The sixth annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, which closes this weekend, is the largest event of its kind in the nation, cementing the city's reputation as the mecca of the improv and sketch world. Founding producer Brian Posen, a teacher at the Second City Training Center and Columbia College, says Thursday features "seasoned local groups," Friday and Saturday "the best sketch comedy groups from Chicago and across the continent," and Sunday "up-and-coming groups." Participants were selected on the basis of stylistic, thematic, racial, and gender diversity as well as quality in order to provide a cross section of the North American comedy scene.
Presented by Lukaba Productions, SketchFest runs through January 14 at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, filling its three auditoriums with back-to-back sets by four to six acts per night. This weekend's lineup includes Kasper Hauser (Fri-Sat 11 PM), a clever four-man San Francisco ensemble whose new show is based on their just-published parody of mail-order catalogs, SkyMaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy From a Plane. Also from out of town: New York's Elephant Larry (Fri-Sat 10 PM), five Cornell University alums noted for their fast-paced performances; LA's Fries on the Side (Fri 10 PM, Sat 11 PM); Last Call Cleveland (Fri 8 PM, Sat 10 PM); the Canadian companies PunchDrysdale (Sat 8 PM) and Dance Party of Newfoundland (Fri-Sat 10 PM); and The Cody Rivers Show (Fri-Sat 9 PM) from Bellingham, Washington, whose character sketches incorporate dance, music, and slapstick.
Among the Chicago acts is Blewt! Productions' game show Don't Spit the Water! (Sat 11 PM), in which anything-for-a-guffaw comics try to get audience volunteers in funny hats to laugh and spit out a mouthful of water. Other local offerings include the Cupid Players (Fri 9 PM), who specialize in witty satirical songs; Abby & Erin, about a married heterosexual and a single lesbian (Sat 7 PM); Monsters From the Id (Fri 8 PM), a SketchFest participant since the first year; the Asian-American ensemble Stir-Friday Night! (Sat 6 PM), the multimedia ThoseGuysFilms.com (Sun 7 PM); pH Productions (Sat 7 PM), which is bringing back its 2006 hit Sick/Personal Day; and Cowboy Don Productions (Sun 7 PM), whose Media by Us spoofs the world of small-market media. Representing the next generation of sketch comedians is Off-Off Campus (Sun 4 PM), a student group at the University of Chicago--where improv and sketch comedy date back more than 50 years, when students and Hyde Park hipsters founded the Compass, forerunner of Second City.
Tickets are $12 per show; one-night passes are $20 Thursday, $40 Friday and Saturday, and $25 Sunday. A full schedule is online at chicagosketchfest.com. For reservations, call the Theatre Building at 773-327-5252 or Ticketmaster at 312-559-1212 (ticketmaster.com).
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Kasper Hauser.