It’s definitely not Saturday Night Live.
That’s not a bad thing either.
And I don’t mean to say that it’s Friday night, even though it is. The familiar televised sketch comedy shows have the advantage of sets and costumes and props and technological wizardry and huge casts and a dedicated writing crew to be funny. When you don’t have that, all that remains is the skill of the actors to create compelling characters.
Stripped to such a raw form, this is where the gold lies. The six troupes that came to the stage in two shows created enough characters to people Middle Earth. Gender, age, species… these actors can do them all. Do you want a octogenarian gunslinger? What about a six year old beauty pageant queen? 2001 apes? Check, check, check. The chance to see so many different troupes indicates that sketch comedy is alive, well, and always involves at least one scene where actors scream at each other.
The first show hosted by Montreal Improv’s Marc Rowland began with Employees of the Year. Sadly, I didn’t catch their set (or enough of it) to know more than there was at least one sketch of radical honesty on a date. Next up, Dink Floyd had a Provigo-theme to their sketches. In one, a man about to go on a date is told by the automatic checkout to put his “penis on the scale” and then “into the bag.” We later see the US President having to make the “President’s Choice” between two types of pasta. Things end with a shark attack. Scenarios involving a mustache and elvish recorder tunes showcase the absurdist fun of this Montreal group.
Boston duo Sawyer and Hurley have been together for 10 years and it shows in their antagonistic/brotherly give and take. Some sketches pit them against each other, such as two old cowboys take ten paces for their final showdown or a hotel clerk and a guest going through a checklist of room needs. Others are like buddy movies. Alan Rickman and John Lithgow make a burrito, with the great line “It’s a sleeping bag full of food.” There’s also a live podcast of a golf game in which they both manage to have creepily Ira Glass-like voices.
The second show of the night was hosted by Al Lafrance, who is planning a 10-year beard festival next year and spontaneously had his rather impressive one stroked. There’s no telling what will happen! First group up, We Just Make This Stuff Up had an improvisational feel and plenty of Random (that’s capital “R” Random). My best example: the superhero duo the Nipple Twins square off against their arch enemy, Reverend Cocktopussy.
Following this was New York group, Action Park, named for the New Jersey theme park. This large group has imaginative sketches (literally!) about Thomas Edison, Back to the Future references, and a police confession done French style. “Time for our two minute strike break!” was the rallying cry of the two cops before things lapsed into a threesome with the guilty woman. This group closed with a Miss Junior America pageant, where six year olds competed and one stage mom yelled, “Show ’em how you twerk, baby,” to her daughter.
The last group to perform, the Dead Dad’s Club, might be plagued by a morbid theme and title, but if you have a chance to see their show, see it. Jason Gore and Kristen Bartlett turn life tragedy into comedy. All the horrific but humorous moments are the details, from finding out to getting a funeral director to scattering ashes to coping afterwards. As an example, when Bartlett finds about her dad’s death, she suddenly wants to procreate… at least, until she finds out she can’t eat brie. Gore concludes, “You want cheese more than a baby.”
Sketchfest continues until May 30. Click here for more information.