Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009

Early Saturday Night at Milwaukee Comedy Fest '09

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The 4th Annual Milwaukee Comedy Festival kicked off its third day with a series of groups from out of state. 

Local comic Kevin Gerrity opened the early show with some stand-up. 17 years old, Gerrity’s stand-up felt very natural. So much stand-up is an attempt to tell the same three jokes in a different way . . . Gerrity avoided the traditional stand-up delivery posture and managed to develop a rhythm right around the time he ran out of time. The best material was about his father . . . the delivery of which ended up sounding very conversational . . . the abrasively annoying posturing so common to stand-up was pleasantly absent. Gerrity’s work played pretty well to the side of the room . . . like last year, other comic acts sat along the sides of the thrust stage at the Off-Broadway Theatre . . . and as last year, there were moments where the laughter was much stronger away from the center of the audience.

The first group act performed right after Gerrity. The Dingleberries  are a relatively new group out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Aaron Burns, Nick Holland, and Keegan Hill performed a mix of sketch and improv, opening things off with the endearing story of a child being tormented by a sock puppet demon from hell. The premise of a demon that has intimate knowledge of everything the child had done wrong over the course of a day is actually really clever. The punchline on the piece actually kind of pulls the punch on an otherwise fascinating premise, but this is a group just starting to find its own comedic voice. One of the more interesting bits of improv involved a volunteer from the audience being handed a prop gun . . . the three Dinglberries lined-up, backs to the volunteer and the volunteer handed the gun to one of them. Ideally, this involves only on of the three knowing who has the gun . . . and then they improv a comic sketch involving the gun . . . it’s a bit weird, but definitely novel. The gun in question was a cap gun, which ended up being kind of a surprise . . . and the first of two times a gun would be used for comic effect in the 5:00 show . . .

 The 6th Borough was out next . . . they’re from Boston . . . evidently the joke there is that so many people move from New York to Boston that it’s actually just an extension of that city . . . evidently it’s a pretty common joke in Boston . . . the group the 6th Borough consists of a group of people who, as near as I can make out form the website aren’t from New York. A a sketch comedy group, the Sixth Borough ventures into some pretty offbeat places, which is always appreciated. An early sketch involved an alien from a technologically advanced civilization trying to keep two vapid barflies from hooking-up. These two people have sex and the world ends. Clever stuff. The goup probably reaches its most esoteric stuff in a sketch involving a mother, a father and a son on the Oregon Trail. It’s actually a very intricate and sophisticated that extensively referenced the old educational computer game. What with the popularity of the game, there’s a pretty good bet that someone else in the audience got the reference. The 6th Borough has an edgy kind of charm to it not entirely common among sketch comedy groups.

The Jerk Practice was the final group on the program . . . originally from Minnesota, the group has been around for a number of years, now calling New York its home . . . the group tended to edge more towards the obvious end of the comedy spectrum . . . there was an extended bit involving Jerk Mitch Rose as the catchphrase-spouting cop who doesn’t play by the rules . . . the kind found in every action film and late-night police drama ever made . . . the group mixed video segments with live performance . . . Here’s a comic commercial that appeared in the festival. It’s actually a pretty good representation of the type of stuff the Jerks do. Other bits included a Carter/Cash-esque music skit that was pretty charming. Early on, the group did a fun little Hitchcockian skit involving nearly everyone in the group attempting the perfect murder. The video segments (which included a mockumentary involving “one on none” basketball was kind of clever. Jerk Practice has a number of videos available online and for the most part the group’s comedy plays just as well on the internet as it does in person, so one doesn’t actually have to be in New York to see them, but their performance here wasn’t half bad . . .

The 5pm show ended with The Uncle Ukulele Show.  Minnesota-based funnyman Nathan Melcher has a really unique comic voice. His Uncle Ukulele character plays on everyone’s desire to be children . . . and then takes it in an interesting direction. The character plays a ukulele for all the adult “children” in the audience . . .it’s like Mr. Rogers with beer. Melcher talks directly to the audience and everybody seems really comfortable with playing along . . . There’s an interesting fusion taking place at a Uncle Ukulele show—adults have a kind of mythical understanding of childhood—that it’s this amazing time in your life where every day is a new adventure and you have no responsibility. This perception is overrated. This doesn’t take into effect the fears, stresses and responsibilities that are very real for even very young children. Being a child is just like being an adult, except you have no power or authority. It’s all too easy to forget that . . . and an Uncle Ukulele show melds adulthood with childhood in a very appealing way. There’s a real depth behind the laughter here . . . there’s a very real emotional center here and Melcher is talented enough to make it look effortless.

 

And . . . as I was going to be missing a huge chunk of the festival on Friday anyway . . .I’d been toying with the idea of seeing less of the festival this year . . . so I missed the 7:30pm and 10 pm shows . . .and I know I missed a lot, but when you watch . . . 16 hours of live comedy in the same weekend, it all sort of blurs together. That’s not to say that I’m not interested in doing the full festival again next year . . . It’s a pleasure to be able to take-in less . . . and rest-up for next year.

Having lost Gen Con to Indiana some time ago, Milwaukee seemed to have lost some of the long-standing imported weirdness that lurked around the city in early august. Now in its fourth year, the Milwaukee Comedy Fest is bringing back substantial amounts of the Weird to downtown Milwaukee at the end of the summer. Every year, it’s a little bigger than the previous year. Judging from the rather large group of people filing in for the 7:30pm show last night, the appeal of the festival continues to grow, which makes the festival ride a kind of edge of respectability—the kind that naturally drives out the weird.

I was waiting outside the theatre between shows last night when I saw Tyler Kroll of the Gentlemen’s Hour walking out with a few other people to get some props . . . Kroll had mentioned that he was heading out to get some swords and chainmail. “Regular Saturday night stuff.” For someone with fond memories of Gen Con, it was vaguely reassuring seeing a group of people carrying shields, costume weapons and wooden chests into a building downtown. . . it’s very reassuring to know that the Weird still has a place in this town in early August . . . The Milwaukee Comedy Festival  closes today with three family-friendly teen shows. The last day of the festival starts at 3pm today . . .

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