The Friars Club's new, relevant comedy contest

Young talent flocks when Friars get FrISCy.

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  • KNOCK, KNOCK; WAKKA WAKKA Somebody's in the Doghouse

  • The Jon and Eddie Show

  • The Midnight Show

KNOCK, KNOCK; WAKKA WAKKA Somebody's in the Doghouse

Cigar-twirling borscht-belt hacks belching crusty Henny Youngman gags—when it aired in 1999, the “Friar Infestation” episode of Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade nailed how the layperson and comedy professional alike envisioned Friars, if they ever did. As the cartoon Friars terrorize a suburban home like a horde of rodents, they aren’t just an outmoded clich but something that needs extermination. Since loving excoriation has always been the Friars’ stock-in-trade, they’d probably agree with this image—possibly the reason they’ve been working so hard to change it.

Founded in 1904 as a professional organization for Broadway press agents, the Friars Club quickly evolved into a members-only social clique whose comedically eviscerating roasts became its calling card. For the last ten years, however, the club has felt the need to stretch its boundaries in order to stay relevant. “If you’re going to stick around not just decades but centuries, you’re going to have to learn how to adapt,” says Barry Dougherty, the club’s director of communications. “It’s healthy.”

Most notably, the Friars Club began to allow Comedy Central to air its hitherto private roasts of celebrities and other club members in 1998. Though the broadcasts lasted only five years, they were the catalyst for the proliferation of roasts on the comedy landscape and helped make the careers of such insult comics as Lisa Lampanelli and Jeffrey Ross.

In the past few years, the club has extended itself even further. Its Associate nights have invited improv, sketch and stand-up into the clubhouse. In 2009, the organization debuted the Friars Club Comedic Film Festival, which included the premiere of the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man. This year, the club solicited young comics’ participation in the festival by creating FrISC, the Friars Club Improv and Sketch Competition; two winners will each receive $10,000 and three months to make a short film.

Unlike most other moneyed comedy competitions, FrISC has chosen representative ensembles with actual talent. From more than 100 submissions, the organizers chose ten groups, half improv and half sketch, who will perform Friday 25 and Saturday 26, respectively; each team will have 20 minutes to impress a panel of experts. If this promising first attempt can become an influential mainstay, perhaps the Friars will be able to eradicate the pesky stereotype on its own.

Sketch

Whether performing a revue of lighthearted, thoughtful nonsense or assaulting schlocky blockbuster ConAir for more than 30 minutes, New York vets Elephant Larry have remained busy and visible. Their manically executed premises never overwhelm the careful intent behind their writing.

The impressive Harvard Sailing Team is a breath of fresh air; the troupe’s invigorating song-and-dance routines serve as the vehicle for social satire aimed at the quotidian behavior of your friends and neighbors.

Though they’ve only performed sporadically over the past few years, the members of Free Love Forum are masters of character-driven absurdity on video. Though proceedings may get bizarre, FLF always works to make itself and its material accessible ( la Kids in the Hall).

Based at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in L.A., the Midnight Show is what its name implies: a high-energy, late-night sketch revue. Its large, prolific cast crafts enviably glossy, spot-on parodies including an Entourage spoof about cell phone use, and Avatar retold by babies.

Somebody’s in the Doghouse is Leah Gotcsik and Marty Johnson, a Boston duo that create scenes with solid characters and big payoffs. Among their clips is an indicative Funny or Die sketch in which a hypersexual gorilla assaults her Jane Goodall--like protector.

Improv

Badman is a UCB Harold team already familiar with the Friars and the Friars Club stage, where it has performed as part of the Tuesday Associates night.

Code Duello is another pair of Bostonians who perform a loopy, witty and, above all, historically inaccurate retelling of the events leading to the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

A supergroup that’s become a long-running show in its own right, the Stepfathers includes Andy Secunda and Michael Delaney from the Swarm, in addition to a lot of other great players who’ve committed themselves to smart, playful improv.

Los Angeles’s the Jon and Eddie Show is not two guys or even about two guys, yet the female duo behind the act lean on the sort of casual, loving buddy bond usually reserved these days for successful bromances.

Vanity Project is one of the house teams from Boston’s Improv Asylum, which plays to great acclaim at its theater each Wednesday night.

FrISC happens Fri 25 and Sat 26 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

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