Monday, Aug. 11, 2008

Day Three: Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Comedy Festival

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The third annual Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Fest ended with an exhaustive three-program day that saw the stage at the Off-Broadway Theatre more or less occupied for something like 6 hours. That’s a lot of program . . .

4:30 pm Family-Friendly Matinee
Four different groups featuring underage talent performed for a relatively light and healthy matinee audience.



Unrelated
Chicago comedy actor Aaron Caponigro and his son perform as this comedy team in a series of skits that show a great deal of commercial promise. The premise of a talented son coming to overshadow his single, struggling actor father wouldn’t seem out of place in an ‘80’s or ‘90’s sitcom. It’s pretty fun stuff.


Underage Sugar Addicts
This Chicago-based group bills itself as the only independent youth improv group in the country. Ages represented here range from 13 to 17. It’s interesting to watch the basic elements for a really complex and sophisticated sense of humor beginning to develop here…especially in some of the younger members of the group. There is some real talent here that breaks through the corners of performances by a group of kids learning the basics of improv.


Organized Chaos

Gentleman’s Hour member Patrick Schmitz established this group from students of the improv classes he teaches at First Stage Children’s Theatre. Two different groups of Schmitz’s students performed with the kind of skills one would expet from one of the nation’s best youth theatre programs.

7:30pm show

The theatre was nearly packed for the penultimate live show of the festival. The weird energy of the festival peaked with some of the most memorable performances of the entire weekend.



Obsessed
The decade-old improv group from Chicago did a series of long-form skits drawn from a single suggestion. The skits tumbled into each other in interesting ways. An excellent start to the evening.



The Indicators
This Kentucky-based improv group borrowed a format from television—allowing audience to chose between “channels” for different skits that would be performed based on suggestions from the audience. The format is clever enough, but the difference between a thoroughly fun performance and a brilliantly funny one may lie in just a little more time writing and rehearsing.



The Uncle Ukulele Show

Uncle Ukulele is improv comic Nathan Melcher playing a children’s musician. The premise of performing before group of adults as though they’re children and getting them to play along is only as good as the performer. Minneapolis-based Melcher has an exceptional talent for working an audience, which is absolutely essential for an act like this. With little else behind the performance, one is given a great deal of time to ponder the comic juxtaposition of a large man playing a tiny ukulele. The electrificaion of said instrument is priceless . . .



The Gentleman’s Hour


Still operating at 75% with the absence of itinerant stand-up Johnny Beehner the prolific Milwaukee-based group still put on a remarkable end to the 7:30pm show with clever bits including a Milwaukee Brewers version of the popular “Who’s On First” skit, a Nightmare on Elm Street sketch featuring an oddly sympathetic Freddy Krueger and a brilliant piece involving a father accosting his son about his imaginary friend . . . and then confronting the imaginary friend himself . . . very funny.

10 pm Show



Stir Friday Night
A Korean, an Indian, a Chinese, a Japanese and a Philipino walk into . . . uhh . . ONTO a stage and perform some of the best straight ahead improv all weekend. Performing with very few truly dead moments, Stir put together comedy so well-executed it almost looked like it could’ve been entirely written in advance. Very sharp, very tight stuff.



The Show

The talented local sketch group had a couple of solid comedic hits, including a skit about a deer accosting a hunter. There was also a surprisingly funny tongue-in-cheek parody of Greek tragedy in which Doug Jarecki played the hero Testkles, who desperately sought the love of a woman named Klamidia. The humor here was only funny in that they played it perfectly straight and passionate, as though it was a towering work of genius by Sophocles.

The Cool Table
More sketch and improv from Chicago. The fact that Idn’t specifically remember that much about their performance has more to do with the amount of sketch and improv I’d seen by this point in the evening. This was the 22nd group I’d seen perform in thee days. I’d spent 12 hours of the past 72 watching this kind of comedy. It all starts to blur together . . .



Pimprov

The live portion of the festival ended with a performanc by this gimmicky Chicago improv group that exaggerates the clown-like elements of a traditional 1970’s pimp. The gimmick leaves little room fro the kind of adaptability that makes for truly great improv. Though the novelty of the group expends itself really quickly. This particular performance was made all the more bearable by the presence of a charming arts management student who the group had coaxed into being an extended part of the routine.

The festival ended with the Saturday Night Video Jam featuring clips from a number of different groups . . . I was tired, so I went home . . .

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