Sketchfest NYC 2010The sixth annual Sketchfest NYC, in which 30 different performance groups from around North America converge on Gotham to celebrate the art of sketch comedy, begins tonight and runs through June 12 at the UCB Theatre in NYC. I spoke with several of the producers and performers participating in this year’s Sketchfest NYC about the festival, and how they think this annual event has grown to contribute to the creation of a unified sketch comedy community in New York.

“We throw a three-day party celebrating and honoring something that we all love to do and watch,” says Shayna Ferm, part of the sketch comedy troupe Fearsome and also a solo sketch and musical comedy performer. “Everyone has fun. Everyone meets people. We all get inspired. You remember your Sketchfest experiences and feel like you ‘know’ each other afterward. It’s a big love-fest.” Ferm has been involved in all six years of the festival, not only as a performer but also volunteering, selecting performance groups, and now being part of the producing team for the last two years.

When I first attended Sketchfest NYC four years ago, I immediately felt like I had been initiated as the newest member of some sort of secret club. Three nights of live sketch comedy from some of the best performers across the U.S. and Canada introduced me to the sketch scene in New York, and beyond.

“That’s part of our mission, actually,” says Sketchfest NYC producer Jeremy Lamb. “To increase awareness about sketch, and hook people.”

Sketchfest makes audiences feel like they’ve crashed a weekend-long bender hosted by sketch comedians who also happened to be the best of friends, and who welcome their new audiences with open arms.

“That’s where we got our name from!” says Stephen Soroka, half of the sketch comedy duo BoF (Best of Friends) with Mamrie Hart. “I definitely think the sketch community is a very supportive group. And it’s a good time for sketch in New York right now. There are so many awesome, different groups doing some great stuff. It feels great to be a part of that right now, because a few years ago I was watching these really talented groups perform and they inspired me to get into this. To be able to call some of them friends and to have my group play along side them is a weird, awesome feeling. So many of the groups are really solid, and you want to prove that you belong in their company.”

Mamrie Hart and Stephen Soroka of BoF

Mamrie Hart (left) and Stephen Soroka of BoF

BoF made their Sketchfest NYC debut last year, and the duo opens the sixth annual festival tonight at 7 p.m., sharing a bill with Sketchfest NYC veterans Harvard Sailing Team. “It’s a real treat because Mamrie and I both think they are hysterical,” Soroka says.

“Every great social event — whether it’s theater, sports, American Idol, whatever — has an annual event,” Lamb says. “Hell, even plumbers have conventions — no offense to plumbers or conventions. Sketchfest is a great way for the community to check in. It’s so hard to see everyone’s shows, and the festival atmosphere makes it a little more possible.”

“What’s good about festivals is it gets your material in front of a crowd that may not be there to see you,” adds Justin Tyler of the sketch group Sidecar, “which means it’s a crowd that will give you a more honest laugh, isn’t familiar with your work, and will hopefully tell some friends. Also, it’s nice to be around other performers all doing a show that night.”

"Sidecarmageddon"

Sidecar will perform “Sidecarmageddon” tonight at 8 p.m., as half of a bill with Audience of Two. The group has been performing “Sidecarmageddon” for most of the past year at the UCB Theatre; this will be the final performance of the show in NYC.

“We’ve met so many sketch groups from around the country on our tours, it’ll be great to have them on our home turf at the UCB Theatre,” Tyler adds. “Doing all of the sketch festivals around the country has definitely increased our exposure and put us in contact with tons of people. We’ve performed in the Seattle Sketchfest for several years now, made friends with so many great west coast sketch groups like the Birthday Boys out of L.A., and been invited to do more shows as a result. It’s just great to get out there on the road, even if the Sketchfest NYC road is so close to home.”

Elizabeth Lawrence and Livia Scott have been part of Sketchfest NYC since its beginnings, first as part of the now-defunct all-female sketch troupe Meat and now performing together as Dirty Jeans & Thunderchief for the second year. Their one-act sketch show is about “depressed housewives in the ’70s who think that trying to seduce each others’ sons will bring them some happiness.”

Dirty Jeans and Thunderchief

Elizabeth Lawrence (left) and Livia Scott are Dirty Jeans and Thunderchief

“This is really home,” Scott says of Sketchfest NYC. “Watching sketch as a kid is what turned me on to performing, and this feels like a huge celebration.”

“The first year Meat started [performing at] festivals,” Lawrence says, “I think most festivals had just started, so all these groups – like Troop! from L.A., Elephant Larry and Fearsome from NYC, Flaming Box of Stuff from Seattle, 3rd Floor from Portland, and Animal Club from Chicago – all got exposed to this larger community all at once, and it felt important. I know, weird word, but I feel like I was seeing these groups create amazing sketch, and it influenced me so much as a writer and performer.

“It’s what led me and the original producers of Sketchfest NYC to create this festival,” she continues. “That first year was amazing, and I can still see the influences of these national groups on the local sketch scene. There was such a mutual respect, no sense of competitiveness, and a wonderful friendship that developed between all of us. It was just really cool. It has always been like camp, a chance to see old friends and make new ones with people who ‘get you’.”

Lawrence actually met her husband, Elephant Larry’s Stefan Lawrence, because of their shared interest in sketch comedy. They met while performing with their respective groups in Sketch Fights, a sketch comedy competition predating Sketchfest NYC. “I saw Stefan for the very first time on stage in a dress,” Lawrence recalls. “I sort of knew right then. We actually didn’t start dating till the very first Sketchfest NYC. That was quite the festival for us, and so we are totally connected to each other by sketch.” Fellow performer Kevin Chesley, of the L.A. sketch groups Troop! and The Riot Act, even performed the marriage ceremony.

“The best festivals, like Sketchfest NYC,” Scott says, “are a showcase for a wide variety of people who are incredibly talented in very different ways to come together to see each other’s work and hang out, kind of like a really awesome and fun business conference where groups present their innovations on the art form. One of the most meaningful things I’ve taken away from it is learning what kind of performer I want to be and what matters to me. Some people just come to party and that’s awesome, some groups focus only on impressing industry types and don’t watch other shows — which we think is pretty lame and makes their work kind of boring — and some groups have a huge creative passion for sketch, and strive to blow everybody’s socks off every year and give the audience a special experience.”

Scott is not only performing with Lawrence in Dirty Jeans and Thunderchief, who share a performance slot with Kimmy Gatewood on Friday night. She will also be performing a solo show tonight as half of a bill with “Mace Bacon: The Worst Guy Ever,” and will dance the pasodoble as part of Fearsome’s musical parody “Grease 3: Threase” on Friday as well. Other performers are also lending their talents to each others’ shows; Arthur Meyer, for example, is a member of Pangea 3000 and Two Fun Men, both of which are performing at Sketchfest, and he is also joining Scott and Lawrence on stage in Dirty Jeans and Thunderchief.

Other highlights of the sixth annual Sketchfest NYC include Tom Davis’ “39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There,” in which Davis, one of the original writers of Saturday Night Live, brings his new book of the same name to life on stage tonight; “Sketch Rocks: The Music Show,” hosted by Shayna Ferm; and FUCT, making their Sketchfest NYC debut at midnight Friday. Recent ECNY Award winners Murderfist close out the festival Saturday night.

Shayna Ferm

Shayna Ferm

“Our goal is to find groups that inspire and surprise us,” Ferm says. “As long as we keep looking for that, the festival will continue to grow.”

“SketchfestNYC was literally some of the most fun I had last year,” Soroka says, “and it’s awesome because it’s open to everyone. Groups from all over New York, and beyond, are there, and it’s an all-inclusive party for performers, audience members, and everyone. Come and I’ll get you a beer, and Mamrie will kiss you!”

*****

SketchFest NYC is dedicated to promoting the art of sketch comedy. Sketch comedy, which is different from improv and stand-up, consists of short written scenes, rehearsed beforehand and usually presented by a group of people that can range in size from one to 20 or more. In recent years, the definition has expanded to include the explosion of comedy groups creating short films and distributing them online. The last five years of the festival have featured over 100 different sketch comedy groups from across North America.

Along with Sketchfest NYC and the original Sketchfest in Seattle, annual Sketchfests are held in Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto. SketchFest NYC is produced by Jeremy Lamb, with Shayna Ferm, Kimmy Gatewood, Sam Dingman, Jason Kalter, Ben Masten, and Jon Pack.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit SketchFestNYC.com.

FULL SKETCHFEST NYC SCHEDULE:

Thursday, June 10 [Sketch videos all night from Backpack Picnic]

7pm Best of Friends WITH Harvard Sailing Team
8pm Audience of Two WITH Sidecar
9pm Livia Scott: Live and Let Livia WITH Mace Bacon: Worst Guy Ever
10pm Tom Davis: “39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss; The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There”
11pm Sketch Rocks: The Music Show

Friday, June 11 [Sketch videos all night from Front Page Films]

7pm Two Fun Men WITH The New Excitement
8pm 2-Man No-Show WITH Long Pork
9pm Fearsome presents “Grease 3: Threase”
10pm Team Submarine WITH Last Call Cleveland
11pm Dirty Jeans Thunderchief WITH Kimmy Gatewood: 3000 Miles to Figure it Out
12am FUCT

Saturday, June 12 [Sketch videos all night from BriTANick]

7pm Dave & Ethan WITH Germans
8pm Pangea 3000
9pm Free Love Forum WITH Rue Brutalia
10pm Elephant Larry
11pm Murderfist
12am Festival Closing Party

This story was posted online June 10, 2010 at Blog Stage.

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