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Robber Barons explore first-world problems


Robber Barons' Catherine Lowell '11, John Pluvinage '14 and Ellen Cerf '11 face first world horrors. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

For their fall show, the Stanford student sketch comedy group Robber Barons has opted to tackle the tragedies of a more obscure minority group: the few, the proud and the whiny that suffer as privileged youth. In “First World Problems,” the Robber Barons excel at highlighting the absurdities of the socioeconomically secure, only falling flat when they stray too far from the theme.

The topic is a smart choice, as no generation likes to hear about itself quite as much as ours. One poster proclaims the harrowing truth, “Some people still have to use the iPhone 3G”. Another mourns the fact that “Every five minutes, a child goes without dessert”.

“They may seem fortunate,” announced a deadpan Lauren Kelly ’13 at the top of the show, “but unfortunately they don’t feel that way.” From the opening infomercial to the closing group number that puts every “Glee” ending to shame, the comedy group takes on cell reception, theme houses, blogging and built-to-fail relationships – all topics that the student body can relate to and laugh over.

The best skits stick to the familiar: Sophie Carter-Kahn ’13 and Kelly are memorable as a spacey blogger and reluctant witness, respectively, aided by fast-paced writing that spawns one of the most hilariously tragic acronyms. The writers earn laughs again with devilishly upbeat Sam Corrao Clanon ’13, who pulls out a perfect radio voice for a split-personality performance.

Even the more outlandish setups are reined in by everyday characters. The tribute to “2001: A Space Odyssey” has the men of Robber Barons (clad in…you really need to just see for yourself) return to the middle-school mindset in an alpha-male display. On a similarly fanciful premise, the Ancient Greek theme house skit is anchored by the dude-ish yet naive characters played by Carlo Pasco ’13 and Alex Connolly ’11, who evoke overeager freshmen all across campus.

The Robber Barons fare less well at portraying couples – either together or in the midst of a nasty divorce. Often the married life skits become too abstracted from an audience that is, for the most part, sans-wedding ring. Those first world problems haven’t yet hit the student population, so the comedy doesn’t hit home as much as, say, a texting-your-mom joke.

In terms of physical comedy, director Connolly and head writer Cameron Poter ’11 stand out in “First World Problems” for their timing and facial expressions.

And while they aren’t an a cappella group, the Robber Barons are nonetheless charming in their resounding musical finish, with the off-key yet soulful chorus. “We are first world/We are rich children/We are the ones who like to hoard the world’s resources.”

Experience “First World Problems” Friday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in the Nitery. Admission is free for students with SUID, $10 for everyone else. Reservations may be made online at