The scripted-comedy festival gets bigger and further from the page.
Wed Jun 1 2011
In its seventh year, the annual SketchFest NYC has grown significantly, from a three-day run to four, and has also begun working with big brands, including Comedy Central and Marvel Entertainment. Wait—what?
"I've been aware of sketch trends," explains festival executive producer, Alex Zalben, also a member of local troupe Elephant Larry. "And I realize that this doesn't fit in with them." The programming, which squeezes in 37 shows from Wednesday 8--June 11, is bucking expectations. In this magazine, we have also bemoaned the dismal state of sketch comedy. But is there a chance that tides are turning? "We got more submissions this year—really good submissions—than we ever have before," Zalben says.
Zalben attributes the pendulum swing in part to the web. "A few years ago, people were throwing money at groups to make videos, and the talent abandoned their stage craft. Everyone's being more conservative about that now." Stepping in to literally illustrate such a backlash is Chicago troupe The Other Other Guys (Sat 7pm), which Zalben says is "like a troupe from seven years ago, and I mean that in the best way." At the start of their audition, they explained to Zalben that they'd lost their video reel, and so would instead perform the recording live, which they did replete with an enormous cardboard cursor to "click play" at the start, and with huge handwritten credits held aloft onstage at the end.
If this kind of metaplay is the first step in the revival of classic sketch comedy, then we're all for it. Below are our picks for the best shows on each of the four days.
At 7pm, the festival's three solo acts happen over the course of an hour in The Solo Show; one is local—Meghan O'Neill's Fraidy Cat—while the others were culled from Chicago auditions: Paul Thomas in Comedogenic, which balances bizarre characters with crafty writing; and Anthony Oberbeck's I Am the Horizon, a surprise entry about an optimistic, heartbroken man that none of the festival's organizers had seen before Oberbeck's tryout. Then, in Kurt and Kristen at 10pm, Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal delve into a full set of the whimsical absurdities (think talking appliances or marshmallow beards) that are their stock-in-trade. Snakes and Adira Amram make appearances in 101.9 RXP Presents Sketch Rocks at 11pm.
At 9pm, the clever BriTANicK will be joined by Fantasy Grandma, a pair of 20-year-olds who have performed just a few gigs as rapping geriatrics, but who blew away SketchFest producers with their commitment to character and a few hard candies. At 11pm, in The Pyramid Shew, comic Megan Kellie embarks on a quest to become the flashing edifice Daft Punk plays on top of at their shows. And at midnight, immaculately costumed duo The Puterbaugh Sisters host a variety of acts in between their own high-concept bits.
Klepper and Grey have been performing regularly at the UCBT, but anyone who hasn't seen them yet should go at 7pm; their snappy repartee recalls classic comedy along the lines of Burns and Allen. The festival's biggest name this year is the Whitest Kids U'Know, who have just completed the fifth season of their self-titled sketch show on IFC; they perform a best-of set at 9pm.
Starting at 1pm, fans can go behind-the-scenes of their favorite online and broadcast comedy as the Onion News Network, Marvel's What The? series and the Whitest Kids U'Know present panel discussions. As for the shows, we're particularly interested in Seeder & Lee (8pm), who tie great wordplay to curious characters, and Heavyweight (10pm), which carries its premises forward with surprisingly effective jolts of oddity. And the 11pm show is unmissable—the four fierce ladies of MEAT will reunite for the first time in five years, before the ever-sharp Elephant Larry takes the stage.
happens Wed 8--June 11 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.