Fishbowl at ColdTowne Theater

In Stephanie Thoreson's one-woman show, a gallery of awkward characters show us that it's okay to be pathetic if you laugh about it later

Stephanie Thoreson
Stephanie Thoreson (Photo by Andie Flores)

If you can't laugh at yourself, they say, who can you laugh at?

Well, I can think of a lot of people, actually – one of them being Stephanie Thoreson, the hilarious writer/performer behind the new one-woman show Fishbowl. Fishbowl is a series of sketches about all those awkward moments in life that don't seem so amusing as they happen in real time, but, as Thoreson promises, will definitely be funny later.

Take her opening character, for instance: a woman stuck at a high school reunion where nobody – and I mean nobody – remembers her name, even though it's right there emblazoned on her badge. The girl she did six one-act plays with doesn't remember, despite the fact that Thoreson's character rescued her from asphyxiation and certain brain damage by carrying her near-lifeless body a mile and half to the school nurse. The boy she was in love with in second grade has no idea who she is, even though he accidentally crippled her right hand in science class. She's so unimportant that she registers on no one's radar and instead opts to spend the evening holding up the back wall and apologetically sipping punch.

While "reunion loser" is hardly a new concept, other characters feel bright and fresh, borne straight from Thoreson's twisted yet always approachable universe. There's the astronaut who stupidly brought a cigarette to space, thinking it would remind her of home. Now she just wants to smoke the damn thing in her stupid oxygen-enriched environment. Another favorite was Mary, the spandexed trainer here to drill you in Aerobics for God. In between telling her story of getting kicked out of church by a local pastor who clearly isn't a Jane Fonda fan, Mary encourages her class to "jump for Jesus" and do "crunches for Christ." These jokes hit because they're cleverly worded and performed with 100% commitment. Like genius-buffoon Melissa McCarthy, Thoreson is a determined participant in her world, even if it always amounts to disaster.

My favorite character is a first-time performer at an open mic comedy show. Bespectacled in thick glasses, with an atonal drone, the newbie comic deadpans a routine that, like one by any good millennial, is interspersed with hashtags and cultural references. She says she "hates it when people say they'll tell you a little bit about themselves, and then tell you a little bit about themselves." Then she goes on, in fact, to tell us a little bit about herself – namely, that she's a "pansexual Hufflepuff," which has to be one of the most guffaw-inducing moments of any show I've seen here in Austin.

What I most enjoy about Thoreson is the quiet intelligence underlying all her jokes. She's witty, yes, and that's what we want, but she's smart, too. Smart enough to know that it's okay to be pathetic, if you remember to laugh about it later. Especially if you can bravely open up about it all onstage and bring others along for the (very funny) ride.


ColdTowne Theater, 4803 Airport
Through July 27
Running time: 50 min.

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