Etch-a-Sketch: Festival Draws Comedy to Big Apple
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre hosts this cornucopia of sketch comedy offerings
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“Where Do Babies Come From?”
“We’re looking for groups that won’t just make people laugh, but will knock the audience’s socks off,” says Alexander Zalben, one of SketchFest’s producers. That’s why, from the 150 groups that auditioned to be in the 5th Anniversary SketchFest NYC, only 34 groups made the final cut.
The lucky ones will storm the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on June 11–13 promoting the best of sketch comedy. Unlike improve or stand-up, sketch comedy consists of short, written scenes, rehearsed beforehand and staged by anywhere from one to 20 people. In recent years, the artistic definition has expanded to include comedy groups that create short films and air them online.
Zalben knows the benefits of new media first-hand. His group, Elephant Larry, started putting video into their shows years ago. “The biggest thing it’s done is give us smoother transitions. Instead of requiring a long blackout to set up for the next routine, a video sketch fills the time, and we’re ready to go back live. With experience, we’re able to realize which sketches need to be on stage, and which are more appropriate for video,” he says.
Also on the bill are featured shows with performers who have made a name in television, such as the cast and crew of MTV’s The College Humor Show. They’ll discuss the transition from a Web site-based sketch comedy to a half-hour television show. Similarly, Kevin McDonald’s Hammy & The Kids explores McDonald’s childhood and his stint as a member of Kids in the Hall.
Many of the sketch groups have a decidedly adult sensibility but for the first time, SketchFest will include Striking Viking Story Pirates, a kid-friendly troupe that adapt stories written by elementary students. The Story Pirates have also teamed with NPR’s Found Magazine to present a show based entirely on real letters and objects people find.
Since 1999, SketchFests have popped up in the U.S. and Canada. Along with the original festival in Seattle, annual SketchFests are held in Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. This year, the cornucopia of offerings in New York are truly astounding. “We want people to come to every show and say, wow! Sketch comedy is great,” says Zalben.