When you’ve parodied Harry Potter and Batman, what’s next? Superman? A lesser superhero, like Daredevil? Not yet, at least. Team StarKid, a University-of-Michigan-born ensemble of writers, directors, actors, and designers, have actually moved onto the big stage (or at least the side stage of Chicago’s famed comedy club Second City) with a new original production. Their new sketch comedy show, Airport for Birds (And Other Great Ideas) exemplifies the team’s diverse comedy, from one-liners to uncomfortable extended situational comedy to singing, from the absurd to the gross-out. And it’s a riot. (Full disclosure: I am a friend of Sarah Petty, the show’s lighting designer).
StarKid debuted in 2009 with A Very Potter Musical, a fan-made online parody video gone viral. They followed up the first Potter musical with a sequel, a new parody musical called Holy Musical B@man, and two national concert tours (among other productions). Based in Chicago, they now have over 140 million YouTube views, over 200,000 Facebook fans, and over 120,000 Twitter followers.
Yes, many of the fans that obsessed over Harry Potter now obsess over its parody-makers. With Airport for Birds, however, the team proves that they can extend beyond their already established fan-base and play the original sketch comedy sans-fantasy-world-parody game, too, and just as well as any of the main stage productions at Second City.
With just the right mixture of recurring jokes (such as a lap-dancing assistant, appearing everywhere from Chili’s to the maternity ward) and out-of-nowhere absurdity, Airport for Birds showcases the talents of all its participants more or less equally. From a sketch with a way-too-intense yoga participant to a Downton Abbey-esque parody in which the suitor of two daughters is literally a screaming bald eagle named Mr. Wingley, Airport hits most of the right notes. Sure, as with any sketch comedy show, the longer sketches drag a bit. But the shorter, pithier one-liner sketches make you laugh and leave you wanting more.
What is perhaps the show’s greatest long-sketch accomplishment is saved for the end. Daniel Strauss and Lauren Lopez play two people about to hook up, when Lopez says, “I want to dance for you.” “This is the greatest night of my life,” thinks Strauss’s character, until Lopez dances to theme music from Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, Dragonheart (!), and, yes, Schindler’s List. Obviously.
Hopefully, Team StarKid will continue to branch out into more accessible brands of comedy. Airport is certainly a great start. Whether they’ll revolutionize the world of sketch comedy, or at least Chicago sketch comedy, the same way they did for, um, viral online parody musicals remains to be seen. For now, however, they’re reveling in the traditional sketch comedy world, throwing together funny ideas to cohesively exemplify and even expand their trademark brand of off color humor. If the world is just, Airport will expand beyond Chicago. After all, laughter spreads like a virus. They would know.
Jordan Mainzer is a staff writer at FP and the editor of art, architecture, and design blog DRA. He recently wrote a review of HBO’s Girls. A recent graduate of Brown University, he now lives in Chicago.