Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008

Day Two: Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Comedy Festival

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The second day of the sketch fest was set for quite a bit more show than the opening day. Three distinct programs ran roughly 7pm last night through 1 am this morning. Though the audience thinned-out by the end of the day, the crowd for the bulk of the evening seemed only slightly thinner than opening night. Here are the highlights:

7:30pm Show:


Roboctopus


Day two opened with the second group affiliated with Chicago’s Chemically Imbalanced Comedy. Roboctopus opened the evening with an improv comedy performance that never really gathered enough momentum. To be fair, it IS tough to open an evening of comedy when people are just settling-in. Roboctopus muddled through a series of long-form bits fed from the hybrid audience song lyric suggestion ,”it’s raining men in a love shack.”


Money In The Pants

The program continued with more sketch comedy from Chicago—this one from a well-poised group. Money is a buffet of standard sketch comedy fare executed with enough talent, timing and heart to be entertaining even when it’s not entirely funny. Sketches appearing here included one about a pair of ostensibly hetero men moving-in together, a gay man singing an ode to Brad and Angelina Jolie and a surprisingly clever take on an engaged couple trying to decide the song for their first dance.


Broadminded

The local all-female sketch comedy group did some of their classic bits for their spot in the festival including Constitution, iPod Therapy, Anything You Can Do and Office Annie. The set went over remarkably well.


Otis

This Chicago improv comedy group showed great comedic instincts in the final performance of the evening’s initial show. Feeding off the audience’s suggestions of “chocolate,” the group proceeded to move through skits including a bit about a couple moving into a strangely silent apartment complex across the street from a nearly-complete Borders Bookstore, childhood origami and a library being re-organized by color thanks to input from a local homeless person. There were slow moments here, but not many.

10:00pm Show

As the festival rolled into its second show of the evening, fresh and refreshed audience members infused an extra level of energy in the seats for the next four groups.


OneTwoThree

The Chicago sketch comedy group opened with what can only be described as "dancing with sticks" . . . or something. Skits included an oddly existential bit with dogs playing poker and a particularly bizarre and brilliantly dark take on a ‘60’s sitcom complete with laugh track and allusions to a nuclear family eating vomit. A lot more fun than it probably sounds like.

Travelling Art Circus


The local Milwaukee group on this partcular program tied a series of irreverent sketches together under the general motif of a Larry King retrospective. The most interesting bit of the Circus’ set was a musical comedy bit about the Enron scandal. Some time ago, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room) suggested that there is enough in the stor of the fall of Enron that would make for good musical comedy. A search for “Enron Musical” online and renders hits from different productions written by different people all over the country. Someone should organize an annual Enron musical festival is all I’m saying . . .


Dirty Water

Okay—here’s the idea: a group of guys from Chicago pretend to be a group of guys from Boston who are having an entirely improvised conversation over beers at a bar. Don’t doubt that this is a lot funnier than it sounds. These are the guys playing the guys you’d probably want to hang out with at a corner bar somewhere on the East Side. The central question the group was mulling over for the evening was this: if you could have any celebrity from throughout history in your family, real or fictional, who would it be? Conversation included discussion of Bret Favre, Batman and a flaming Pope-mobile.


pH


The Chicago improv comedy group ended the second program of the evening with an improvised musical with a generous number of topics drawn from the audience. Unlike much of the improv on the festival this season, the suggestions drawn from the audience for pH seemed to be pretty integral to the direction of the performance. The talent here fused together a traditional American musical comedy about a boring man and the bizarre family that surrounds him. Jason Geis was interesting as the straight man in the center of the insanity with Tristan Tanner putting in an inspired performance as his parenthetically homicidal daughter who refuses to take her mittens off. Again: probably a lot better than it sounds . . .

Improv Comedy Jam

The evening ended with a two-part improv comedy jam featuring two casts performing two long-form bits for about 20 minutes each. Performers from groups that had already performed mixed with people from groups slated to perform today. Each cast was massive . . . shrewdly separating the members of different sketch and improv groups between the two Jam teams with some interesting results. The fresh energy allowed performers who might not have performed as well in their individual sets another crack at the festival audience. It’s satisfying seeing a pair of groups like this unwind at the end of a long evening.

TODAY: In just a few hours after this is posted, the final day of the festival begins with a show featuring younger performers. The a father/son improve team Unrelated joins Chicago’s teen improv group Underage Sugar Addicts and First Stasge Children’s Theatre’s improv group Organized Chaos.

TONIGHT: A pair of evening shows close-out the festival. More groups from Chicago drop by, joined by Milwaukee’s own Gentleman’s Hour, The Show and groups from places as far away as Minneapolis and Louisville.

The final show of the evening will be an all-video pogram featuring works from participating groups and clips from the upcoming indie comedy film Hamlet 2.

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