This year’s production of Skule Nite, the annual sketch comedy show put on by U of T’s Engineering students, opened with cloaked figures making their way towards the stage, their faces illuminated (appropriately) by glowing hardhats. In a clever bit of self-referencing, they chanted for the return of the very show they were about to perform. Skule Nite, according to the robe-clad characters, was desperately needed to revive the collective engineering spirit, which had been “crushed under the weight of midterms, problem sets, and douchey TAs.”
Fortunately for the audience at opening night, Skule Nite 1T0 was funny enough to boost the morale of both engineering students and anyone plagued by the midterms and douchey TAs of other disciplines. It did occasionally get a little in-jokey, so some of its humour was lost on those of us who have never taken a class in Bahen and have no idea what PEY is. Most of the sketches, however, did not focus on engineering-related humour, and the ones that did tended to keep the more exclusive references to a minimum. (You don’t need to know exactly what the Iron Ring is in order to laugh when one of the characters cringes at the mention of it.) The result was a broadly appealing and thoroughly hilarious production that lived up to the comedic standard Skule Nite has maintained throughout its long-standing run at Hart House Theatre.
The show is a much-loved U of T tradition that began in 1921, when the School of Practical Sciences staged a successful variety performance at Massey Hall called Ngynyrs in SPaSms. Two years later, the production moved to Hart House and eventually evolved into Skule Nite, a series of short musical and comedy sketches written, performed, and produced by a team of Engineering students and graduates.
Over the years, Skule Nite has garnered a reputation for its creative and unabashedly crass comedy. Skule Nite 1T0 was no exception, staying consistently original, crude, and side-splittingly funny throughout its three hours. This year’s sketches featured dancing centaurs, the manliest restaurant in the world (“Taco Balls”), the womanliest restaurant in the world (where the appetizer is chocolate and main course is talking about your feelings), homosexual dinosaurs, lycra-clad aliens, a very supportive parking validation officer. (“The validation you needed was in you all along,” he tells a confused driver, before chucking him under the chin.) Add to all this a porn shortage, enormous sandwiches, and a whole lot of penis jokes.
The script was probably snappy enough to have shone in the hands of a less talented group of actors than the ones in this year’s production. Fortunately, the Skule Nite 1T0 cast carried the show very well. All of their performances were solid, although Scott Whitty was definitely the stand-out of the evening. His hilariously awkward demeanour, which appeared to consist largely of a controlled performance coupled with a bit of inherent gawkiness, proved surprisingly versatile and consistently funny. Whether he was playing the sword-wielding King of Gondor or a nerdy guidance counsellor with a penchant for saying “nifty,” he never failed to crack up the audience.
While the show’s opening night was a definite success, it wasn’t exactly seamless. The actors occasionally flubbed their lines, some of the vocal performances were a bit shaky, and the sound effects did not always synchronize with the action of the show. But given Skule Nite’s lighthearted silliness, these blunders served to add to the show’s humour. In one of the sketches, a prop sign was knocked over by the gigantic pair of fake breasts attached to one of the actor’s costumes—which would have been sufficiently entertaining if it had been intentional, but was downright hilarious since it was not. Even the sketches that went on too long and seemed in danger of falling flat managed to conclude with jokes that packed enough punch to redeem any lapses in comedic momentum.
All in all, should the Skule Nite cast ever tire of suspension bridges and software design, they would probably do quite well as drama majors. It is doubtful, however, that any of them would consider switching into an arts program. As one of the characters points out, “[engineering] may be hard, but at least you don’t wind up with a useless degree like English.”