Video Review: Inside Joke Films (2.5 stars)

Two and a half stars – Recommended+.
I watched this video when deciding which shows to see at Chicago Sketchfest 2012. Because I had 16 slots to fill, each with four choices of shows, I didn’t want to spend much time investigating any one group.

Based on just this video, I chose them over other troupes that didn’t show me anything funny on their websites (if they had any). I was not disappointed. I was pleased that, despite their website and name presenting them as video-focused, they put on a good live show.

What I liked:
The cleverness.
The exaggeration.
The mundane situation, treated with an intensity seen in high-pressure interrogation sequences in action movies/shows. Imagine Jack Bauer as your roommate.
Quick paced dialogue, without extraneous lines that should have been cut.
High production quality, music, lighting, camera work…

Really well produced video compared to the videos I’ve seen from other Sketchfest performers, plus it was well-written. I liked it, but not as much as my 3-star videos, so this is more of a 2.5 star video. It just didn’t quite tickle me like the other 3-star videos have. But I liked it, and would recommend you go see Inside Joke Films if given the chance.

Chicago Sketchfest 2012 – Great fun!

Sign made from Red Bull cans
So I went to Chicago for week 2 of Sketchfest this year. I’d wanted to go to Chicago Sketchfest about as long as they’ve had them, knowing that it’s huge. For the three days I went, I could see 16 shows, and for each show there were 4 different troupes performing at the same time, and most of the troupes only had one performance so there were plenty I wasn’t going to get to see. I spent about three hours researching the troupes online. There were three troupes performing that I’d seen before: The Cupid Players, Peter n Chris, and The Don’t We Boys. I hadn’t seen The Cupid Players in eight or so years, so I knew I’d see them. Peter n Chris put on two of the three best shows I saw in 2011, so I decided to see them again. I liked the Don’t We Boys, but didn’t love them enough to see them instead of a troupe I hadn’t seen before.
I saw 15 different troupes perform 16 shows, and I enjoyed 10 of the shows.

Here are the troupes I liked enough to ask that they apply to SketchFest Seattle 2012 so I can see them again:
Punch in the Box – Three women from Toronto, missing a member because she was a British citizen and was denied entry into the U.S. at the airport. So the other two put together a very funny show at the last minute. They had a very good variety of sketches, including two songs. The acting was quite strong, and I was most impressed at how fleshed out their diverse characters were, and how the writing sometimes really supported the gradual reveal of who the characters were. I liked them enough to see them on both Friday and Saturday!
The Comic Thread – This was a standard good veteran troupe of Chicago. I don’t want to sound insulting even though I don’t have much to say about them other than that they were good and I liked them. I didn’t see them having any kind of unusual hook that would make them stand out. They were just good, which is good enough for me.
Inside Joke Films – I selected them based on seeing one video. Two funny young guys with a lot of energy but who don’t depend on just energy to deliver their material. They’re clever, too, and can put on a good live show despite apparently being film-focused.
Urlakis and Cusick – I didn’t know it until I saw him, but I’d met Sean Cusick when he came to Seattle for SketchFest with Hey You Millionaires!, and they put on my favorite show of Sketchfest 2008. When I found Sean in the lobby to tell him how much I enjoyed the show, he remembered my name, which really surprised me. Anyway, they are an excellent duo who just thrive at delivering an excellent show.
Girls Gone M.A.D. – The group seemed a little uneven, but put on a very enjoyable show. I really liked the opening song number, and would like to see them perform again.
Blacktacular! – Loved them, but that might just be me. Their material might not do as well with a more general audience, an audience not as well versed in musicals. From what I could tell, a hugely talented cast of musical theatre actors. Their show seemed to be mostly about being African-American actors in Chicago, having difficulties. Very funny. Very well done. Their musical numbers (parodies of standards) blew me away. As an Asian-American former sorta actor and sketch comedian, I could relate a little to some of their stories.
The Shock T’s – A really fun trio that sings original comedic songs. A great ending to my Sketchfest experience. I like that they stay away from song parodies, not that there’s anything wrong with a well-done song parody.
Biggest laughs (tie): Urlakis and Cusick / Blacktacular!
Troupe I’d most like to join: The Cupid Players – because I like to sing a lot.

I’m not going to crap all over the sketch troupes I didn’t like. On the internet, that’s forever. I’ve seen a message I left on a forum way back in college that I wrote when angry because I was talking about Rene Auberjonois’s character in Star Trek VI, and someone asked if I meant Michael Dorn because I got Rene’s character name wrong. I called him Colonel Wolf instead of Colonel West, and so someone thought I meant Colonel Worf. Anyway, I was annoying in my response, and I get to see that occasionally when looking myself up.

But since I put it on record which troupes I’d see, here are the troupes I didn’t seek out to say how much I enjoyed their shows. Because I didn’t enjoy their shows. The range goes from “Not good” to “Bored” to “I wished I had the balls to walk out and go see something better”, but I won’t go into detail on the internet.

The Backrow
Second City This Week
Stir Friday Night!
Sausage
Acid Reflux Comedy Troupe
Sherra: Secret of the Ooze

Sausage is a special case, because , instead of a regular sketch show, it was a tribute to a member of their troupe who died last year. It was touching and sometimes funny but not really indicative of their true abilities, so I want to see the performers in another “regular” show before deciding whether they’re worth more of my time.

Sherra is another special case, because it is a one-woman show. And I haven’t seen a one-person show I’ve liked live. Maybe I just don’t like one-person shows, or maybe Sherra’s show just wasn’t very good. She seemed talented.

I saw 15 troupes at Chicago Sketchfest, and I liked 9 of them enough to hope they’ll come to SketchFest Seattle so I can see them again. That seems really high, liking 2/3 of the troupes.

But…

Two of the troupes I was pretty much guaranteed to like. I had already seen The Cupid Players (2002) and Peter n Chris (2011) at SketchFest Seattle, so I was pretty much guaranteed to like them.
Additionally, I originally planned on seeing 16 troupes. After seeing Punch in the Box, I was so impressed I considered seeing them again instead of seeing Pangea 3000. I hadn’t been impressed with Pangea 3000 in my research (despite their apparent popularity), but had selected them. It was the only duplicated time slot in my weekend of Chicago Sketchfest, where Heavy Wait, Pangea 3000, Punch in the Box, and Don’t We Boys were all performing at the same time at 9pm on both Friday and Saturday. Heavy Wait’s web presence had impressed me even less than Pangea 3000′s, and I had already seen and enjoyed Don’t We Boys at SketchFest Seattle 2011. I really liked Punch in the Box, so spent most of an hour watching more Pangea 3000 videos, trying to convince myself to see something new, but found no videos that I liked. So I saw Punch in the Box again (and was happy). So if I had gone with my original plan to see 16 different troupes, I would have liked only 7 of the 14 troupes I hadn’t seen before.
Still, a 50% hit rate is pretty good. It’s a better hit rate than SketchFest Seattle has had for me since 2007.
But, I chose the 14 because of my web research, so they were generally the better (for me) troupes for each of their time slots. And each time slot had four troupes, and most troupes only performed once. So I probably wouldn’t have hit 50% if I’d selected randomly.
Not that that is important. What’s important is that I enjoyed myself and got to spend 10 of my 16 hours thoroughly entertained at Chicago Sketchfest. That’s incredible for someone like me who thinks he loves sketch comedy but hates most of it.

Troupes I didn’t see but would like to see:
Jin and Joshi – I’ve liked Sayjal Joshi’s performances with the Second City Touring Company, but I chose Stir Friday Night! for that time slot because I’ve never seen them before, have heard about them for years, and felt obligated as an Asian American former sketch comedian to see them at least once. Even before I saw Stir Friday Night! I thought I’d enjoy Jin and Joshi more.
35th and Addison – I was originally planning to see them, but switched to Sausage based on a recommendation. 35th and Addison has a good web presence.
The tim&micah project – Liked their performance in the Sketchubator, and heard good things about them.
Off Off Broadzway – Liked their performance in the Sketchubator, and heard good things about them.
Salsation Theatre Company – Heard good things about them
Stupid Time Machine – Heard good things about them
FUCT – At the Sketchubator, FUCT’s performance was disturbing and extreme. From the one sketch, I think they might be extremely good at what they do, which might be to create disturbing sketches that go beyond what anyone else does. I’ve seen some sketch troupes in Seattle that failed to do what FUCT seems to do really really well. Ever see people eat a hot dog that had just been pulled out of a woman’s vagina (it had been wrapped in plastic), followed by eating mints popped out of a guy’s foreskin (not wrapped in plastic)? I have now. Disgusting. I must see them again.

I liked using my SketchFest Seattle Board Member card on the troupes I liked. Literal business card. I had 250 of them printed up for $6 by Staples.com, including shipping. I was hoping my board member status (and the card as a prop) would give me a small amount of instant credibility so that I could have longer conversations with the troupes I liked. Maybe I didn’t need the card or the board member status, but it was worth the $6. And I had plenty of nice conversations with sketch comedians I liked, and zero conversations with sketch comedians I didn’t like. The advantage of not knowing anyone is that I could easily avoid conversations with sketch comedians I thought weren’t funny.

Ok, so the current plan is to go back to Chicago Sketchfest next year, except go for the entire festival. I’ll take 8 vacation days and stay in a hotel for 11 nights.

Ed Toolis, Writer

While I was at Chicago Sketchfest, I met Ed Toolis.  I noticed him quickly.  He was one of the few people to show up alone to Sketchfest early, like me, just hanging around the lobby.  And he had a laminated festival pass on a lanyard around his neck (my pass was just a printout).

Well, he spoke to me on the last day.  He asked if I was a reviewer.  I guess he’d noticed that I’d been around for the entire weekend, too.  And I was alone.  Anyway, we got to talking and afterwards he sent me a link to his blog:

http://web.mac.com/edtoolis/TheHumorOfEdToolis/On_Humor/On_Humor.html

I suggest y’all take a look at it.  Many of his posts relate to the kinds of things I’d like to put on this blog, if I weren’t so lazy.  And if I had a better grasp of my thoughts.

It is another blog written from the perspective of someone, like me, who likes some sketch comedy but doesn’t like all sketch comedy, and is exploring why he doesn’t like what he doesn’t like.  And he’s sharing his thoughts on how to be better at sketch, particularly writing.

Even though I’m somewhat active in the Seattle sketch community, I haven’t met many people who seem to have given a lot of thought as to what some sketches (or troupes) lack.  Do they not detect the poor quality of some of the work around here?  Do they not care?  Are they just trying to be nice by not saying anything negative?  Are they of the (mistaken) belief that you shouldn’t analyze comedy?  Do they just not want to talk to me about it?

So it’s refreshing to meet someone who also would like to try to make things better.  For himself.  And by sharing, for others.

This is not the last you’ll hear me mention Ed Toolis’s blog.  I intend to comment here on some of his posts.  Stay tuned!

The Pork Filled Players

When I decided I was going to Chicago Sketchfest this year, I wrote my plans up as an entry on this blog.  And one person found it as a result.  And then found me at Sketchfest (more on this later).  Because he used an online search to find me, I decided to bing and google myself.  And I cringed when I saw the first Pork Filled Players (PFP) videos that popped up.  For whatever reasons, what I consider to be my best work in PFP is grossly underrepresented in the PFP online presence.  Not a big deal, since I’m no longer with PFP, and it serves as a bit of motivation to start my own troupe, to get some material I like out there.

But others may also find the online examples of my PFP work, especially (since it’s been a few years) people who didn’t actually see my PFP work live.  Anyway, it got me to thinking that it was time I wrote up an entry about my work with the Pork Filled Players.

I was with the Pork Filled Players for seven years, and during that time I was very happy to explore my love of sketch comedy.  I made many friends as PFP became one of my primary social circles.  As I worked more with PFP, I earned greater responsibility, and got better (especially as a writer).  I also became more of a sketch comedy critic, seeing much more sketch than normal people and becoming more dissatisfied with overused sketch elements (premises, formats, concepts).  My focus was and is on the writing, because that’s just what I pay attention to most in sketches.

I love “good” sketch comedy, and hate “bad” sketch comedy, and my definitions of “good” and “bad” were shifting because of my increased experience, shifting in a way that made it difficult for PFP to keep up.    Some individual sketches were good, some were mediocre, and some were just bad.  And I felt more annoyed with mediocre and bad as time passed.

I always thought PFP was an average sketch troupe for Seattle.  There were always a few better, and there were always a few worse (much worse).  Average wasn’t bad, at first, but as my tastes changed average lost its appeal to me.  That also meant I became more dissatisfied with some of the other Seattle troupes as well, but there always seemed to be at least one good troupe that I really liked.  (And a few other people seemed to like but I thought were fairly crappy)

I was tired of working on sketches I really didn’t like, and I felt like I needed a new start.  Also, I didn’t want to be a part of a group that wasn’t focused on doing sketch comedy.  PFP was starting to produce more comedic plays, and I didn’t want the group’s identity to be part sketch and part play, especially since I didn’t want to be a part of the comedic plays and didn’t want to be associated with the group if the plays selected were lame.  I didn’t want my sketch comedy work to contribute to the marketing of plays I didn’t believe in.  I didn’t want PFP’s reputation affected by work I had no part in.  When I couldn’t get PFP to be just a sketch comedy troupe, and when I could get a solid wall built between PFP’s sketch and plays, I left, thinking I would just start another troupe.  I also started this blog.

Three and a half years later, I haven’t formed another troupe, and I haven’t written many sketches except the ones for some classes I’ve taken.  I seem to be undecided about whether or not I really want to do sketch again.  Really, I don’t think I’ve decided either way.  I’ve basically procrastinated any real decision.

I haven’t decided to give up sketch – I’ve seen other sketch comedians leave, and they rarely go to shows.  I still go to the sketch shows, have taken some sketch writing classes, took improv for over a year, joined the SketchFest Seattle board (that was because I still hung around SketchFest and volunteered, not because I did anything to try to join the board), and took a trip solely to see shows at Chicago Sketchfest.

I haven’t decided to come back to sketch – I barely update the blog and don’t write sketches except for in the few classes I’ve taken (and even then I haven’t done all the sketch writing homework for the classes).  It’s been over three years since I quit PFP and over four years since my last show, and I don’t have anything that shows me actually working to put up another show.

So I’m still procrastinating.  I love sketch comedy, but I might not love performing it enough to commit to doing another show.

Chicago Sketchfest 2012!

I’m going to Chicago Sketchfest!

I’m going to the second week of Sketchfest, and I’m arriving on Friday so I’ll miss the Thursday evening shows.  I’m leaving Chicago on Monday, so I’ll see the Sunday shows.  Here’s what I’ve decided to see:

Friday
8pm The Backrow
9pm Punch in the Box
10pm Peter ‘n Chris
11pm Second City this Week

Saturday
6pm The Comic Thread
7pm Stir Friday Night
8pm The Cupid Players
9pm Pangea 3000
10pm Inside Joke Films
11pm Urlakis and Cusick

Sunday
3pm 35th and Addison
4pm Acid Reflux
5pm ? Girls gone MAD or Hi Betty – not enough info to decide
6pm Blacktacular!
7pm Sherra: Secret of the Ooze
8pm Shock T’s

Maybe later I’ll post some observations on my investigation.  I don’t know most of these troupes, so I made my decisions based on web research.  And with sixteen slots to fill, I didn’t want to spend much time doing the research.  Lots of the troupes don’t have much of a web presence, and that generally meant I didn’t select them.

I’m looking forward to finally going to Chicago Sketchfest, something I’ve wanted to see for almost a decade now.  And since I’m now a member of the SketchFest Seattle’s board, I have a great opener to talk with the performers.  So I’ll have a fun time networking as well.

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