Friday, Aug. 8, 2008

Day One: Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Comedy Festival

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The lobby of the 342 North Water Street Building appeared to be under heavy construction. The stairs and much of the rest of the lobby were behind caution tape. It took a trip to the elevators to get to the Off-Broadway Theatre on the second floor, bringing attendees to the first evening of this year’s Milwaukee’s Sketch and Improv Comedy Fest perilously close to the distinctive smell of hair product from the Aveda Institute on the first floor of the building. After a quick arrival on the second floor, attendees were walking past a table where a woman encouraged people to enter a drawing to win tickets for next month’s local performance of the Second City Touring Group at Turner Hall.

The lobby of the theatre was nicely appointed. The bar in the lobby has a pair of Lakefront beers on tap, which I don’t seem to recall being there last season. There’s a table there with little bits of promo merchandise for Hamlet 2--(the new movie co-written by South Park Creative Producer Pam Brady)—“Rock Me Sexy Jesus” air fresheners and dashboard statuettes and such . . .

The theatre itself was relatively packed. It was open seating and for some reason the actors and sketch comedy types in attendance lined up along the sides of the thrust stage. The rest of us could look over to either side of the stage at any point and see what made aspiring funny people laugh. It was kind of educational.

The first evening featured three groups from Chicago and one from Milwaukee. Busy fest founder Matt Kemple slowed-down enough to make it to the stage after each group finished in order to introduce the next one. . .



96D
Members of Chicago’s Chemically Imballanced Comedy company performed long-form improv involving a watermelon, a giant dead squirrel, a driving test and fantasy football. It may not have tied together particularly well, but it was an enjoyable comic appetizer for the festival.


Track Jacket Revue
Milwaukee’s contingent of funny for the evening, Track Jacket focussed on the “sketch” in sketch comedy with a series of pre-written skits. One of the bits featured the revue as a support group for people dealing with the recent loss of Packers quarterback Brett Favre. It was a promising premise and the Revue quite nearly delivered on it. Perhaps their best bit of the evening was a twist on To Catch a Predator involving an uncanny impression of Chris Hansen and a suspected pedophile who turns out to be underage. Pretty clever.



Size Eight
One of the more consistently entertaining groups of the evening, Chicago’s Size Eight is the female comedy duo of Kerri and Megan. The wit here features some particularly interesting bits of social commentary. One skit involves a pair of cheery, Broadway loving suburban-types addressing a class of inner-city youths. The pair ended with a bit pitting two women against each other trying to hail cab. Sometimes it’s the simplest stuff that ends up working the best . . .



The Union
George Burns and Gracie Allen. Harry and Bess Houdini. Siegfried and Roy. Bonny and Clyde. Chicago sketch comedy pair The Union is the next in a long tradition of performing couples. Corey and Monique reached for comic brilliance in a number of skits. Sharp writing was delivered impeccably. In one skit, they’re discussing the genetic flaws in their family in anticipation of a baby. In another, they play dummy and ventriloquist in a piece that is tastefully twisted on many levels. A husband and wife comedy act runs the risk of being extremely cloying and tacky, but Corey and Monique stay a comfortable distance away from anything like that. There wasn’t a good enough rhythm to get the recurring pet homicide segments to work all that well, but the dialogue-less comedy bit featuring two nervous kids at a high school dance was delivered in a way that made it seem remarkably fresh. Again, it’s it’s the simplest stuff that ends up working the best . . .

Tonight the festival continues as Chicago groups Otis, Money in the Pants and Roboctopus are joined by the ample talent of local group Broadminded.

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