Robber Barons leave ‘A Golden Legacy’ in bringing comedic relief to finals week

March 13, 2023, 8:34 p.m.

Student sketch comedy group Robber Barons celebrated its 15-year anniversary on Saturday night. The performance from current Robber Barons included nine sketches and two video sketches. Students packed into the Geology Corner with hardly a seat left unfilled, some spilling into the sides of the lecture room.

I was left thoroughly impressed with Robber Barons’ ability to write, perform and produce at such a high level while maintaining the close-knit, student-created atmosphere. The group’s alumni show, held beforehand, was also excellent. 

The show had a strong start with the first sketch “It’s Tubby,” which featured a group of contestants on a survival-style game show. The contestants gather for visits with their family members, who have been flown out by the game show producers. 

One contestant and mother (played by Olivia Szabo ’23) is visited by celebrity persona “Tubby,” the purple Teletubby (played by Abby Merrill ’23). Szabo’s character is thrown off by Tubby’s visit, as she expected to be visited by her daughter. Instead of visiting in person, though, her daughter greets her by sending a video — but spends most of the time fangirling over Tubby.

Szabo and Merril’s facial expressions and physical comedy made this sketch hysterical, especially when the audience finds out that Tubby is pregnant. Merril explained how she watched videos of Teletubbies to learn the physicality of the character, and tried to maintain a “sweet yet disturbing face the whole sketch.”

“There’s definitely always pressure for the first and last sketches to go over well, since they’re what the audience is mostly likely to remember,” Merrill said. “That said, Tubby was one of my least stressful roles to date because the inflatable suit did most of the work for me. People are almost certain to laugh at a big purple ball running down the aisle.”

Merril also described her excitement in participating in the 15-year anniversary show of the Barons, as the group has been meaningful to her and shaped a lot of her Stanford experience. After two years in the comedy group, Merril is set to perform “Grease” in Chicago next spring quarter. 

The Barons hardly left any room for criticism of the production. Every single sketch left the audience, myself included, roaring with laughter. From sketches about a band to ones about a director filming a movie, students were immersed in the performance. The performers ran through the audience, threw hot dogs and gave people drawings as a part of the bits.

“We have created a culture around the group. People know what to expect when they come to a Barons show,” said Drew Feinman ’23, a 4-year member of the group. “They know that it’s going to be a group of people having put their heart and soul into everything who are also friends and who really just want to have a good time.”

I was only left wishing there were more than just two performances of this show so that more students had the opportunity to attend it and see the Barons’ great comedic work. The transitions between sketches were filled with the cast dancing and music hyping up the audience. Audience members clapped and sang along to catchy party songs.

Another sketch that had the audience in a riot came in the middle of the show’s lineup, called “Pixar’s Up.” The sketch featured the famous “Up” montage love story of Pixar characters Carl and Ellie Fredrickson. However, unlike in the original, this montage left out none of the intense fights that Carl and Ellie had. Ellie (Emma Parsons ‘23) and Carl (Nils Forstall ‘25) dance and laugh together, then switch to arguing and cursing each other out.

This mood and scene-shifting presented an entertaining dichotomy that made the audience laugh. The show’s director, Feinman, explained that “Pixar’s Up” was one of the more challenging sketches to figure out because of these internal scene transitions. 

“‘Pixar’s Up’ ended up being one of the audience’s favorite sketches. But we were having a hard time conceptualizing a way for the scenes to be switching so rapidly without jarring the audience,” Feinman said. He explained that he and the show’s assistant director, Kilas Gallimore ‘26, solved this by making the sketch scenes as fluid as possible.

Robber Barons has proven itself to be an outstanding, close-knit student performance group that works together to produce the best show possible. It has taken a well-deserved spot in Stanford traditions of student life with deeply funny sketches. I am counting down the days until the Barons’ Spring quarter performance and cannot wait to see what they bring to the table next.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Ellen Abraham is an undergraduate student at Stanford majoring in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in Comparative Literature. When she's not writing for The Stanford Daily, she’s writing her novel or reading one.

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