Comic Thread breaks loose at Sketch Fest
The 12th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Jan. 3 through 13
Tickets are $14-$15
(773) 327-5252 or visit www.stage773.com
The Comic Thread performs at 6 p.m. Jan. 5.
Updated: January 4, 2013 1:36PM
Organized as a place holder 12 years ago, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival has aged remarkably well.
It’s now the largest festival of its type in the country, and in its 12th incarnation Jan. 3-13, will showcase 145 local, national and international comedy troupes performing 169 shows over eight days.
The first Sketch Fest in 2002 was hurriedly improvised in 2002 by Glencoe’s Brian Posen to replace a canceled show he’d been producing. A year later it went national.
And now ... “We’re exploding,” said Posen, now also the artistic director of Stage 773.
Posen began his comedy career training at Second City before becoming a teacher there for eight years beginning in 1993. “We had more than 10,000 people coming to see the shows last year. Performers are coming from all around the world to put on maybe two shows for a total potential audience of 300 people. Why? Because they want to be part of what’s happening here.
“And because it’s just SO . . . MUCH . . . FUN,” he added with a laugh.
One reason Sketch Fest has been so successful, Posen said, is that there are many, many more sketch troupes in town now after the ’90s improv comedy boom that inspired improv students to learn sketch comedy as a “sister art.” But he also believes the positive, nurturing atmosphere at the Sketch Fest, which emphasizes community over competition (no formal awards are given and participants are given free access to all shows), attracts performers year after year.
That spirit of community is the main reason Charles Turck is looking forward to his first Sketch Fest performance Jan. 5 with the Highland Park-based troupe The Comic Thread.
“I’ve heard such great things about the camaraderie there,” said Turck. A former Oak Park/Highland Park resident and a longtime member of the Thread (with co-founders Nicolas DeGrazia of Highland Park and Matt Birnholz of Chicago), he commutes from the Boston area for performances whenever possible. He wasn’t able to participate in the past three fests, however, when TCT sold out all of its performances and was voted the Audience Choice award last year.
The group’s 40-minute set at this year’s Sketch Fest (also featuring Chicago comics Meg Grunewald and Daphne Scott) will emphasize scenes from its prize-winning appearance at last year’s Chicago Fringe Fest including: Wendy Darling’s confusion and suspicion when she realizes Peter Pan is actually a woman; an egg yolk composing a break-up letter to the egg white; and an intensely melodramatic Italian family using one word to grieve the recent departure of its “mama.”
The Thread has been a familiar North Shore presence since 1998 when it became a staple at the Attic Playhouse and then the Apple Tree Theatre until it closed in 2008. From 1998 to 2000, the three-man troupe changed its name to Super Natty, before regrouping in 2001 under the banner of Bitter Jester Creative, a Highland Park production company specializing in commercials and corporate video.
After cultivating its longer-form, concept-driven, tech-heavy style (featuring sound effects, music and lighting effects) with local performances through 2008, the group recently changed direction and began building its national reputation with increasingly successful appearances at fests around the country.
In addition to its Sketch Fest prize, the group has won the Audience Choice award at this year’s Chicago Fringe Festival, the Best Group award at the 2011 Los Angeles Comedy Festival and tied for first place at the 2012 Gorilla Tango Theatre Sketch Thing. It was also runner up at the 2012 Shadowbox Live Sketch Comedy Festival in Columbus, Ohio, where judge Garrett Morris (formerly of “Saturday Night Live”) called them “brilliant, really brilliant.”
All of which is leading to the Thread’s next gambit: adapting its material for the screen and pitching an “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”-like documentary-style sitcom in Hollywood.