Just for Laughs 2013: Knuckleheads review

The three newest cast members of SNL knocked us out with their improv and sketch.

Knuckleheads: Tim Robinson, Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong.

Among the many gifts this year's Just For Laughs has bestowed upon Chicago, Knuckleheads—Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson and Cecily Strong; a.k.a. SNL: The New Class—is particularly special, like a box of primo chocolates instead of the anticipated Russell Stover. The three Chicagoans, who've been performing sketch and improv at UP Comedy Club this weekend, are fresh off their first season of Saturday Night Live in which they've shone and grown and received varying amounts of screen time. I caught their 10:30pm performance on Thursday at UP and it exceeded my expectations, which admittedly were high. While eager to see all three, my excitement over seeing Cecily return to a Second City stage was especially, ahem, strong. 

Away from the cameras and back on their home turf, Bryant, Robinson and Strong proved why they landed much-coveted roles on the legendary variety show, and (LORNE MICHAELS, ARE YOU READING THIS??) why all three should return next season.

Some highlights:

  • The trio saying their long overdue farewells to Chicago. When they moved to New York for SNL, they weren't allowed to tell anyone, much less deliver a proper "see ya." Among other things, Robinson said goodbye to "the fellow who called me a pussy." He added: "I didn't say anything back. Turns out you were right, my friend." Bryant delivered a fond farewell to the alley near her house where she "pissed all the time," and Strong bid adieu to the thief who stole her car. 
  • Robinson's hilariously specific impressions, which showcased what a physical performer he is (which we haven't gotten to see enough of yet on SNL): The Guy Who Agrees with You Just By Blowing Out of His Nose; The Guy Who Can Only Tiptoe with One Foot, etc. The names of the impressions alone prompted laughter.
  • Bryant treating the audience to a show-and-tell of a journal she kept at age eight. Containing odes to things like turtels!!! [sic], the peace sign beanie baby and her childhood friends, identical twins whom she had trouble telling apart, the journal and Bryant's delightful commentary had me laughing to the point of crying/doing an impression of this emoji. I was a Strongophile; I'm now also a Bryantist.
  • The improvised portion of the show which was, without a doubt, the highlight of the night. Bryant, Robinson and Strong invited some improv buddies onstages—Adam Peacock, Mark Raterman and SNL writer/7 Minutes in Heaven host, Mike O'Brien—and then they showed the audience what they do best: quickly taking audience prompts into wonderfully weird territory, effectively heightening the stakes (often just by making things weirder) and working in the perfectly timed callback. 

There has been a lot of great comedy this Just For Laughs weekend, but it's not every day I leave a show with a feeling of pride. Bryant, Robinson and Strong—who've landed their dream jobs and upped their game while remaining down-to-earth, nimble and collaborative performers—made me proud they're from our city.

LORNE: YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!!

Knuckleheads perform tonight at 8pm and 11pm at UP.

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