Sketch comedy group Garlic Jackson
In 2001, Brian Posen rented the Theatre Building Chicago—now Stage 773—to stage a musical, which fell through. In order to honor the rental commitment, he invited 30 local sketch comedy groups to share stage time and The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival was born. Approximately 2,000 people attended the shows.
Thirteen years later, it’s grown into the largest festival of its kind in the country, with 159 sketch comedy troupes performing 188 shows to 10,000 audience members over eight days. "The first three years, we had to research every group in the nation and court them," Posen said. “And then, starting year four, they started coming to us as the festival became more and more successful."
So successful, in fact, that Posen had to turn away 150 groups this year. "Really good groups, which broke my heart," he said, crediting the fact that with The Second City establishing roots here in the 1950s, Chicago has long been recognized as the birthplace of scripted sketch comedy. "It’s nice—and not in an arrogant way—to know that Chicago is the elite in this art form," he said. "And that we get to continue to celebrate it by hosting some of the best comedy troupes in the world."
The festival highlights Chicago troupes, with The Cupid Players, Stir-Friday Night and The Backrow having participated all 13 years. But national and international troupes are also showcased, such as the L.A.-based Siblings of Doctors—featuring Danny Pudi from NBC's "Community"—plus newcomers including Foil Arms and Hog from Dublin, Echo Sunyata Sibley from Italy and Fratwurst from Toronto and several New York ensembles including first-timers Murderfist and Fuct. "[Both Murderfirst and Fuct] are very 'shock value' and you’ll see a naked fat guy, probably, in each group," Posen said.
With performances taking place simultaneously on four different stages every hour, you can't see them all. So where do you start? While the curation process makes it likely that every show you choose is a good bet, we’ve highlighted one act per night to get you started.
The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival
Go: Thursday through Jan. 19 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Tickets: $14-$15 per show; $37-$57 per one-night pass; $150 per all-fest pass. Buy online at chicagosketchfest.com or call 773-327-5252.
Thursday, Jan. 9: Exquisite Corpse
Claymore Productions—whom you may have seen at The Annoyance, Stage 773 and in residence at The Playground—performs its reality-into-dream-world show based on the 1920s Surrealist art technique of connecting seemingly unrelated scenes through unexpected, overlapping transitions.
Friday, Jan. 10: Boat
The Brooklyn-based trio of Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo and Mike Lane makes its home at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade theater and is currently developing original content for Lorne Michaels’ Above Average network.
Saturday, Jan. 11: Virgin Daiquiri
The all-female ensemble featuring such heavy hitters as The Second City’s Kate Lambert, Annoyance’s Rebecca Sohn, iO’s Dina Facklis and Schadenfreude’s Kate James takes its signature brand of improv—which they’ve been performing at iO since 2007—and adapt it to a sketch format.
Sunday, Jan. 12: Blood Oath
The six-man troupe, whose members hail from Columbia College Chicago, formed in 2011 as a down-and-dirty improv group but moved into the realm of writing to present debauchery-laced scripted sketches for your comedy pleasure.
Thursday, Jan. 16: Barry Hite and Friends: Cavalcade of [Bleep]heads
Chicagoan Hite—a writer for the Second City Network, whose performance gigs have ranged from shows at iO to Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration—rounds up his own band of usual suspects for this show, directed by The Second City mainstage director Matt Hovde.
Friday, Jan. 17: Rabbit Rabbit
Hippity-hop into exponentially multiplying laughs with Chicago duo Andrew Bentley and Chris Blake—originally based out of Virginia—who perform a cerebral yet energetic show featuring dark twists and turns.
Saturday, Jan. 18: Garlic Jackson
The eight-person team—which won the 2013 International Sketch Comedy Championships and has been featured on NBC, MTV, Bravo and VH1—performs a fast-paced set. Their submission tape had the SketchFest curators laughing out loud.
Sunday, Jan. 19: Snack Boys
The local duo—Adam Levin and Mike Migdall—entertains with high-octane, grounded scene work interspersed with pratfalls and pranks and has been featured at iO, The Public House Theatre and the New York City Sketch Festival.
SKETCHFEST PRO TIPS
-Plan to arrive 20 minutes early so that you can pick up your tickets, grab a drink at the lobby bar—yes, you can take your drink into the theater—and enter the correct line for the show you’re seeing.
-Attending on Saturday? Buy your tickets beforehand; Saturday shows tend to sell out early.
-Attending on Friday? Purchase a one-night pass and get more bang for your buck: five shows for roughly the price of three.
-Overwhelmed by the amount of groups in the fest? Lobby greeters can guide you to the shows most suited to the types of humor you like best.
-Many seasoned fest-goers see two earlier shows in a row, leave to grab a bite in the neighborhood and return for a late show.
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