Photo by Cameron Yong
Photo by Cameron Yong

The energy at the Student Recreation Center started at a simmer.

Pillars illuminated by blue and gold light bordered the gym floor. A single archway, fronted by what would later be revealed to be smoke pillars, waited for a parade of men’s and women’s basketball players to make their grand entrance. The stands slowly filled — one side first, then the other. And at 9 p.m. sharp, led by the vibrant voice of 99.1 KGGI’s Diana Wehbe, the night began: Midnight Madness, hosted by the Highlander Union Building, joined by Comedy Central … and lasting way too long.

We began as usual. Midnight Madness has always been a showcase event on campus, providing an opportunity for the men’s and women’s basketball teams to show their skills and inspire students to attend home games. And by all accounts, it started well enough: A cheer and dance routine by the UCR Spirit Squad opened the night. Members of the women’s basketball team followed, performing a hip-hop routine that drew a deafening amount of cheers from the people in the stands behind me. “Sorry, our friends are on the team,” they explained, which was fine. I understood. The teams were supposed to draw cheers loud enough to compete with a rocket launch.

I settled into my seat as the men’s team followed, beginning their routine with some smooth moves over “Bye Bye Bye” by the illustrious ‘N Sync. Upon watching the men gyrate, stomp and generally groove, the crowd’s energy kindled, and applause and hollers erupted from the now-packed room.

As part of Midnight Madness’ promotion, the HUB promised a quarter of free tuition to a randomly-selected student who could successfully sink a half-court shot. The student, Ingrid, took a running leap into her shot, which followed a slow, downward arc a mile from the hoop. There’s a metaphor existing somewhere within being so close to receiving an affordable education, and losing that chance because of physics. The crowd’s applause was apologetic. We will not forget you, Ingrid.

As the women’s and men’s basketball teams ran through the archway and smoke pillars for their introductions, the heat picked up once more among the audience; we cheered for the players and coaches, and listened as both women’s coach John Margaritis and interim men’s coach Dennis Cutts implored students to fill the stands for home games. “I really like our guys, and I think if you come out and watch them, you’ll like them too,” Cutts said. And it was difficult not to like the teams; as the women’s team ran through their three-point shooting contest, fellow team members cheered for successful shots, and the men’s team ignited the crowd when Steven Jones sank a seemingly impossible backhand dunk. It was all well and good. We were happy and satisfied, an hour had passed and it felt about time to head out into the night with the R’Side cheers from the Highlander Girls ringing in our ears.

But then — tragedy.

I’m sure comedian Thomas Dale is a great guy. He seemed eager enough to lead the Comedy Central lineup as he introduced himself as a gay man from Brooklyn — “So I’m fucked,” Dale said in reference to his accent — but it was difficult to follow his performance because of the flood of people leaving the SRC. The heat of the night was gone; the crowd’s energy had tapped out after the final cheer, and after the people who weren’t interested in sitting through a trio of comedians had left, half the audience remained. And while Dale maintained his poise as people walked past him on their exit, and as event coordinators moved around him to box up wires (while Dale called, “Hey boo boo, where you going?” to any males walking by), his shtick was a repetitive plod of sex jokes and outrageous noises to punctuate his statements. I’m sure that part of the issue was his inability to really glean any responsive energy from the crowd, who at that point suffered from numb butts and a growing sense of discomfort at not laughing at a guy who had been hired to entertain.

To put it bluntly, the comedians should not have been tacked on to the end of the show for 30-minute sets each; as Emily Heller tanked in front of a nonresponsive crowd, it was obvious they had been slated for too long. A better option would have been billing the comedians for quick, 15-minute sets between the introductions, cheers and dunk contests earlier on. Then, Heller would not have had to joke, “Yes, I do in fact wear glasses,” in front of a disbelieving group of steadily decreasing students. By the time the headliner, TJ Miller, took the stage, a quarter of the audience remained. And while Miller’s observational humor provided a much-needed reprieve from the painfully slow slog of the night, by that time, not many students were left to truly enjoy his college-centric material and conversations with the spotlight techs.

“I can’t believe you stayed through a 3-hour pep rally,” Miller told the audience, and neither could we. The madness ended at 11 p.m., at which point a dance party, led by student DJs, had been slated; a handful of youngish-looking students took to the center of the gym, wrapping free glow sticks around their wrists. But by that point, the air was heavy and hot; we burst into the Friday night air, free and unleashed, resolving never to step foot into the SRC for that long again.

Which, really, kind of defeated the purpose of Midnight Madness in the first place.