The worlds of stand-up, improv, and sketch rarely intersect onstage. It’s not surprising; there aren’t a ton of similarities between the rhythms of improv scenes, stand-up riffs, and polished sketches. When the different forms take place in progression, audience expectations usually need to shift, sometimes drastically—but successfully combining the worlds can strengthen local comedy. The late-night variety show Goofballs United aims to do just that.
A collaboration between the Upstairs Gallery and local comedy blog Steamroller, the show provides a place for alternative comics of all mediums to perform side by side. And thus far each week has been curated with acts that feel natural together, in order to ease potentially bumpy transitions. The four shows since January have featured, among others, stand-ups Candy Lawrence and Derek Smith, improv troupes Pizza Party and Big Trees, and sketch outfits Exquisite Corpse and Oh Theodora.
The latest show opened with Upstairs Gallery’s house improv team, Dead$$$, and was followed by well-honed, familiar material from the Puterbaugh Sisters, whose expert handling of a drunken outburst from the crowd actually bolstered their set. Closing the night was Baltimore-based sketch group Wham City, who, perhaps basking in some recent Adult Swim exposure, stopped by Goofballs as part of a national tour. Their out-there sketches and videos, while a perfect fit for the depths of the Internet, can have trouble being translated for live audiences. On this night, however, the atmosphere and companion acts served as the perfect lead-in. Thanks to the show’s environment—a small black-box theater above a performance-art space—and its 11 PM start time, all of the comics are given opportunities to get a little stranger and adopt anything-goes attitudes. United they stand.