Robotic New Year keeps its edge

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Even when Sue and I are up in New York, as we normally are when December ceremoniously exits to the wings, freezing our butts off in the open air isn’t our way of greeting the New Year. Of course, we had the urge to do something before straining to decipher Dick Clark at midnight, so we did The Robot Johnson Show at Spirit Square and then adjourned to Luce’s for a fairly chic dinner. We were hosting some out-of-town guests who were planning to depart for bowl games unknown before 10 a.m., so we prudently chose Robot’s early 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m. show instead of their 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m. New Year’s Extravaganza.

Although there was a disconcerting lack of liquor on the cabaret tables at Duke Energy Theatre – and in the performers onstage – for the early show, the Robots’ comedy was typically loose and rollicking, reliably living down to the title on the sketch list, “A Night of Wonderful Mistakes.” With a better ratio of hits to misses than recent installments of Saturday Night Live, Robot’s highlights included the wild “Grandma’s Cat Bobby” (delusional biddy adopts washed-up male prostitute as a pet), “Sharing” (swashbuckling buccaneer upstages an AA meeting), and “Raoul’s Wonderful Dance Party Talk Show” (flaming self-absorbed host hardly lets his hot guests – Brett Favre, Lady Gaga, and Sandra Bullock – get a word in edgewise).

You can bet that Robot closed with the traditional cluster of Talking Baby movie reviews. Sadly, these seemed to have been selected from the Best of 2010 rather than freshly baked, so nothing from the latest onslaught of holiday films was targeted for Baby’s trademark disdain. Instead, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, and Sex and the City 2, and Bounty Hunter were strung on Baby’s skewer, a rather stale assortment. Particularly lame were Baby’s disparagements of Sarah Jessica Parker’s appearance. Too many comics have already climbed aboard that bandwagon for it to get good mileage anymore.

And I’d caution Robot founder Sean Keenan, who not only hosted the New Year’s Eve show but was also featured as Raoul and Talking Baby, that the Robot comedy smorgasbord may be evolving too much toward mirroring the Raoul sketch: too much Keenan and not enough of the other troupers. The best of them are very good, but their appearances – especially the four women among the other 10 – are so scattered that they leave a rather nebulous impression compared with Keenan’s.

Spotty as they may have been, the Charlotte-centric material that comes from Robot is its freshest essence. A corrosive point-of-view was common to both “A Few Moments on the Queen City” and, hearkening back to the vintage days of Phil Hartman on SNL, “Deep Thoughts with John Fox,” a touching good-riddance to the former Panther coach. Obliquely, the wildly imaginative “Final Countdown” felt particularly at home in Charlotte. Where else would you expect the final seconds before 2011 to be frozen at “2” for the apocalyptic End of Days?

Keep pushing that envelope, Robe.

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