Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011

2011 Milwaukee Comedyfest: Day Two

Beginning the new theatre Year With Funny—the second two programs

By Russ Bickerstaff
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In Day two of the 2011 Milwaukee Comedyfest, the mood rolled into a different rhythm with three different programs featuring a Stand-up comic followed by a sketch comedy group followed by an improv group and ended with another sketch group.

THE FIRST SHOW

I couldn't help but notice that my new favorite spot in ComedySportz's main stage was co-occupied by a rather large synthesizer. Didn'€™t know exactly what that meant until I saw Grendale native Bryan Myers walking in shortly before the show. Evidently he'd been contacted on sort of a spur of the moment thing to do musical accompaniment to the show. With so many acts having their own musical stuff pre-set for the program, Myers didn'€™t have a chance to do that much, but what he did really added to things.

The first show was opened with the standard run-of-the-mill warm-up stand-up comedy of Dobie Maxwell. The Milwaukee native now living elsewhere did well-received jokes about . . . uhh . . . Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

Maxwell'€™s stuff was such conventional Wisconsin-themed stand-up that it seemed positively surreal when contrasted against the first act of the evening: Local sketch comedy group Broadminded. The group did excerpts from stylistically interesting and progressive work previously seen onstage. . . I think all of it was from their last show Blood is Thicker Than Liquor. If I recall correctly, Patrick Schmitz mentioned in the group'€™s intro that they'€™re the longest running sketch comedy group in Milwaukee. Congratulations go out to them if I heard that correctly and Patrick Schmitz wasn'€™t hideously wrong in the assessment, Really, it could'€™n'€™t'€™ve happened to a nicer group of people. Consisting of ComedySportz alums Anne Graff LaDisa and Melissa Kingston and Second City grads Stacy Babl and Megan McGee, Broadminded is a reasonably prolific group that produces stuff that is fiercely intelligent, even when if feels kind of stupid. The group did solidly good work here. And having seen it all before, I was happy see much of it received pretty well. The old school vampire/younger modern vampire juxtaposition sketch didn't do as well here as it did when I originally saw it, but the sketch featuring Megan McGee and Melissa Kingston caught in an elevator may have received the single best audience response of anything else on the festival thus far. It's a political piece that really taps into the dichotomy between the optimism of voting vs. the perfectly rational pessimism in a system filled with brainless money puppets like those in Madison. Really brilliant stuff and it tapped into an educated audience'€™s inner civic conflicts.

 

The show continued with an appearance by International Stinger--€”long form Chicago-based improv that felt remarkably well rendered. The group’s forte as seen last night had to be its ability to render a really structured plot arc. (And these things improv things NEVER have coherent plots--never.) To kick things off, they asked for an initial suggestion from the audience and after someone has suggested a "€œrace riot," the group accepted the SECOND suggestion . . . the much more innocuous â€"family reunion." (And still managed to do satire on racial bigotry--well played, International Stinger--well played. . . ) The family reunion theme allowed a rather large improv ensemble from Chicago to do a remarkably well-rendered all-adult family with some pretty intricate conflicts. The fact that it was funny more often than not while still managing a pretty compelling story is on heck of an accomplishment, but no surprise given how highly recommended they come, having trolled about festivals all over the country.

The first program of the evening closed-out with a performance by sketch comedy group The Don'€™t We Boys.

It's a group of three guys from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Joe Anderson, Dave Lyzenga and Matt Strenberg do conceptually interesting sketch comedy. What I really like about these guys is that they don'€™t mind doing really, REALLY brief pieces on occasion. The lights fade-out. The lights rise and there they are one of them sitting across from the other two. He says something like, "€œmom, dad €”I'™m adopted."€ They react with surprise. Lights fade. End scene and when the lights raise again, thy’re on to the next one. They’ll also do longer stuff. My favorite of their longer stuff was a couple of kids running across a third in the woods . . . one who was abandoned years ago in a game of freeze tag. Some pretty clever dialogue in that one . . .

THE SECOND SHOW

The 10pm show started kind of late. Leading into that show, Bryan Myers did another absurdly charismatic performance of That's Why Nobody'€™s Happy. Having heard that song for a third time now, I really want it on MP3. It'€™s a very, very classy bit of pianowork that is cleverly wrapped around some interesting wit. (I hope he'€™s recorded it.) After that he managed a comic duet with the lighting (?) that ended up being kind of clever and kept things rolling and actually served a suitably charismatic opening to Beth Lewinski'€™s stand-up that started the second show of the second evening.

Beth Lewinski is a great actress. She's a great writer. Here she did stand-up. And it was refreshingly conversational. The clever thing here is that, though the material is quite conventional, it didn't come across as being stand-up. It felt more like she was telling you a story over a beer-- a really great way to disguise he monotonous conventions of stand-up . . . and actually pretty funny material drawn from her own life. Nice stuff.


The first sketch group of the second show of the second night was billed as a Milwaukee group, which is only half the story. It'€™s a Milwaukee group doing material written largely by a group of people in Chicago. Bye Bye Live Milwaukee features some really great people. Nate Press is a deeply, deeply charming comic talent. Beautifully angular Cynthia Kmak has great comic instincts. And everybody else here is pretty good, too. If you'€™re going to see this sketch comedy show more than once, you'€™re really going to see it for these people. The material is okay when you'€™ve reached the right level of inebriation, but it's the connection with the performers that would make you want to see it more than once. And because I'm particularly fond of Press and Kmak and would really like to be fond of the other people in the show, I really hope that there are people who enjoy them enough to want to make this show a regular monthly thing for them. I like the fact that they'€™re working and I love the fact that they're working in a show like this for some reason. Aside from them, it's actually pretty bad comic material. But it'€™s worth it to know that they're still getting regular work on the stage where they so clearly belong. These are talented comic performers. All of them. If you haven'€™t seen the show, do. If you have seen the show, isn'€™t it worth sitting through the material again, just for a chance to see the local Milwaukee ensemble? Well, isn'€™t it?

 

The second show of the evening continued with Al & Jim'€™s One Man Show. The strikingly buff Alex Gridneland and the reasonably tall Jim Boland have been doing long form improv for . . .gosh it's been months now . . . their performance here consisted of a word chosen at random from an issue of Playboy, which was then used to create free-form (presumably) autobiographical monologues that then became the basis of improv sketches first performed by each comic individually, and then integrated into each other in a big mega-crossover at the end. As witnessed by the performance last night, these guys are really, really good at improv slapstick . . . and seeing as how improvised physical comedy comes across as being kind of novel, that'€™s probably the most memorable thing about this duo. That being said, they really, really seem to be a really, really interesting comic combo that could prove to be really interesting as the dialogue between the two progresses.

The second show of the evening ended with a performance by Chicago sketch group Butch LaRue.

LaRue is fun semi-standard improv set-up with brief sketches juxtaposed against longer ones . . . think of a slightly more literate SNL and you're probably on the right track. It's a solidly entertaining group. They edged over into cleverly contemporary political territory with a recurring bit that never quite got old featuring a pair of federal agents breaking-in on various things which are €œ"too big to fail."€ Oddly enough, the most novel skit here had to be a conversation between two air dancing, tube dancing inflatable sky puppets. (You know--€”the towering wind-powered figures with the crazy hair who end up hanging out by auto dealerships and suchlike near highways.) Normally this kind of material would seem kind of boring, but the Butch LaRue ensemble keeps it interesting enough to keep it fun for the entire set.

Milwaukee Comdey Fest continues through August 7th at ComedySportz on 420 South First Street.    

 

 

 

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