The third annual edition of this showcase of sketch comedy, presented by Lukaba Productions, features more than 70 local and out-of-town ensembles. Some well established, some new to the scene, they represent a remarkable range of styles and viewpoints. The festival runs through January 18 at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, in the venue’s west, south, and north theaters. Performances are Thursdays at 8 and 9:30 PM; Fridays at 8, 9, 10, and 11 PM; Saturdays at 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 PM and midnight; and Sundays at 4, 5:30, and 7 PM. Admission is $10 per show except where otherwise noted; a festival pass costs $60. For reservations, call 773-327-5252.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 15
True Pilsner and The Good Time Hour
The ten members of True Pilsner present Tennis Balls on a Walker. The Good Time Hour–featuring Dunbar Dicks, Ryan Gowland, and Katie Nahnsen–offers “sketch comedy with a dark twist.” West theater, 8 PM.
pH Productions and Head Cheese Fat Boss Productions
pH Productions performs the sketch revue What’s Your Problem, Owl? Head Cheese Fat Boss Productions features the social satire of Patrick Zielinski and Tyler Bohne. South theater, 8 PM.
Flambango and Monsters From the Id
The comedy troupe Flambango promises a show that ranges from “fat to very fat.” Monsters From the Id is a collective of actors, writers, and filmmakers who studied at the Second City Training Center. North theater, 8 PM.
Dark Eyed Strangers
“Mostly the players tackle the same topics as everyone else: cell phones, dating, TV. But the ensemble plays well together, and all six performers are both funny and genuinely likable. Even when their material is merely OK, it’s hard not to root for them,” said Reader critic Jack Helbig of the Dark Eyed Strangers’ recent run at Second City’s Donny’s Skybox Studio. West theater, 9:30 PM.
Perfect Gentlemen and Peel the Onion
Perfect Gentlemen are Dave Taylor and Jeff Madden. “The duo’s familiar material–used-car dealers, small-town politicians, TV-style cops and robbers–isn’t really the problem. It’s the fact that Taylor and Madden never create believable characters we can care about. Even when they play people faced with high-stakes problems … they don’t convey a sense of urgency,” said Reader critic Jack Helbig of the duo’s recent show at Second City’s Donny’s Skybox Studio. Peel the Onion describes its show as “sketch comedy that is true–more or less.” South theater, 9:30 PM.
Jazz Hands Across America and Stir-Friday Night!
The Asian-American ensemble Stir-Friday Night! “tries to capitalize on the fact that it represents a whole handful of Asian cultures: Chinese, Indian, Filipino. [But] the ensemble seems terrified of offending anyone…. Just once I wanted to see the players show a little anger or do something extreme or even discuss something that mattered to them,” said Reader critic Jack Helbig of the troupe’s recent run at Raven Theatre. Jazz Hands Across America improvises musical theater pieces. North theater, 9:30 PM.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 16
Superpunk presents Superpunk III: Superpunk Goes to Hawaii. West theater, 8 PM.
“Suspicious Clowns . . . is a marvel…. If the troupe ever drops its occasional overreliance on formulaic novelty . . . it’s clearly capable of putting something luminous together. But yet another commentary on the twentysomething singles scene may prove too hard to resist,” said Reader critic Nick Green of the group’s appearance at WNEP Theater last spring. South theater, 8 PM.
Arriving from Seattle by way of LA, the Habit offers “a deconstruction of sketch comedy,” according to festival publicity. North theater, 8 PM.
The Third Floor
The Third Floor hails from Portland, Oregon. West theater, 9 PM.
This group hails from California. South Theatre, 9 PM.
Old Man McGinty
This sketch troupe, formed in San Francisco a few years ago, makes its second appearance at SketchFest. “The group eschews the political and topical bent of old-school Bay Area companies like the Committee in favor of freewheeling, whimsical explorations of the American tendency to excess–in food, religion, sex, and general tackiness…. The best of Old Man McGinty’s work is infused with a sly existential desperation, and that rueful angst, combined with the troupe’s verbally and physically acute style, raises them a few notches above other fresh-faced but facile sketch-comedy practitioners,” says Reader critic Kerry Reid. North theater, 9 PM.
Troop! is an LA-based sketch comedy team. West theater, 10 PM.
This New York-based ensemble boasts Chicago roots. South theater, 10 PM.
This New York trio apes a band of “hard-rocking gay German metalheads.” North theater, 10 PM.
This sketch troupe is from New York. West theater, 11 PM.
The Factory Theater Presents
The local company performs a program of sketch comedy. South theater, 11 PM.
Eclectic Muse Productions
The Chicago company performs. North theater, 11 PM.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 17
Directors, writers, and actors trade “anecdotes and advice.” 1 PM. $5.
See listing for 11 PM Friday, January 16. West theater, 7 PM.
Maximum Party Zone
Local trio Maximum Party Zone’s show features “superheroes, vampires, doctors, children’s folksingers, and an administrative assistant.” South theater, 7 PM.
The local group presents An Evening With American Dream. North theater, 7 PM.
The Third Floor: Los Angeles
This is the LA spin-off of the original Portland troupe. West theater, 8 PM.
See listing for 10 PM Friday, January 16. South theater, 8 PM.
See listing for 8 PM Friday, January 16. North theater, 8 PM.
The Third Floor
See listing for 9 PM Friday, January 16. West theater, 9 PM.
See listing for 9 PM Friday, January 16. South theater, 9 PM.
Old Man McGinty
See listing for 9 PM Friday, January 16. North theater, 9 PM.
See listing for 10 PM Friday, January 16. West theater, 10 PM.
Chicken Head is a local group. South theater, 10 PM.
See listing for 10 PM Friday, January 16. North theater, 10 PM.
The Cupid Players
The Cupid Players specialize in musical sketch comedy that features “surprisingly sophisticated lyrics and arrangements,” says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. West theater, 11 PM.
Performers get five minutes to try out new scenes in this late-night showcase. West theater, midnight. Free.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 18
Katie Nahnsen and Red Shoes
Red Shoes present Velvet Tom’s Red Shoe Diaries. “In this cabaret parody of autobiographic musicals, the lecherous, red-shoed Velvet Tom–created and performed by ComedySportz veteran Tom Farnan–is a B-list singer … but an A-level seducer. His motto: Have love, will travel…. Farnan’s easy comedy works, partly because he never takes himself too seriously, partly because the many songs are 80s, 90s, and current pop hits sung as if they were jazz standards. This shouldn’t be that funny, but as performed … songs like Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird’ become strangely hilarious,” said Reader critic Jennifer Vanasco of the show’s run at Profiles Theatre last summer. The program also features a solo turn by Katie Nahnsen, a member of the Good Time Hour. West theater, 4 PM.
Epiphany Purple and pH Productions
Epiphany Purple uses improvisation to explore “deep-seated relationships.” See listing for 8 PM Thursday, January 15, for information on pH Productions. South theater, 4 PM.
Flambango and Off the Radar Productions
Off the Radar Productions is a local group. See listing for 8 PM Thursday, January 15, for information on Flambango. North theater, 4 PM.
Reuptake Inhibiting Productions and The Good Time Hour
Reuptake Inhibiting Productions remounts last summer’s revue Fratricide, a study of gay and straight male behavior. Writer-performer Homer Marrs “takes a poke at some familiar types in these coming-of-age stories: fraternity initiates walk around in bondage gear, two florists argue over who’s the bigger flamer, and a gay romance is recounted with the sweet sincerity of a John Hughes movie,” said Reader critic Nick Green when he reviewed the show’s original run. See listing for 8 PM Thursday, January 15, for information on the Good Time Hour. West theater, 5:30 PM.
Liquid Sketchbook and Head Cheese Fat Boss Productions
Liquid Sketchbook is a local group. See listing for 8 PM Thursday, January 15, for information on Head Cheese Fat Boss Productions. South theater, 5:30 PM.
TORk and Perfect Gentlemen
TORk explores “obsessive people who crave attention,” according to a press release. See listing for 9:30 PM Thursday, January 15, for information on Perfect Gentlemen. North theater, 5:30 PM.
Asterisks Productions and Children of the Absurd
“Asterisks stands out for how well its three writer-performers exaggerate what we say and do in everyday life–without overdoing it. Eric Hunicutt, Jamie Newland, and Paula Pazderka are funniest in their 70 minutes of scenes (and one tacked-on song) when they simply take recognizable personality traits up a notch or two…. Smartly written bits use emotional contrast to good effect, … the show features sleek, stylish transitions, and the performers instantly establish the scenes and characters with tight object work and committed performances,” said Reader critic Jenn Goddu when she reviewed the group’s run at the Playground Theater last summer. Children of the Absurd–Amy Sumpter and Kelsie Huff–promise to “ease the audience into the comfort of belly laughs.” West theater, 7 PM.
The Grand Style and The Embassy
The Grand Style is a local four-person troupe directed by Tim O’Malley. The Embassy presents Red Tape, a “fast-paced pastiche of Americans approaching the absurdity of their daily lives.” South theater, 7 PM.
Family Freud and Dr. Obvious
Family Freud analyzes “the nutty business of relationships.” Dr. Obvious works the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 routine of wisecracking through a bad movie. North theater, 7 PM.