“The Complete History of Charleston for Morons” debuted in 2006, two years before Barack Obama was elected president, and the show still feels trapped in the Bush era. While some of the myriad pop culture references the show trades in have aged surprisingly well (it turns out jokes about Mel Gibson’s racist tirades are evergreen), the show is marred by an undercurrent of gay panic. This problem is compounded by the knowledge that the show has been running for more than a decade, making the few awkward segments inexcusable.
While the gay jokes may be comedic detritus from a bygone era, the show’s structural issues cannot be dismissed as relics. The Have Nots!, the comedy trio behind the show, seem to lack confidence in their central premise: the retelling of over 300 years of Charleston history through film and television parody. Instead of committing to this premise, the performers continually break character to bicker amongst themselves, interrupting their sketches with self-described “sarcastic frat boy-esque banter” that feels like a crutch. These breakdowns get more frequent as the performance progresses, making the show less focused in its second half.
What makes these shenanigans frustrating is the true comedic brilliance hiding at the heart of “The Complete History.” A couple of the show’s pop culture/historical mash-ups are inspired: the opening segment, which casts the various forces vying for control of the Charleston Peninsula during the 17th century as tribes on a “Survivor”-style reality competition show, includes a joke about the Tribe failing the Immunity Challenges posed by malaria and smallpox.
This, and a later sketch that presents the Siege of Charleston as breaking news updates on a CNN-style 24-hour news network, make good on the show’s central premise while delivering jokes that would be at home on “The Daily Show.” But sketches often are interrupted by lazy meta-humor just as they begin to find a rhythm, trading wit for cheap laughs at the expense of the show’s larger concept.
In a 2016 interview with The Post and Courier, co-writer and performer Greg Tavares said “The Complete History” has been updated over the years. This iteration includes some polished segments, including their handling of the city’s history of slavery, which lampoons the racist performance tropes of the past.
The regularly revised sketch comedy routine might be overcooked, then, but it feels half-baked.
“The Complete History of Charleston for Morons” will be performed at 7 p.m. on June 7 at Theater 99, rear of 280 Meeting St.
Reviewer Isaac Napell is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.