The winter season brings to mind precious, wonderful memories, and the prospect of making even more. Alternatively, it harkens the mundanity of semi-theatrically unboxing presents for an hour of your day before returning to doing whatever work you had set aside for Winter Break.
However, there is humor to be had in the outlandishly horrible, the “[winter-adjacent holiday] gone wrong” that you’ll always remember either as a sore patch, a laughing point to bring up in holiday-related small talk, or a blank hole in the timeline. This notion of being able to look back and laugh is the basis of Jet City Improv’s Uncle Mike Ruins Christmas, a performance in which actors take audience members’ fondest holiday memories and—through the medium of the titular uncle, played by Mike Murphy—decimate them in ways both insane and inane. I found this concept ripe with comedic potential, and having enjoyed what little experience I had with improv shows, I signed up to check out their performance at West of Lenin.
This is where a certain quote from the Uncle Mike Ruins Christmas website comes into play: “Be warned, this improvised show features mature content and is not suitable for anyone.” I first assumed that “anyone” was a diction error and was meant to be “everyone,” and that is absolutely still a possibility, but I would still consider it an appropriate assessment—Uncle Mike Ruins Christmas is raunchy, vulgar hilarity that has incredible highs and uncomfortable, “not-suitable-for-anyone” lows.
Let’s start with the lows, being the sections of the show that devolved into sexual comedy. I understand that with a “mature” audience you have the liberty to go anywhere, touch on whatever taboo subject you wish, but I feel the show fell into the trap of “sex = funny” and low-brow shock humor too often—I would alternate between awkwardly chuckling at best, and defeatedly stuffing my face into my hands at worst. There are situations in which sexual comedy can be funny—I’d wager a good 90% of internet improv humor is in this category—but the combination of poor taste and the premise of the show itself—perverting holiday memories—felt a bit meanspirited. One egregious example was the ending of one of the skits having absolutely no need to go the sexual route after it had already executed a decent punchline. Granted, the audience implicitly gave consent for their stories to be used in whatever manner, since it was the draw of the show, and any disrespect was in jest, but it still didn’t sit right. I suppose part of it is that I’m 17, though technically old enough for the suggested age range, and I was in a room full of adults, some of whom were clearly drunk. Even so, the discomfort in the room was often palpable.
I am happy to report that the group steered clear most of the time, and I found the most entertainment when they toed a neat line—definitely not kid-friendly, but not outright vulgar without necessity. And overall, the group excelled at comedic timing, entries and exits, acting, and flexibility; I remember one performance where, at the last minute, the victim audience member clarified that when they wrote that they once careened into a wall at full speed, said wall was actually cushioned. The performers, still needing to go up on stage a moment later, then visibly adapted to this turn of events. These skits were by far the best of the night, and I often found myself nearly falling off my chair from how hard I was laughing.
My favorite skit of the night actually diverged from the main attraction, instead going off of an audience member’s recollection of something they wanted from Santa but did not receive. Said audience member wished for, but did not receive, “nothing.” This strange oxymoron was the source of the improv bit’s main conflict, with Santa and a few elves delving deeper and deeper into the mental, moral, and philosophical quandary of what “nothing” means, how to give said audience member what he wanted, and exactly what they put in Santa’s sack that qualified as “nothing” yet was clearly “something.” This, logically, resulted in them torching the entire North Pole, prompting the president of the United States to launch a full nuclear retaliation. Comedy gold.
The music of the night was also handled superbly, being played, mixed, and otherwise manipulated in real time by Rob Scherzer to match the events on-stage. As it followed the actions of the improvisers, it took on an almost silent movie-esque quality. For half the show I was almost sure it was planned, or at least pre-recorded and played at specific cues, but it was purely improvised along with the rest of the show. I would wager that the music was almost, if not more, impressive than the actual show.
Overall, I would say that Uncle Mike Ruins Christmas was an incredibly funny experience, with a few hiccups expected from an adult improv show. If you can handle the awkwardness, enjoy this brand of humor, or are otherwise curious, I recommend this show completely. Otherwise, I’d default to their day show.
Uncle Mike Ruins Christmas was performed by Jet City Improv throughout December, 2021. For more information see here.