In 2014, when famous improvisers TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi relinquished control of the Mission, the duo's theater, Tribune critic Chris Jones all but announced sketch comedy outside of the walls of the Second City to be dead. Comedian (and artistic director of Stage 773) Brian Posen's brainchild, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, disputes that notion. This year's fest features more than 180 different sketch groups, its largest lineup yet.
SketchFest's 15th edition is nearly an even split of new and returning groups, with many of the latter reuniting after spending years not even speaking. "When we approached this landmark we said, 'Let's dream,' " Posen says. "We looked back over the last 15 years and created our dream list." And with only a few phone calls, they were able to book nearly every act on that list.
T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley) and Danny Pudi (Community) return with their original groups—Heavyweights and Siblings of Doctors, respectively—along with other reunited acts like Superpunk, Brick, and Party Central USA.
"The festival keeps redefining itself because every year we get new people," Posen says. "Sketch comedy is exploding. The first couple of years we really had to seek out to get just 30 groups. Now we have hundreds and hundreds that we turn away." Groups making their SketchFest debut include female-positive Bevvy and brand-new Creamy Barracuda.
In the past couple of decades that Posen has been in the biz, he has noticed a few emerging trends, like solo sketch acts and more involvement with technology—for example, the Laser Comedy Show, in which one man uses lasers to create scenery and characters. But the core of sketch comedy, just as during the days of The Carol Burnett Show, remains the same—it's the perspective that changes. And despite what Mr. Jones had to say, there are still plenty of new, entertaining perspectives.
"What's always new is presentation and the group's voice—that's what's interesting," Posen says. "Twenty years of watching sketch comedy I still go, 'Ooh, look at that!' v