Bursting at the Seams

Why not consider a laugh riot for best New Year's resolution?

Every year at this time most of us determinedly scribble a list of New Year's resolutions, pledges, if you will, by which we solemnly vow to live the remainder of our lives: Quit smoking, stop drinking, begin rigorous exercise regimen, go on strict diet, develop enviably muscular physique, find perfect mate, work less, get paid more, banish credit card debt, take the holiday of a lifetime, and learn to appreciate life.

Inevitably this turns into a year-long downward spiral of increased drinking and/or smoking to counteract the stress associated with maintaining an impossible list of aspirations leading to a lifeless reluctance to get out of bed let alone embark on a strenuous exercise program owing to difficulty breathing and/or raging hangover that then triggers a longing to devour fried chicken and cheeseburgers — not the low-carb, low-cal alternates oatmeal and fruit — thus making already wobbly areas even saggier, which then heightens insecurities that single-handedly scare away potential suitors. Depressed, you fake an alarming number of sick/ailing pet/airport days from work, resulting in a pay decrease for which the only feasible emotional remedy is to charge irrelevant items on an already maxed-out credit card in a desperate attempt to compensate for overwhelming sensations of helplessness, leaving you with a distinct lack of funds, meaning you can't afford August's exorbitant FPL bill let alone a swanky holiday, but you still embrace the holidays with a seasonal spend-a-thon that ignites year-end feelings of self-loathing and bitterness owing to your impoverished and generally crappy life. The only thing saving you from uncertain doom is the notion that come January 1 everything will be different, and off you trot to scribble your newly vamped list of resolutions.

Okay, I'm exaggerating — slightly — but since the celebration of the new year began more than 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon, humankind has devised a multitude of traditions to inspire good fortune for the year ahead. And it has provided fodder for some pretty serious reflection.

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But what if serious is the wrong way to approach this time-honored celebration?

Author Theodor Geisel once said being able to laugh at life's realities is a necessary ingredient in living. So I decided to test his idea and see if the key ingredient for enticing year-long good fortune is perfecting the ability to laugh at our own misfortunes. Sitting in the Laffing Matterz dinner theater, watching a grown woman dressed as the former child actress Shirley Temple belt out a musical number titled "Life Sucks and Then You Die," I couldn't help thinking Mr. Geisel might have been onto something.

Grinning hysterically, my companion wailed, "It's so sad, but it's true." And judging by the almost full 175-seat cabaret theater, it seemed everyone else thought so too.

"Go get stinko, go get blotto, then just sing this motto: Life sucks and then you die," she sang over shrieks of laughter.

Located in the long-abandoned historic McCrory space in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Laffing Matterz boasts a plush bar area; a spacious, well-lit dining room overlooking a roomy, wooden stage; and an authentic brick wall providing a warm backdrop. Although it may look like your average comedy club, this place is anything but. Opened five months ago, the venue provides the setting for a live, original, musical parody show spoofing current events — not to mention some heartfelt truths.

But instead of solo acts, as is the norm with most traditional stand-up places, this 90-minute show contains about 24 satirical numbers — all accompanied by pianist Nicholas White — performed by a multitalented ensemble cast of thirteen. Written by a creative team of people from all parts of the country, the material is sharp, witty, rarely predictable, and performed by a lively and well-rehearsed crew, including co-owners Rita and Mark Wells.

And it's funny — really funny.

A woman's automotive adventures stuck behind a meandering Quebecois driver on I-95 brought squeals of "I know, I know!" Other notable numbers: a pit-bull-for-sale song; a hilarious ode to Condoleezza Rice; a local twist on Hurricane Wilma called Lights Out in Broward, during which the only stage lighting came from flickering torches; and lesbian favorite "I'm a Fan, but Not Janet Reno — She's a Man."

The evening begins with drinks — unless you're on the wagon as part of your New Year's resolutions — swiftly followed by dinner (included in the $45 price), comprising a tasty house salad with candied walnuts and blue cheese, as well as your choice of one of six entrées, including beef tenderloin, sea bass, and crab-stuffed shrimp. Once the waiters — the evening's performers pulling double duty — have finished serving food, they shimmy off for a quick costume change and onto the stage, where they largely remain for the rest of the evening.

By the time the lights go up, you'll be bursting at the seams and clutching your stomach in agony, not because of something you ate (the food is simple yet tasty and seemingly fresh) but because you probably haven't laughed so hard in ages.

Rubbing my aching jaw on the way out, I couldn't help thinking the year ahead was definitely going to be a prosperous one.

 
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