REVIEW: 12th Annual Chicago Sketchfest

Another Success.

Chicago Sketchfest

Those of you in Chicago have probably heard of, seen or attended the 12th Annual Chicago Sketchfest at some point in the last two weeks. At the very least you’ve seen it advertised on the back of buses, the inside of El cars and flyered all over Lakeview. 169 sketch shows performed by 145 teams over eight days of comedy taking refuge at Stage 773. With a dozen or so staff members and volunteers managing the hundreds of people flooding the lobby, not only was this chaos well controlled and orderly, it was also entertaining. With a scantily clad male cheerleader, George Washington and half-naked man-rabbit (yes, I’ll venture to say that, in this instance, that is a thing) there was always something to witness while waiting in line for the show to begin. Stacey Smith was proudly sporting a tutu and the bar staff was wearing t-shirts exposing chest hair and nipples, which I assumed to be representative of Brian Posen’s, given this year’s Sketchfest marketing materials. 

Chest hair and nipple t-shirts

Due to the NFL playoffs, the flu and a few other prior commitments, I was unable to attend as many shows as I would have liked. However, I did manage to see a number of them. To be upfront, I consider myself a fairly harsh critic when it comes to sketch comedy. I very rarely find shows I like, let alone show I go out of my way to tell others about. However, I was lucky enough to choose wisely over the past few weeks and saw two of the best sketch shows I’ve ever seen. Ever.

The problem I have with most sketch shows is that all too often, they seem like a string of random bits thought up in someone’s apartment that one person thought was funny and as a group, they decided to string them all together. Now, I’m sure the creative process is fun. However, when you decide to put that string of bits on stage, with no logical flow and expect an audience to follow a random, hap-hazard thought process of what tends to be a lot of inside jokes for 45-60 minutes and stay engaged, it’s a little tough. I’m not speaking to any one group, this is just how I feel about sketch in general.

In my opinion, and these are are all my own opinions, the best sketch shows are those that have one overarching theme, weave together story lines and take deliberate steps towards ultimately tying everything up in the final scene leaving the audience feeling complete and pleasantly side-swiped with a face that hurts because their mouth was gaping open in awe and laughter for the last hour. I saw two shows that left me feeling this way and, if given the opportunity, I would absolutely see them again.

They both had three things in common. 1) They had a common overarching theme. 2) They were easy to relate to. 3) They were all acted out honestly and convincingly. They were 4 Days Late and WildCard.

4 Days Late
This show could easily get back on stage for another run (hopefully at Studio BE) and have a sold out crowd night after night and I really hope they decide to do exactly that. Jason, seriously, do it.

I have never left a sketch show so happy before. They did everything right. Their overarching theme was digital. How brilliant? Something we can all relate to and lends itself to many natural punch lines. Another thing 4 Days Late did well was their transitions. Always relevant to the last scene and well choreographed so you knew they didn’t just make it up backstage.

The show opened with the entire cast on stage performing a workout video based on confusing your muscles. Alex Myerchin led the group and continued to shout out various commands to the cast members but always coming back to the view at home, making sure they were good and confused. Genius transition number one, the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It” led from the buff workout video to a Lena Dunham skit. (For those of you who don’t know, Lena Dunham is the writer, director and star of the new critically acclaimed HBO show “Girls.” She also won two Golden Globes for the show Sunday night.) Throughout “Girls,” she tirelessly gives terrible advice to her girlfriends about sleeping around to find love. Which is exactly what this bit is about. Erin Johnson walks onto stage in underwear and a t-shirt, pigtails, a tub of ice cream and a bottle of wine and stumbles around convincing a lonely, desperate Emily Friedrick to f*ck her date in the alley that only smells a little bit like piss. He agrees and she gleefully exclaims, “He likes me” as the lights drop. We then must reflect and ask ourselves, “Why would we listen to love advice from Lena Dunham?”

The following scenes include a young man using his Groupon for confession and an interview in which the potential employer reviews the interviewee’s social media history. It was a perfect example of all of our worst nightmares, where the expletives and competitive rants we proclaim on our Facebook profiles end up costing us jobs. The transition song was a choreographed “Technologic” dance breakdown moving into a hopeless dork’s (Jason Lord) quest to seduce his coworker (Erin Johnson). This scene unfolds as the coworker takes pity on him and decides to help him woo a girl and her suggestions backfire as she begins to fall for him.

The transition song here was “If You Were Here” which led perfectly into a scene with Anna Schlegel and Alex Myerchin reuniting after a year apart in a long-distance relationship. Obviously the two were eager to consummate their relationship in person, but found that after a year of Skype sexing, they had difficulties getting going in person. In hopes that this show runs again, I won’t tell you how it ends, but just know it’s a blast to watch. Pun intended.

As I said, I have never left a show happier. What an amazing, smart collaboration. The greater Chicago area would absolutely benefit from another run of this show.

I have not had the opportunity to see this group prior to this show and I’m kicking myself for it. Casey Whitaker, Rachel LaForce,Carmen Christopher and Greg Worsley killed it. Their whole show was based on relationships and opened with two couples, one married and one clearly friends of the couple who end up drinking too much, heading home together and then rounding off the night with a “touchdown.” We’re fortunate enough to watch these relationships blossom throughout the show.

WildCardMeanwhile, there are parodies including a Mexican game show called “Guess What Food That Is” where they emphasize the very thing we all talk about when we eat at our favorite Mexican restaurants- that everything is pretty much made with the same ingredients, just in a different order. Good move and touché. There were a number of great scenes that followed including Rachel as a recovering alcoholic sister-in-law, Casey as a intoxicated ex-girlfriend confronting former boyfriend on her 30th birthday with old “love coupons” and, a personal favorite, mom’s boyfriend sleeps over and her daughter shits herself. Oh no, what is one to do?

Then there was the interlude where Rachel and Casey gracefully pranced around stage throwing ping-pong balls at one another. It was actually quite entertaining and I greatly appreciated how it transitioned so nicely into a scene where dad had to clean up from practicing his beer pong skills in hopes he could become besties with his daughter’s cool boyfriend, Randy.

Wildcard Wedding

The whole show was great. Everything was polished, honest and came from very real places. However, I’ve never been more blown away by an ending nor have I ever felt more uncomfortable and confused. Everything about the closing wedding ceremony was perfect. As Allison and Denny (the couple from the opening scene) decide it’s time to tie the knot, Casey and Carmen clearly had different plans. I was informed this scene was never rehearsed and a lot of the emotion behind the tears and outrage was very real. As Carmen plays an ordained minister, no one realized he had actually gotten ordained and therefore as he swapped out the characters names for the names of the performers, he did kind of, technically, marry Rachel and Greg, who had no intention of getting married. If I were you, I’d follow up with the team to find out what really happened. I don’t want to give it away, but it was quite a spectacle.

It’s very apparent that this team has great chemistry and camaraderie. This show was well-scripted, filled with colorful characters and was simply a wonderful performance. I left with a heart filled with excitement, a head filled with a curiosity to know more and a sore face because my jaw was hanging open for 60 minutes in awe and laughter.

Lucky for us, WildCard will be performing this show again this Friday night at 8:30pm at Studio BE. For those of you who unfortunately can’t make the show, here are a few video clips of what you can expect to see. However, if you can make it, I recommend seeing it live, so don’t ruin it for yourself and wait until Friday to laugh your ass off. (You’ll have to excuse the extremely loud, intoxicated folks at the beginning of the first recording. Don’t worry, they get kicked out.)

As I said, I didn’t get to see as many shows as I would have liked. Shows I wish I had seen, but didn’t include LaForce & Whitaker, Snooty Pageant, Cowboy Villain, Flying Kittens, Barry Hite: Charisma Machine, the tim&micah project and Cookies and Cream.

Nonetheless, congrats to everyone who got up on stage and gave it their all. It’s always a lot easier said than done. Stage 773 was a wonderfully gracious host and hats off to Brian Posen and team for another successful year.


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posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Reviews

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