Why Gaieties Could Be So Much Better

Posted by at 6:00PM

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.


4 Responses to “Why Gaieties Could Be So Much Better”

  1. Cast Member for the past 4 years says:

    You have no clue what you’re talking about. Tell this to the thousands of students who look forward to Gaieties every year and who cite Gaieties as one of the things they love about Stanford. Also, I know who you are and the writing staff thinks you’re neither funny nor clever, and that you’ve contributed very little the past two years. But who am I!? Go for it! Write your own play! Let’s see if people show up!

  2. Mel Bridges says:

    Please do not speak for the writers of this show, because you are the only one who shares this belief.

  3. Josh says:

    @Mel–I have removed the sentences that could have been factually in error and have made sure to note as such above. I hope this makes it clearer that this is my opinion and I am not necessarily speaking for anyone else.

  4. Keegan Poppen says:

    I’m just going to say it flat out that I agree. It’s not that I don’t enjoy gaieties, it’s just that I have always found the funniest moments to be the ones that are not the “haha those sorority girls are so slutty” moments. That being said, since the majority of the show is a bunch of drunken shot-outs from the crowd drowning out the performance anyway (which I lament, because I actually enjoy listening to the performance and singing, etc.). So maybe this is the best tactic to please the audience (and by “maybe,” I mean … you get the drift).
    “Cast Member”:
    First of all, it took real courage to post under your real name. Especially after the completely non-cheapshot insult. If you know them, and insult them, don’t you think that they should know you?
    Anyway . . . my thoughts:
    When you have people who are going to the show and already know a lot of the conceits of the performance (for example, “What are the naked people going to do this year?”), then you know that at least some of the jokes are really just knee-jerk shock value jokes at best. And I’m being generous here. Also, just generally speaking: come off it. Nobody is dissing anyone who was involved in the performance, or the writing. The feat in itself, and the quality of the performance are both spectacular, for what they are. What is clear, however, is that the current rut that the writing is in is one that I think it could be pulled out of, but no one has the courage to do it. And it won’t ever happen because people like you take offense, rather than view it as a challenge or *gasp* constructive criticism. But whatever. I don’t care. I don’t even know why I bothered spending so long typing this.
    p.s. sorry for all the obnoxious parentheticals– I’m to lazy to fix them.


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