Lots to laugh at
Cari Maher, (center), and her colleagues of The Johnson Box will perform at Sketchfest.
Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago
Jan. 5-15; Thursdays at 8, 9 and 10 p.m., Fridays at 8, 9, 10 and 11 p.m., Saturdays at 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 p.m., Sundays at 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 p.m. On Jan. 8, there will be a 1 p.m. performance. On Jan. 7, there will be family programming at 1 and 2 p.m.
$14-$15 per show, festival passes $150-$160
(773) 327-5252, www.stage773.com
Updated: December 27, 2011 7:36PM
All those nights getting together and writing at somebody’s apartment, sometimes fueled by shots of tequila, is paying off for The Johnson Box.
They’re an Evanston-based Internet sketch group that will be making their first appearance at the 11th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, Jan. 5-15, at Stage 773 in Chicago.
“This is one of our first live performances,” said Cari Maher. “We are typically an Internet-based comedy group. We’re kind of doing things a little bit in reverse, in that we launched on the Internet and we’re branching out into live (shows).”
They’ll be performing some sketches that have received the greatest number of hits on YouTube, as well as some lesser-known material.
Other than being discovered as the next funniest group or individual, festivals are what sketch groups live for. And, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival is the largest in the country in terms of the number of performers and audience members. It is the place to get noticed and, more importantly, laughed at.
The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, said founder Brian Posen, started as a fluke in 2000 with 33 sketch groups. This year, there are 138 groups.
In 2000, Posen, a native of Glencoe, was a producer for a musical to be staged at the Theatre Building (which is now Stage 773). However, when production costs for the show became too much, staging it was scrapped. Posen was at a loss for what to fill the seven weeks with until he thought about the sketch groups with whom he’s worked.
“I’m starting to think, ‘What if I give all these sketch groups a slot? Each group has a full week run? What if I put a little festival together and hopefully that sale of the tickets will pay for the rent? I’m going to try to put that together,’ ” he said.
Sketch comedy was starting to become popular at that time, so the first festival was a success as were subsequent festivals.
“My timing was perfect, even though it was a fluke,” he said.
Posen and other Chicago festival organizers have since helped other sketch fests in other cities get up and running, and Chicago’s has grown in popularity over the years.
Today, sketch groups and sketch fans from all over the country flock to the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival every January. Last year saw 10,000 fans attend.
“They continue to come into the heart of winter in Chicago,” Posen said, “because of the vibe that we have and because of the sheer quantity of sketch comedians that we have.”
Sketch, say many of the artists, is a close relative of improv. And Chicago, they say, is the home of improv, so it’s also the home of sketch. Therefore, the Chicago area has an abundance of sketch groups, several of which will be in the festival.
Not just any sketch group can perform at the festival. There’s an application to be filled out and groups must submit a 15-minute video of their shtick. Posen and a panel of judges rates each entrant. In 2011, they received 250 submissions.
All is fair game
There’s a wide variety of sketches touching on an infinite amount of subjects. At this year’s festival, sketch fans could see the Tim & Micah Project, a group of two guys poking fun at artists who take themselves too seriously, or the Alliance Sketch Group, who will perform their musical revue, “There Goes the Gaybarhood,” about the patrons of a gay bar and their relationships, or 136 other shows. (A synopsis of each group and their show can be read at www.chicagosketchfest.com.)
With so many sketch groups from all over the country performing, it will be hard to recognize all of them.
But, audiences might recognize Brooklyn-based Pangea 3000 with Wilmette native Arthur Meyer.
Meyer has a recurring role as the NBC page on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Others from the group have also appeared on the show and they’ve all been contributors to the Onion, a satirical newspaper.
Meyer is reticent to say what Pangea 3000’s sketch is about
other than it’s more like a one-act play that involves four guys who never get around to putting on a show.
But, they are excited to make the trek from New York to do the show about not doing a show.
“I think for Pangea 3000, Sketch Fest is a really fun show,” Meyer said. “We never really expect to get anything out of Sketch Fest except putting on a really good show with an audience. Every year the audience is awesome. It’s a really fun show.”