Archive for February, 2012

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.

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.