Sketchfest NYC 2010The sixth annual Sketchfest NYC began its three-night sketch comedy festival at the UCB Theatre last night, with opening night performances by BoF, Harvard Sailing Team, Audience of Two, Sidecar, Livia Scott, and John Phillips, as well as a special talk with former Saturday Night Live writer Tom Davis and a final hour of musical comedy performances.

As the sketch duo BoF (Best of Friends), Stephen Soroka and Mamrie Hart used their quick wits and wordplay — “We don’t say ‘puns,’ we say wordplay,” Soroka informed me — in an all-new show of fast-paced sketches that coined the phrase “enemends” (not to be mistaken with “frienemies”), gave away prizes to a few lucky audience members, performed inscrutable celebrity impressions, and turned a drug bust into a dance party. Compared with their Sketchfest NYC debut a year ago, BoF was noticeably more confident and looser in their performance, timing, and writing last night.

Like BoF, the guys and gals of Sketchfest NYC favorites Harvard Sailing Team seem to be a happy-go-lucky bunch in their matching polos — until you realize their comedy style is to disarm the audience with a polite smile before punching you in the face. Sketches last night included some of the group’s trademark song and dance routines, “Yo Mama Canada,” and learning that “McDreaming” is an action verb.

Audience of Two

Audience of Two

Audience of Two, comprised of Ben Masten and Sam Dingman, made their Sketchfest NYC debut with inspired sketches about the fantasy of driving a New York City cab versus the crushing reality, having to explain a bad resume at job interviews, and a song about the secret lives of famous authors. (Masten and Dingman have been performing together as Audience of Two for nearly a decade, first as a college radio show and then developing into a print and online humor magazine site, YouTube videos, and more; the group is now focused on live performances, and also performs as part of The PIT’s house improv team Local 154.)

Sidecar‘s high energy half-hour “Sidecarmageddon” incorporated improv and audience interaction as we all faced the sudden end of civilization — and entered a world where the Forrest Gump soundtrack is the only music, “Catbeer” is the one true god, and presidential candidates shotgun beers with their audience.

Sidecar in "Sidecarmageddon"

Sidecar in "Sidecarmageddon"

“We started as an improv group,” Sidecar member Justin Tyler told me before the show, “so our sketch writing process involves a lot of improv. In fact, once we’ve performed a particular sketch several times, improv usually comes back into the process as we play with the dialogue live onstage, finding new jokes or changing others in the moment.” Sidecarmageddon “combines improv and sketch in a nice organic way that we think makes for a real unique sketch show experience. It’s a show that is very much live and in the room, with a lot of audience interaction.” Tyler also revealed that this Sketchfest show was likely the group’s final performance of Sidecarmageddon, as they have begun working on a new sketch show for later this year.

Livia Scott’s one-woman show “Live and Let Livia” showcased the multi-talented performer’s ability to create and bring to life a variety of funny characters. She spent most of her time on stage NOT being Livia, instead embodying a chicken McNugget, the Real Housewives of New Jersey, a precocious 11-year-old British girl, and more in a schizophrenic experiment.

Livia Scott

Livia Scott in "Live and Let Livia"

The show, Scott’s first-ever solo performance at Sketchfest, grew out of her pledge last year to create 365 characters in 365 days. “I’ve made 89, which I’m a little embarrassed by,” she says, “but I never would have made that many if I hadn’t set such a crazy goal in the first place. I hope to have at least 100 but the time it’s done.”

The surprise highlight of the night for me was “Mace Bacon: The Worst Guy Ever,” written and directed by John Phillips and starring Phillips, Mike Still, Christopher O’Connor, and Katherine Bryant Flaherty. Beginning with the delivery of a wildly inappropriate eulogy at the funeral of his friend, Phillips plays the repulsive Mace Bacon, who shows up after a 10-year absence and immediately begins ruining the lives of his “best friend” Mike, Mike’s wife, and Mike’s friend. We’re just glad we didn’t know this guy in college.

Tom Davis turned the focus to sketch writing during his hour-long talk about his new memoir, “39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There,” and screened clips of several classic Saturday Night Live sketches that he co-wrote with Al Franken. Davis taught us that the best way to come up with sketch ideas is to go on vacation to Easter Island with Dan Aykroyd; he also said, “I would advise anybody who’s written a sketch to get Steve Martin to act in it. That’s my number one piece of advice.” SNL icon Chevy Chase even showed up to join Davis briefly on stage, where they reminisced about their early careers — and laughed at every mention of “Senator Al Franken.”

Tom Davis and Chevy Chase

Tom Davis (left) and Chevy Chase

Davis also shared an anecdote about the classic “The French Chef” sketch, in which Dan Aykroyd plays Julia Child as she cuts her thumb and bleeds to death. He said that Child loved the sketch and had a VHS copy of it in her kitchen — which is now housed at the Smithsonian, with the videotape included.

“Sketch Rocks,” which highlighted the musical side of sketch comedy, was emceed by Shayna Ferm. “My sketch group, Fearsome, is the reason I started writing music,” Ferm told me, “and it’s become my main thing. So I have deep gratitude to the sketch world for inspiring me.”

Ellis and Park

Ellis and Park

“Sketch Rocks” featured musical performances by Ferm, Ellis & Park, Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting, Kimmy Gatewood, Snakes, Adira Amram, and more to close out the night. Ferm will also be performing the musical sketch show “Grease 3: Threase” with Fearsome tonight.

*****

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

(All photos by Tracey Wilson.)

This story was posted online June 11, 2010 at Blog Stage.

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