium. In fact, Napier’s a bit of a Chicago comedy legend, having directed more than 15 Second City revues and working with the likes of Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris.

mick-napier Swear Jar is Napier’s debut sketch revue for his own theatre. And although it definitely embraces the Annoyance aesthetic—which can be described as subversive, in-your-face, punk rock comedy—it never gains the momentum it needs to be a truly good sketch show.

It’s not that there aren’t some shining moments of hilarity. A scene where an alter boy (Chris Witaske) makes a lustful pass at a kind-hearted priest (Andrew Peyton) inverts the played out power dynamic with great success. Another scene (once again starring Witaske opposite straight man Peyton) depicts a desperate suit salesman quickly crumbling before an unsuspecting customer. Witaske’s solid acting skills and captivating stage presence make the demented sketch one of the best in the show.

The musical sketches, save for the closer which is a painfully unfunny and poorly executed piece about fast food, are big winners as well, thanks in part to musical director Lisa McQueen’s strong songwriting abilities. In particular, Vanessa Bayer’s rap about battling Leukemia is a perfect blend of catharsis and comedy.

Like a good stand-up act, a sketch show is only going to work if you can maintain momentum. One dip in the running order is acceptable, but when you have a string of sketches that just aren’t funny, then it’s difficult to keep the audience’s attention, even if the humor is meant to be somewhat shocking.

This was the case for many bits that may have started strong but then, with no real conclusion, just floundered and died on stage. A sketch about a man (Brian Wilson) who gets the bright idea to sit on the car’s gearshift plays out in full just as I describe it. A woman’s-only afternoon tea starts funny as the ladies passive aggressively take pot shots at each other’s failing relationships. It even gets to a second beat as one woman is berated by the hostess’s husband for spilling her drink on the floor. And just as you’re waiting for the final punch of the sketch, it awkwardly and abruptly ends.

showposter Swear Jar would be a much funnier show if it was consistent. There are just too many bumps throughout the revue. Many of the performers seem fairly green to the stage, having difficulty projecting their voices beyond the front two rows. (Witaske and Bayer, however, do stand out as consistently strong players.) The writing, too, is all over the place, often trying harder to shock than to elicit laughter. Although there is something to be said about shocking an audience, contemporary culture has raised the bar on what passes for taboo to a point that this sketch show just doesn’t hit, save for a sketch about a girl with a heavy flow.

With directing Swear Jar, Napier doesn’t abandon the Second City sketch format that inserts short “blackout” pieces between longer sketches, but he does tweak it. There is an outpouring of short, 30-second sketches near the end of the show, which helps bring up the energy at the end. But overall, the revue drags when the comedy just isn’t there, and at other times, the slew of short pieces can feel frantic and choppy. The show could also be trimmed down by 30 minutes. With an intermission, the 10 p.m. revue didn’t end until midnight.

Swear Jar just never hits its stride. Instead it limps across the finish line. There are some great moments and solid performances here and there, but the bulk of the revue feels directionless, which is a shame when you have the talent of Napier in the director’s chair.

Rating: ★★

RUN: Previews | March 13 and 20 | 10:00 PM | $10  //  Saturday | March 27 – May 1 | 10:00 PM | $15

Extra Credit



Swear Jar Credits

Vanessa Bayer is thrilled to be a part of Swear Jar. The Cleveland native began her comedy career with Bloomers sketch comedy troupe at the University of Pennsylvania. Since moving to Chicago, she has been lucky enough to perform in many shows at The Annoyance including Splatter Theater and Death Roast, at iO with her team Revolver and the improvised puppet show Felt, and at Zanies where she does stand-up. She also performs with The Second City and has done so at sea aboard the Norwegian Dawn and on land in shows including Girls Night Out!, Jewsical the Musical and The Best of Second City. She would like to thank Mick, Jen, Tyler and Jimmy, as well as the entire cast, her family, friends, and lil Georgie for their constant love, support, feigned interest in Bloomers, and for making her smile everyday.

Aidy Bryant is so happy to be performing with her hilarious friends in Swear Jar. Aidy also improvises with her favorite group of ladies, Virgin Daiquiri and performs fully improvised musicals with a live-band for Baby Wants Candy. Aidy co-wrote and performed in several original productions here at The Annoyance. She would like to thank Mick, Jen, Lisa, the cast, Patriac, Bananagrams, her family, Britt, Josh and Corndog.

Angela Dawe considers herself one lucky broad to get to be a part of this show. Originally from Lansing, Michigan, Angela has been fortunate enough to be in many Annoyance shows over the past several years, including Co-Ed Prison Sluts and the critically disdained Deprived. She would like to thank and hug Mick, Jen, Tyler, Patriac and this absurd cast for all the fun. She also sends thanks and love to her fella, Tim, who is rumored to be marginally funny himself.

Colleen Murray has loved working with this dream cast and director at The Annoyance. She performs in many comedy programs, including Rush Limbaugh! The Musical at The Second City and VD & Deep Schwa at iO Chicago. Colleen is grateful for the constant support of her great friends and family, Mick, Jen, Jimmy and her AIDS Cat, Andrew.

Andrew Peyton is very excited to be in this awesome show with such a talented cast and OK director. He moved to Chicago in 2005 and has been fortunate enough to call the Annoyance Theatre his home for the last four years. He is also a member of the wonderful video sketch group, Sad On Vacation. He would like to thank the Annoyance, Mick, Jen, Jimmy, Scott Goldstein and Colleen.

Conner O’Malley is honored to be a part of Swear Jar. Previous shows at The Annoyance include Dr. Amazing, An Aerosmith Christmas, and The Perfect Wave. He is also a part of the video sketch group Sad On Vacation, and can be seen at iO with the harold team Ms. Dad. He also worked at 1-800-Got-Junk as a truck team member for 9 months. Ask him about it! Conner would like to thank Mick, Jen, Tyler, Patriac, Lisa, the O’Malley Family, Baby Problems, love crime, his talented cast, and his lovely girlfriend, Aidy.

Brian Wilson is an improviser who has been writing and performing comedy in Chicago for the last decade. He is thrilled to be in the very first sketch review directed by Mick Napier in the history of the Annoyance Theater. Brian loves and thanks: the amazing cast of Swear Jar, Mick, Jennifer, Lisa and Tyler and all the wonderful people that make the Annoyance such a unique and special place, The iO Theater, Fishnuts, GingerSnaps, Deep Schwa, The Scene and especially his family: Steve and Sue, Brett, Beth and Dustin, Mattie, Moochie, Betty and Willie, and above all else, his amazingly talented and loving wife Emily Wilson.

Chris Witaske is very excited to be a part of this amazing cast. Chris has performed in over twelve shows here at the Annoyance. He’s also performed at iO, the Second City aboard NCL and was recently Mick Napier’s Assistant Director for the Second City 50th anniversary mainstage revue. Chris is very proud of his two sketch comedy groups, Buffet Shark and Sad On Vacation who just had shows at the Comedy Central stage in L.A. Chris would like to thank his parents, Jennifer, Mick, the cast and his amazing sister.

Mick Napier (Director)

Lisa McQueen (Musical Director) an Ensemble Member / Musical Director at Annoyance Theater for 20 years, composed the musicals Tippi: Portrait of a Virgin, President Bush is a Great Man, The Invention Show and Kink, among others. Second City Musical Director credits include two revues for Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, as well as revues at Denver Center for Performing Arts and Boom Chicago (Amsterdam). Regional credits include Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?, Hamlet! The Musical and People vs. Friar Tuck, Romeo & Juliet, the Musical; as well as the Victory Gardens and Off-Broadway productions of Wild Men! both starring George Wendt. She performed choreography duties for the recent Second City revues America – All Better!, Rod Blagojevich Superstar and Rush! The Musical, currently playing at Second City e.t.c. Lisa also plays keyboards with the Jeannie Tanner Jazz Quartet and The Rolling Clones, a band dedicated to the music of the Rolling Stones.


One Response

  1. […] 6, 2010 Keith recently reviewed the Annoyance’s new sketch show “Swear Jar” for the Chicago Theater […]

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