No Taste, More Filling

The Grant Wood estate may or may not have endorsed this picture: Katy and Caleb McEwen star in 'Shut Your American Pie-Hole'
Courtesy of the Brave New Workshop

Anger is to comedy as gasoline is to combustion, and Shut Your American Pie-Hole; or Discount Family Values brings a gas can and a match to the party. Recent ensemble productions at the Brave New Workshop have evinced a tendency to travel to the edge of good taste, wink knowingly at it, and then return to safer territory. Not so in this satire on the concept of "family values"--a straw man just begging to have the stuffing kicked out of it. This show obliges, and the result is consistently funny and often thrillingly tasteless.

The cast is composed of real-life spouses Katy and Caleb McEwen, and the tone is set early. When Katy castigates Caleb for swearing too much in an ostensibly blown opening skit, saying the audience might be offended, he looks out into the crowd and proclaims, with obvious relish, "Fuck 'em!" Katy McEwen brings strychnine sweetness to her stage persona to good effect, a nice counter to Caleb's air of rage barely suppressed by smart mind jabs and wordplay. By the time the duo launches into a country duet called "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" there's a sense of abandon that builds through the night. We hear our fair share of bipartisan name-calling--in Act 1 we have a character describing Hillary Clinton as an "überlesbian," while in Act 2 we are treated to a description of embattled Dubya as a "coked-up retard." Then a skit in which Caleb portrays McGruff the Crime Dog recording a song warning about internet safety is repeatedly derailed when the canine gumshoe begins describing kidnappings and pedophiliac rapes in the backs of vans.

In other words, the edge of taste is located, and crossed with no apparent regret. Katy tackles a parody of "Ode to Billie Joe" (and does a decent Bobbie Gentry imitation) and later lends soul backing to Caleb's outrageously white rap on "Dr. Laura Is a Skank." I didn't really get the premise at first, but the song makes a thorough and detailed case for the radio host's skankhood, complete with nude projected pictures of her that shock for all the wrong reasons.

Not everything works. A Supreme Court skit falls flat, though Katy's sodden Ruth Bader Ginsberg somewhat redeems things, and a foray into celebrities having children descends into Weekend Update territory. But on balance these moments are overwhelmed by an abundance of good material. A series of mock warnings that things are going to get increasingly offensive feels gratuitous until, lo and behold, things actually do get bolder in tone. In a Catholic call-in show called "Pater Patter," Caleb launches into a rant on transubstantiation that is close to classic. McEwen's priest raves about the taste and texture of the blood and body of Christ. Turns out Jesus is one savory savior, "equally good with red meat and fish."

Things continue to ramp up. I won't reveal too much about the final skit, save that it depicts the political ascent of Terri Schiavo (following her rescue by Caleb's Dubya, suitably chagrinned when his plan backfires) and her subsequent transformation into a giant nuclear robot taking over the world. At the bit's peak, Caleb snaps back and forth to hilarious effect between Dubya and Ahnold (asking "When was the last time an Austrian ascended to power so quickly?"). The finale, a song about families and the horrible people they produce, has the distinction of rhyming "drug addict" with "Bob Saget." Thankfully, no attempt is made at anything approaching political balance, or respect for religion, or much of anything else for that matter. The McEwens have put together a work with bold, ample smarts, and provided the particular psychic license that comes from laughing at screwed-up jokes simply because they're funny. Rarely in recent memory has the asinine side of society and humanity been so cruelly and joyfully mocked.

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