I’ve listened to enough podcasts to know that comedy is a foreboding art: Difficult to learn, impossible to master, and usually involving a great deal of cocaine and depression. It takes a particular kind of person to criss-cross the nation standing in front of groups of strangers and blindly seeking their approval. Why would anyone do it? Why would anyone drive to the ass-end of nowhere (the worst part of nowhere) to tell jokes to rooms that are half empty when they’re not entirely empty?
Because, for a few brief minutes, it’s transcendent.
I’ve forgotten entire classes from the time I spent at college, but I still harbor vivid memories of Mike Birbiglia and Kevin Hart visiting the campus to dispense merriment. A good comedian/comedienne wields incredible power, and is capable of bringing a room full of strangers to the same realization at the same moment, joining their minds in a way thousands of years of politics and philosophy have consistently failed to do. If done well, a good comedy set can be the kind of powerful, life affirming experience that’s exceedingly rare in this world, though video games are sometimes capable of something similar.
Just as every laugh is a laugh of recognition and a good comedian is capable of altering the way you see the world, the best video games appeal to parts of ourselves we didn’t know were there, making us see through the eyes of someone new, be they a wizard, a space marine, or… well, those are pretty much the only two options right now. Video games aren’t live conduits from creator to audience like comedy is, but when they’re at their best both elicit a similar harmony between a singular vision and a vast audience, a kind of collective intimacy.
Comedy Quest, the new adventure game from Crothers Games, is concerned with absolutely none of that. It is about a character named New Kid who’s trying to get gigs so he can become a stand-up comedian.
Comedy Quest is in the mold of classic adventure games, and its mechanics strictly adhere to the genre’s conventions. The gameplay mainly consists finding objects and using them on other objects or people. Correctly using stuff on other stuff will advance story and get New Kid some stage time so the can get his nascent comedy career going. In between gigs you’ll be participating in quests like getting a slushie to a man stuck in a toilet stall that he can use to soothe his wounded groin, fishing a beard out a dumpster so you’ll look enough like a hipster to enter an elitist comedy club, and talking with other increasingly drunk comedians about who was the best Batman.
Comedy Quest was made by Trav Nash, a long-time Australian comedian who drew from the Melbourne comedy scene to fill out Comedy Quest‘s voice cast. Besides the accents in the spoken dialogue there’s nothing particularly Australian about the game save for its comedic sensibility, which tends to alternate between the weird and the pitch black. At one point New Kid has a conversation with an older comedian that goes something like this.
“How long have you been doing comedy for?”
“Too long. Too depressingly long.”
“Who’s your favorite comedian?”
“I don’t watch a lot of comedy. They’re either better than me, which is depressing, or they’re terrible and still getting work, which is depressing.”
Trav Nash has said he drew inspiration from his own experience in comedy in making Comedy Quest, and it shows. The biggest running joke in the game is just how ambivalent all the comedians you encounter are about their chosen profession. Whether they’re established acts or just starting out, helpful or douchebags, no one has any kind words for the art of comedy itself, and pretty much everyone in the game except New Kid seems like they’d rather be somewhere else. Your only defense against this encroaching darkness is to turn it into humor. When you encounter someone or something weird in Comedy Quest, you can use your Comedian’s Notebook on them and extract a joke from it, thus spinning the straw of everyday drudgery into the gold of comedic whimsy.
Comedy Quest has an old school approach to gameplay and isn’t afraid to be dull or frustrating, much like the real life of a comic. The game’s graphics are modeled on classic CD-ROM adventure games, the start screen is pure 80’s kitsch, and the game opens with a direct homage to The Secret of Monkey Island.
At one point New Kid arrives at what he thinks is going to be a comedy gig only to be told it’s his job to pass out fliers for the comedy show, initiating a simulation of handing out fliers that manages to be almost as dull as handing out fliers in real life. Nash includes a godawful mini-game that consists of running from a vengeful taxi you’ve stiffed that’s likely an homage to an early adventure game I’m not aware of. He also includes a point where you have to e-mail your parents asking for money to support your burgeoning comedy career, and a point where you have to vomit prior to going onstage. Comedy Quest can be so dispiriting it would be easy to forget that this is a game about comedy—as opposed to, say, the lower depths of human despair—if it weren’t for the colorful world New Kid occupies.
Comedy Quest is not a comedian simulator: it can’t make you feel the absolute terror and zen-like fulfillment that are part and parcel of standing on stage in front of a random group of people and bearing your soul. Instead Comedy Quest focuses on the world around comedy: the bookers, the club owners, the comedians and the audience that all influence New Kid as he struggles to become an established comic. We’re not watching a star being born, rather Comedy Quest is a distinctly working-class perspective on the business of stand up, with every demeaning errand run and every gig begged for serving to remind us that comedy may be a calling, but it is a job first.
Website [Comedy Quest]