Live Review: Chicago Sketchfest Weekend Recap

Photograph: Courtesy of Sketchfest

In the tradition of Garfunkel & Oates (a duo of funny, female melody makers who you've probably never heard of but are coming to the UP Comedy Club in February), the Reformed Whores banged out short, musical ditties on the banjo and accordian that took on one-night stands, douchebags and girl-on-girl action at Sketchfest Friday night. They were very funny. Their cowboy boots, frilly dresses and Southern twang recalled Branson Missouri or the Grand Ole Opry—if its stars dared to sing about birth control. "We are reformed whores," they declared at the top of their set. "It's also the name of our band." Songs like "Drunk Dial" and "Girl Crush" (with lyrics like, "I'd like to kiss you, but I won't eat you out") cracked me up, a couple others less so. But in between the musical numbers, these ladies exhibited just enough Dolly Parton spunk (coupled with the occasional burp) that I couldn't resist smiling throughout.

I admired Portland-based Sweat's endless ingenuity and energy. Their exuberant first sketch was an expertly crafted and choreographed seafaring adventure complete with killer whales, dolphins, seagulls, a school of fish and a sea turtle. It set up a callback sketch—a scene in which the same captain and his shipmate happen upon the world's ugliest mermaids (hilarious). Another sketch, set around a campfire at a Christian summer camp, was less funny, but this was quickly rescued by a recurring scene in which a Russian artistocrat finds herself smitten with the word Bieber (as in Justin). I admired Sweat's ability to morph into a variety of different characters, including a gang of Irish robbers and a Latin American family celebrating their daughter's Quinceañera. Good things happen in sketch comedy when its performers are strong actors.

Team Submarine took on the strained relationships between talk-show hosts and their musical directors (think Letterman and Paul Shaffer or Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks) in their opening sketch. In particular, I enjoyed Steve O'Brien's shameless mugging at every canned punchline. The New York-based duo (formerly of Chicago) was less successful when bantering with the audience (a stilted game of Mad Libs and Guess the Jew) but their Scream parody, in which the killer is forced to leave an awkward death threat on a frat dude's answering machine, was terrific. Most of all, I loved Nate Fernald's turn as a skittish cat in a scene featuring a pet photographer. Nevermind the physical joy of watching a hapless O'Brien try to manage his feline friend; Fernald wearing a black body suit and a pair of leopard-print cat ears was just priceless.

The tim&micah project put together a retrospective show for this year's Sketchfest and presented it in the "purposefully pretentious" manner of playing the entire show as if it were an old comedy LP. It was great to see them revisit scenes like the wonderfully choreographed "Sitcom" or a manic sketch about an airline passenger losing it. These guys execute scenes with razor-sharp precision and endless physicality. They're a blast even if some of the work is a bit of a head-scratcher.

The only group I couldn't connect with at all was Camp Woods. The Philly-based septet wasn't funny whether they were spinning a yarn about a hermit crab who lives inside a guy's butthole (I kid you not) or another in which a man checks in at a hotel an encounters a rude sloth. A video clip about an agoraphobic pizza delivery guy made me laugh, but I couldn't find much to chuckle at otherwise (and I wasn't the only one).

Local trio ik/ok had the improv chops and infectious energy to compensate for occasionally breaking character and cracking up onstage. An Iraq War (or rather Iraqistan) veteran solicts funds on the Red Line for a liver transplant in one improvised scene, another sketch takes us to the set of 1, 2, 3 Go, a game show whose nosy host would rather call out the contestants for their personal indiscretions. The loose theme of the show was friendship and it enjoyed its funniest moment during an improvised parody of National Public Radio that recalled the fine scenework of Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon on SNL.

Among the bigger surprises of the weekend was the Business, a young troupe that has popped up at the Playground Theater's Graffiti and was full of surprises Sunday night, including a refreshing and finely choreographed poke at airline safety features that opened the show. A scene in which a douchebag tries to nail twin sisters—one who's into it and one who's not—began with promise then dovetailed into unfunny territory, but more often than not the scenes were inspired, absurd and exhibited remarkable fearlessness and comic prowess. In particular, I enjoyed the Schizophrenic News and an innovative spin on cop shows set among a Native American tribe. The finale, a crime spree and ostensible advertisement for Quiznos, was pure joy. The highest compliment I can pay them is that I look forward to seeing them again soon.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)