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Comedy Mon Jan 09 2012
Two local duos, three troupes, and a musical trio rounded out my experience on Day 3 of Chicago SketchFest 2012. So without further ado...
Chicago sketch/improv group Honorary Degree opened their set with a brilliant skewering of improv comedy conventions ("Can we get a suggestion for a Gary Sinise movie?"), before launching into sketches involving a list of weird babysitter demands, pillow factory job hazards, and a hilarious take on film noir.
A reoccurring bit about "Beatles songs if the lyrics were written today" stayed surprisingly fresh, and the 4-person group plowed through some very tight and funny sketches before capping-off with a great twist ending. A sketch about war veteran stories didn't completely work, but otherwise, they were one of the most consistently-funny groups I saw over the past three days. Check them out around town if you get a chance.
Second City faculty members (and Chicago SketchFest 2012 staffers) Tim Soszko and Micah Philbrook joined forces for a self-proclaimed "Best-of" collection of sketches from their duo, the tim & micah project. Unlike some other groups, it felt like they spent exactly the amount of time they needed to for each scene. As a result, their weird and surreal sketches about topics such as a wizard's duel, recording an R&B track, and synchronized gymnastics seamlessly flowed into each other at a refreshingly quick pace.
Their tightly-choreographed use of sound and lighting gave their performance an almost cinematic feel, and the duo made excellent use props, custom acapella songs, and their own fantastic acting chops throughout the show. Their "best-of" act was easily the best of the acts I saw on Day 3.
Like the tim and micah project, local improv veterans Dave Urlakis and Sean Cusick came together for their aptly-named act, Urlakis & Cusick. The business suit-clad duo opened with a hilarious takedown of Human Resource directors, before addressing topics such as ashamed dads, sadistic dentists, and a hilarious scene about the Chicago Red Line that reminded me of the classic Abbott and Costello "Who's On First?" routine.
I loved their ability to mention something from the past within a scene, jump into a hilarious tangent based on that, then launch back into the original scene (sort of like the "Family Guy" flashbacks, but longer and funnier). My only complaint was that a few too many of their punchlines relied on pop culture references - which got audience laughs, but made me wonder what else these two very talented performers could have come up with instead. That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Urlakis & Cusick and hope to check out their other respective projects in the future.
Despite being a bit uneven, I really enjoyed New Jersey's Upset Triangle. The 5-person troupe's sketches included nipple-loving angry gorillas, redneck job hunters, a French reinterpretation of "Home Alone," and a contentious debate over a slang term for not wearing underwear.
A reoccuring gag about Nigerian princes was a bit stale, but their "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" jokes went into some unexpected and funny directions. One thing I noticed (that someone I talked to after their performance also pointed out) was that several of their sketches started out strong, but faltered towards the end without a strong twist or conclusion. While not consistent, I still thought they were a fun group to watch.
The thing that stood out to me the most about Philadelphia's Camp Woods was how specifically random and absurd the premises of their sketches were. A small-town bar anecdote involving Brad Pitt and several Piggly Wiggly cashiers and a bedtime story about a hermit crab living in a lonely man's butthole were complimented by video sketches of a detective's embarrassing reaction of Mariah Carey songs, a vomiting mail slot, and fake television show "Baby Hoarders!"
Like Upset Triangle, some of Camp Woods' sketches worked better than others, but I was left impressed with their ability to take a weird idea and run with it in a charmingly goofy direction.
Lola Balatro is a musical trio... who decided to bring a personal servant and a biker clown wearing a rainbow-colored 80's wig along for their performance. Songs included a bossa nova ballad about cock rings, a Nickelback/Staind style-song about healthy living and other tunes about celebutantes, sex with one testicle, and feeling proud of oneself for having more than one black friend.
Given the range of musical styles they covered, all of the songwriting was excellent, and both the song lyrics and banter were clever and perfectly-timed. I loved the subtle ways they were able to give a hilarious performance - the punchlines were delivered with a serious "we're rockstars" demeanor, the clown would close his eyes and groove to the music in his chair, and the waiter would occasionally walk onstage to sing parts in an operatic vibrato. The presence of these two additional characters added a lot, and pushed the act beyond just a bunch of guys playing funny songs and into a wholly unique comedy experience.
Despite my individual criticisms, I genuinely enjoyed every act I saw during Day 3. If you are reading this and haven't attended Chicago SketchFest 2012 yet, you still got time next Thursday-Sunday. At the very least, go next Saturday, January 14th for the second showings of Urlakis & Cusick and the tim & micah project. You'll thank me later.