Once, during a dark time in my life, I lived with my sister in Tacoma in a super-sketchy apartment complex for a couple of months.
While my sibling worked late hours at her nursing residency, I often spent my down time watching cable and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.
One night, my channel surfing led me to an episode of COPS. As the folks in blue cuffed the perpetrator—on this night a drunk dude who was in trouble for slapping his baby mama and walking around outside without his pants on—I thought the surroundings looked familiar. I was right: When my sister walked in the door, she noted, “Oh, this is the episode that took place a few doors down from me.”
Suffice it to say I got my behind out of Tacoma soon after that. And now, years later, I can see the inherent humor in the situation.
While it’s true that in many cases law enforcement is no laughing matter, the brilliant minds behind the mockumentary Comedy Central show Reno 911 proved that, once in a while, poking fun at those who do stupid things and get arrested for it can make for good entertainment.
Of course, anyone who watched the now-defunct series knows the biggest laughs came from the parody of the cops, a perverse bunch of men and women who slept on the job, slept with others on the job, cursed, drank and generally proved themselves to be unfit for duty.
Which brings us to “COPS 911,” a show playing every Friday and Saturday through May at the Upfront Theatre. Like its predecessors, it brings the voyeurism that is reality television entertainment to the stage, while keeping the shenanigans of the inept badge-carriers intact.
On a recent Friday night, after listening to a reminder that the show was not for young kids and there was a strong chance of “blue” language, the host for the evening—a guy in shady sunglasses and a sheriff’s badge—asked the audience for a list of misdemeanors. Among the gems were spitting, public intoxication, urination, peeping, public nudity, vandalism, possession of illegal substances and shoplifting. Someone yelled out “tax fraud!” but was quickly informed that particular crime didn’t make the cut.
Once the show got underway, it was soon clear the cops outnumbered the criminals, and those portraying the bad guys would have to pull double duty.
Keeping track of who was who was part of the fun, and I spent the next hour and a half watching the cops—one who complained incessantly that his uniform was too tight, another who dubbed his patrol car the “Phoenix” and bragged about his sexual exploits—respond to streakers at the Co-op, bomb threats, a spray-paint-wielding hooligan and, among other things, a hilarious scuffle between elderly inmates at a retirement center.
“He took my Jello!” one old man yelled as the guys with the badges tried to separate the dueling dodderers. “Well, he took my wife!” the other recounted.
Since the shows are improvised, each showing of “COPS 911” promises to be completely different from what came before it—so rest assured you’ll get a fresh batch of crimes and officer quirks each time around.
And, although it’s poking fun at the funny side of breaking the law, the show also gives props to those who work in the enforcement aspect of it. By flashing a real, or fake, badge at the door, you’ll get it for a measly $5. That’s so cheap, it’s almost a crime.
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