The Live Show of ‘SNL’s ‘Please Don’t Destroy’ Is Lovably Ragged
How do you translate the comedy of digital video shorts into an evening of live sketch comedy? For the comic trio Please Don’t Destroy, playing only the third night of their cleverly titled “2023 Tour,” the answer is: By the seat of your tracksuit pants.
Please Don’t Destroy, Saturday Night Live’s spiritual successor to Lonely Island, quickly rose to social stardom with clever video shorts on TikTok and Twitter, then translated that skill into videos that have become an SNL workplace comedy. The behind-the-scenes vignettes, rooted in a show-biz reality that gets stretched like Silly Putty, quickly established PDD as one of SNL’s most popular segments.
But so many of those laughs rely on clever video edits, incongruous music drops, and abrupt cuts to black. So I was curious to see how Martin Herlihy, Ben Marshall and John Higgins would translate their video sensibility to a live show. The three friends from college, dressed in red, blue, and green Adidas tracksuits like Power Rangers in a jogging club, took a shaggy dog approach to the exercise.
Rather than costumes or sets to establish a scene, one of the PPD guys would inform the audience, “This next scene takes place in a hospital” or “This one is at a school.” It’s an old-timey approach from the days when a comic like Bob Newhart might start a monologue by saying, “I was thinking about what would happen if Abe Lincoln had a press agent. It might sound a little something … like this.”
Less effective was Please Don’t Destroy’s method of ending a sketch. Instead of using the traditional Second City-style blackout to signal a scene’s conclusion (which can be its own kind of punchline), one of the guys would raise his hand and announce “And that’s the end of the sketch, everybody.” Does that actually work? Sort of, but it has the feel of a college improv group performing in a student-center lounge. It has its charms, but as I said — shaggy.
As for the sketches themselves? The comic devices that work best for Please Don’t Destroy on SNL continue to be their strengths on stage. Their original songs are crowd-pleasing no-doubters. Occasional pops of video on a screen behind them worked as comic exclamation points. The scene that brought the house down was based on a simple premise: Martin has written a script for a short film and needs an audience member to read along so they can try it out. The audience member’s scripted dialogue, of course, is hilariously profane, boasting about proficiency in acts of love that demands to be seen live.
Unlike Lonely Island, when it became immediately apparent that Andy Samberg was the group’s breakout star, Herlihy, Marshall and Higgins are clearly an ensemble — all funny in their own right, but the sum is greater than its parts. Still seems to me that video is where these guys truly shine, but Please Don’t Destroy still delivered live, the quiet, nerdy guys from your dorm floor who were pretty damn hilarious once you got to know them.