This year’s Big Game Gaieties, Stanford’s pre-Big Game comedy musical extravaganza, premieres tonight in Memorial Auditorium. And, as in years past, it will make fun of campus groups, feature plenty of nudity, and more than enough scatological humor to appease even the most lewd Stanford students. As such, this year’s show is the epitome of what the modern Gaieties has become: the perfect example of why Gaieties could be, and should be, so much better than it is right now.
I say this from the point of view of someone who has been a member of the writing staff for the past two years. The actors, directors, and producers perform the marvelous feat of completing the show in a mere two months, and for this they deserve major credit. The fault, then, does not lie in the performance of Gaieties–it is in the writing of the show, which has pushed the play into a spectacle that is not even close to being the best show Stanford students can create.
Gaieties began as Football Follies in 1911 and has occurred almost every year since then in the week preceding the big showdown with rival Cal. Dating back to as far as the archives go–the late 80s–the basic structure of the show has remained essentially unchanged: it centers around some ridiculous plot, features plenty of Stanford and Cal jokes, and a clever title parodying some famous movie. Whether or not the crudity and crassness has increased in recent years (the 1996 script, for example, featured zero instances of the word ‘fuck’ and only one of the word ‘shit’), Gaieties as it is now is, for the most part, risque just for the sake of being risque–and as a consequence, the show is neither clever nor intelligent, and it is certainly not as funny as it could be.
I am personally a fan of “lowbrow” humor, as are many college-age students. But humor that is lowbrow and not something more than that–say, perhaps, witty or satirical–feels stale and forced, and Gaieties has resorted to that and cannot seem to break out of this mold. Making fun of the typical Stanford stereotypes is funny up to a point, but laughing at the sororities for being stupid and/or slutty or a capella groups for making music that is enjoyable to nobody has become thoroughly unexciting, particularly for nearly two hours. Gaieties does not have to be the same stupid-joke cocktail served every year with an absurd plot and characters that are either awkward geeky boys or horny, overly sexual girls–it can be something better; perhaps, for example, an actual play–but Gaieties seems afraid to go in this direction.
In fact, the best moments in Gaieties are those that break the stereotypes that weigh down the show: for example, in last year’s play, the existence of a complex-yet-understandable political plot involving Donald Rumsfeld, the OSA, and student rights made the play actually feel like a coherent theater performance for the first time in years. And the year prior, the one comic moment that unanimously stood out above all the rest was a perfect send-up of popular culture: at the point of most tension, everyone on stage stopped as the iconic dramatic music from the popular television series The O.C. blared throughout MemAud. At no other point in the play did the show manage to find a moment so funny or so different from the typical humor that Gaieties repeats year after year.
So why does Gaieties continue to be mired in its not-that-funny, purposelessly over-the-top mediocrity? From a writer’s perspective, the existence of some sort of fabricated Gaieties tradition–one that dictates a certain minimal level of stupid student group jokes and gratuitous usage of the word ‘cock’–seems to pervade the creation of the play. Yet this tradition has little backing: the play has always been over-the-top, but being over-the-top and making a play representative of the cleverness, wit, and intellect of Stanford are not mutually exclusive. The climactic scene in this year’s play, for example, had so much potential to be a funny, meta scene that incorporated many elements of Gaieties and turned them on their head; instead, however, the scene is devoid of any dramatic tension and just involves characters cursing and threatening to kill each other. There was so much potential, but Gaieties once again resorted to stupidity and shock value instead of irreverence and wit to try and make the audience laugh.
Unfortunately, Gaieties will likely not realize its flaws any time soon*. We can only hope that Gaieties will soon realize that it is possible to create an over-the-top, edgy, irreverent, hilarious campus-wide musical that is indicative of Stanford students: smart, observant, clever, and willing to push the envelope for the sake of humor or criticism, not just for its own sake.
*Two lines of text have been removed from the original post to clarify that this post is the author’s opinion only and does not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else.