BOTTOM LINE: The first show I’ve seen with a literal “bottom line.” This is an improvisational comedy contest - the humor is dumb, dumb, dumb, but also very funny.
America’s Next Top Bottom: Cycle 5! is not a meditative look on the interrelationships of American gay men in the first decade of the 21st century, nor is it a reflection on the mores of sexual practices in a community that seems to be torn between seemingly conflicting desires for normalcy and queerness. Believe it or not, America’s Next Top Bottom: Cycle 5! is actually a comedy show in which the audience votes on which of seven flamboyant men will become America’s Next Top Bottom.
If you’re turned off already, then you probably don’t need to continue reading. But if you’re even mildly intrigued, then you’ll be glad to know that this fifth installation of America’s Next Top Bottom (the first four cycles occurred at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles) is frequently hilarious, largely improvisational, and very, very, very dumb (and I mean that as a compliment).
After introducing the seven contestants, a series of games and elimination challenges whittles the contest down to three finalists, and then the audience chooses a winner by voting with ballots that come in the program. There are different games in each show; the night I went, one challenge involved Teddy Teddy pulling a random prop from a bag and then asking each contestant to use it in a “talent contest” (you have to….juggle these Barbie dolls!) Yes, it all sounds very silly, and it is. But it is also very high energy, and at only about an hour, ends before it has the chance to get monotonous.
Drew Droege plays host Trina Sugg, a Franzia-drinking stressed-out mother who is thrilled to be bringing the show to “Broadway New York.” Trina Sugg, and her co-host Teddy Teddy (Pete Zias does this take-off on club kid Kenny Kenny) are the funniest people on stage, always ready with random asides that often made me laugh out loud. Much of the show is improvised; for example, the contestants didn’t seem to know what games to expect, which helped create the atmosphere of a contest. And as with a lot of improvisational comedy, the people on stage often make each other laugh as well.
If I have any critique, it is that some of the contestants rely too heavily on overly familiar racial stereotypes; for instance, I preferred “Corky Adaire” (a professional seat filler) to “Harajuku Sulu” (an Japanese guy with a hard-to-understand accent). But the show succeeds because it doesn’t just rely on the wackiness of these personas, but on the humor found in good improvisational comedy.
America’s Next Top Bottom isn’t overtly sexual, and there is no nudity, although the cast is liable to say anything. And while the audience seemed to be primarily full of gay men, this isn’t necessarily a gay show. Rather, this show will appeal to anyone who enjoys really dumb humor, like watching someone do ballet to Kelis’s “Milkshake”, or make up a poem from the words “New Jersey,” “grapefruit,” and “canary”. Or to put it another way - if you like Drew Droege as the voice of “Feathers” in the cult web show Planet Unicorn, you’ll find him hilarious in America’s Next Top Bottom: Cycle 5!
(America’s Next Top Bottom: Cycle 5! is unfortunately no longer running in the Fringe Festival. For show info visit americasnexttopbottom.com and for more FringeNYC info visit fringenyc.org.)