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Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008

Making It Up

Theater Review

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  When the Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Festival opens its doors Aug. 7-9, more than a dozen out-of-state comedy troupes will arrive in the city. In anticipation of this event, let's cast a glance at a couple of local groups that perform in Milwaukee throughout the year.

  Every Saturday night at midnight, some of the more experienced members of ComedySportz fuse into a group known as Cock 'n' Toast. The midnight show is performed much like a standard ComedySportz show, except that it is uncensored and unrestricted in its humor.

  A large crowd assembled for Cock 'n' Toast on Saturday, though there seemed to be a level of exhaustion in the air. The group performs with the kind of speed one might expect from many years onstage together, but this is still a ComedySportz show and such performances have changed little over the years. Even with the opportunity to venture into adults-only territory, improv games typically tend to be fun only in the moment, lacking much of the substance that makes for memorable, lasting comedy. On Saturday, audience suggestions were thrown into a well-tuned comic machine that focused on getting laughs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Indeed, the laughter came, but it soon evaporated into an all-too disposable comedy experience.

  Several blocks south of the ComedySportz arena, local sketch and improv group The Gentlemen's Hour performs an 8 p.m. show every other Sunday at the Alchemist Theatre. Consisting of Mike Kauth, Patrick Schmitz, Johnny Beehner and Tyler Kroll, The Gentlemen's Hour has been together in one form or another for years. A rigorous schedule of rehearsals and performances brings a fresh set of material to the stage.

  Last Sunday's performance featured half pre-written material and half long-form improv. Like many improv performers, Beehner also does stand-up comedy. He was on the road and couldn't be at Sunday's show, but was able to contribute some video segments to the evening. The remaining three members sauntered through a couple of reasonably irreverent bits before launching into long-form improv.

  Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Gentlemen's Hour is its willingness to forgo easy laughs for more sophisticated comedy. These guys aren't afraid of silence, and it's refreshing to see improv comedy that takes chances. The Gentlemen's Hour performs at this weekend's Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Festival, and will return to the Alchemist the following Sunday.