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Sketchfest Explorer: Part 1

Hundreds of performers come together to make a finely calibrated machine of funny.
Tuesday Jan 10, 2012.     By Rory Leahy
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Chicago Sketchfest, now in its eleventh year, is an efficient (as can be expected) finely calibrated machine of funny.

Chicago has long been one of the capital cities of sketch and its twin brother, improv. Sketchfest does a brilliant job of highlighting not only the many great local groups that perform here year round but also attracts top talent from all over the English speaking world.

The action happens at Lakeview’s Stage 773, a theater which contains four separate performance spaces. Over the eight nights of the festival, a group performs in each space for one hour or less, allowing hundreds of performers to shine onstage.

And shine they do. Sketchfest is selective and highly committed to quality. I’m happy to report that the most obvious objective was achieved: every group that I saw in Sketchfest’s first week made me laugh. A lot.

Among the great ones I saw: Happily Ever Laughter. This undergrad group from Vassar College follows in the footsteps of the Harvard Lampoon and the Cambridge Footlights in the time honored tradition of smartasses brought together by elite universities.

The New Jersey group Upset Triangle impressed me with their high concept surrealism. The flagship show of Sketchfest is arguably Chicago’s own Cupid Players, if for no other reason than it contains the festival’s founders. Cupid has a continuous musical theatre format that explores the eternal theme of loooooooooveee.

Far and away the best of what I saw was the Seattle based duo Charles. These absolutely brilliant writer performers made the audience howl with unabashedly highbrow material mixed with low, what they call “unibrow” comedy. In practice this meant 10th century ethnic humor (“Who cut this wool, a Gaul?”) jokes about Thomas Jefferson, HP Lovecraft and quantum physics. But they still find time to do bits based around Arsenio Hall, large breasts and the ghost of Patrick Swayze.

Next week: Part Two!

 

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