Friday, Aug. 7, 2009

Milwaukee Comedy Fest Day One

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The Milwaukee Comedy Festival opened last night with the kind of offbeat variety of comedy that the festival has been trying to embrace. The first two-and-a-half hour program was firmly grounded in the Midwest, with work representing Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

 

Angus Macabre and the Zombeatles—The show opened with stand-up from Madison in the form of Scottish zombie comedian Angus Macabre.

Much of the zombie-related material in the act felt a little . . . um . . . dead. There was a parody of Ginsberg’s Howl that was pretty novel for stand-up. Macabre’s funniest bit had to be the first ever (and, most likely, inadvertant) Milwaukee Comedy Fest/Shark Week tie-in as Macabre did a puppet-based To Catch A Predator spoof—a bit based on the idea of what the popular series might be like on the Discovery Channel.


After Macabre was finished, the show drifted into a video mockumentary hosted by Macabre about a zombie Beatle spoof-band. Mixing the Beatles with zombie comedy, you pretty much get what you expect. All You Need Is Brains runs a pretty tight course, covering all of the obvious humor to be had . . . the actual band will be performing at Shank Hall on the 28th.

 

LeeRick--The long form comedy pairing of Lee Rowley and Rick Katschke is interesting. Taking the suggestion of “violin” from the audience, the two promptly went into a sketch about someone auditioning for the “Portland Symphony.” Evidently he had to impress a guy from Germany who got bored and went to a basketball game. The finer points on the comic potential of a European symphony big-wig at a Portland Trailblazers game were largely lost here. LeeRick tends to go for the comedy of the uncomfortable . . . the funniest moment here was when someone had to get doughnuts for the visiting German . . . and Rowley and Katschke had to work out exactly how much detail they needed from the doughnut-end of the comedy . . .

 

The M.U.T.E.S. --The Marvelous Unspeaking Troupe of Entertaining Scoundrels made their comedy fest debut with a couple of sketches on opposite ends of the program. The premise of doing live slapstick performances in the style of old black and white silent films comes across with remarkable wit. Costuming, props and title cards are all in black and white with old-timey musical scores backing them up. On one level, it’s interesting to fuse live slapstick done in a vintage style with the film imperfections and harsh light of the imagination and simply let a M.U.T.E.S. performance form into a vintage silent film somewhere on the edge of perception. On a whole different level, it’s interesting to see this group of silent actors trying to revive the age-old art of classic slapstick. Hopefully this ends up being more than an experiment. There’s a wealth of material to play on here and as they do so without language, there’s a kind of clever universality to the comedy that could gain a pretty big following. The M.U.T.E.S. have one more performance on the festival at the 7:30 pm show on Saturday August 8th.

Stripper's Picnic--Traditional long-form improv from a Chicago-based group that’s been around for a couple of years. The group took a traditional drinking motif and ran with it. The seven-person group  come from a geographically diverse background. The comedy ranged from white collar to white trash to upper class. Some of it was cute. Some of it was funny. On the whole it was a very polished improv ensemble.

The Picnic remains in Milwaukee for at least one more evening as they will be performing two shows tonight (at 8pm and 9pm) at the Alchemist Theatre.

 

Meanwhile—Local improv group  Meanwhile seemed to have the most success last evening. The group is a really good combination of different comedic styles the blend together really well. It’s not surprising that they’ve been routinely selling out performances . . .they’re funny. And last night’s performance had a really dark edge to it that I appreciated a great deal.

The group consists of several people I’d seen working in various projects before . . .Nick Firer, who most recently played the Brit in the last Pink Banana show, Lee Rowley of LeeRick, Beth Lewinski who was in a recent production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Alex Grindeland who I remember from Matt Kemple’s living room . . .  the combined comedy is great . . .

Like Stripper’s Picnic, Meanwhile did rapid-fire improv based on a few suggestions—one of which was, oddly enough, Ghostbusters . . . the group riffed on the idea with a series of interrelated sketches about a heavily merchandised kid’s show evidently starring a character named Captain Collectible (played here by Alex Grindeland.) The irony here was that the Captain collectible was life-sized and actually . . . not at all collectible . . . but the idea of a toy that runs off to kill the children whose thoroughly indifferent parents buy it ended up being substantially darker than expected . . . and not at all the type of thing I’d seen in improv before.  Very interesting stuff.

I also distinctly remember seeing an improv bit featuring Madagascar 3 a delightful children’s film in which the characters from the first two films kill themselves. It’s hard to explain why it was funny . . . there’s an oddly subtle humor about Nick Firer as a bear writing a suicide note amidst a stage full of dead animals . . . Meanwhile has the ability to make even excessively dark material seem kind of sophisticated. Fun stuff.

Meanwhile performs every other Friday night at the Alchemist Theatre. Their next show is 10pm tonight after Stripper’s Picnic . . . so it looks like roughly 40% of last night’s Comedy Fest will be appearing at the Alchemist tonight . . . weird . . .

 

The Milwaukee Comedy Festival continues through Sunday.

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