Sketch comedy fans weren't treated to the same balmy temps as the previous week, but that didn't stop the masses from cramming themselves in at Stage 773 for a second helping of Sketchfest. Mine started off with an accidental early arrival that landed me in the new Cab theater for Feminine Gentlemen, a duo made up of Jill Valentine and Liz McArthur. Some of their sketches were amusing—a first date staged like a silent movie—some were confounding—two moose chewing and slugging their way around outdoors—but Valentine and McArthur were most adept when playing with the crowd, as they did a couple times during a teasing improvised scene. I liked them best when they came across as dueling, Vaudevillian tricksters in bowler hats and I wish they'd returned to those roles throughout the show to give it more continuity.
Sketch duo Nose Complaint is one half of the improv troupe the Hamiltons, who I like. Nose Complaint a bit less so, I'm afraid. They made me laugh the hardest right at the top with a bromantic song in which one reveals, "I knew right away, from the tingling in my pants that we're comedically gay," and was augmented by photos of their ex-girlfriends. They offered a hat tip to the movies with the rest of their set including five-second recaps of films like Inception, War Horse and the King's Speech and a video portion of the show (which I generally liked) spoofing coming attractions. Their portrayal of a gay couple working as ushers at a theater was less successful (a lot of straight actors fall into the trap of thinking the difference between them and us is a lot greater than it actually is). The duo ended the show with a musical number that included the line, "Hope you had fun, at least a little bit." They were exactly right.
"We are so mildy excited to be here," shouted Mark Raterman at the top of his troupe's set. Raterman is one-fourth of the sketch supergroup Heavy Wait (formerly Heavyweight) which also includes Nick Vatterott, Brady Novak and T.J. Miller. Their shows always feel like it's a bunch of pros fucking around with the format, and that's both a plus and minus. A sketch about a registered sex offender turned out to be a satisfying blackout as did another about a schizophrenic caller. Meanwhile, two agoraphobes at Mardi Gras never hit and neither did a scene that imagined craigslist as a physical store. But four soldiers handing off their most precious possessions as they die on the battlefield was thoroughly satisfying, as was Miller as a fey dance instructor trying to teach the most elaborate and bizarre moves to the rest of the guys.
You either love or hate NYC-based FUCT. I fall in the former camp. These ballsy performance artists are insanely entertaining and not afraid to humiliate themselves by playing low-status characters. FUCT's only female member was hilarious as Madame DuPont, a diva of the dance world who humiliates the minions around her and isn't afraid to lash out at her dancers (played by unsuspecting audience members). "Jump, whore!" she screamed in the face of one Sketchfest-goer. "Imagine you're trying to reach a black cock." In another scene, an ensemble member plays an infant who gets fed, spits up and spanked by his mother (played once again by someone from the audience) while both wearing and not wearing (yikes!) his diaper. One of the joys of watching outside groups at the fest is that they're not influenced by the Second City mold and FUCT is the perfect example of a troupe that gives Sketchfest a megawatt shot of adrenaline.
I couldn't connect with the Comic Thread. Their opening scene featuring Chester the demoralized court jester was great, but I couldn't find the funny in a scene about a little British boy who wants to grow up to be a football hooligan or a scene with an onion-eating pirate. I liked a recurring blackout set to the Chariots of Fire soundtrack and a callback featuring an Native-American chief, but I otherwise laughed very little. On the other hand, I'm still smiling at Pangea 3000, a collective of four New Yorkers who served up 40 meta minutes of fourth-wall-breaking comedy that barely contained an actual sketch. These guys spent the entire night poking fun at both themselves and sketch comedy itself in the form of puffed up machismo, egomaniacal group prayers, faux-philosophical ramblings and trash-talking the audience. While I thought the show started to fall off a bit toward the end, this was still my favorite Sketchfest offering by a landslide.
Last but not least, I caught Inside Joke Films, a duo who I liked at Snubfest in 2010 due to their insouciant energy, like minds and rapid-fire ability to jump characters. I liked them again, albeit a bit less so. A video clip called "A Pointless Conversation" was funny, as was mealtime around the dinner table of a mixed-race family (a perfect example of fast-paced, innovative scenework). They used this trick again with slightly less success in a scene featuring two couples at a movie theater. But I thought a scene in which one of them laments the breakup between Zac Effron and Vanessa Hudgens was essentially a time waster. And the finale, in which they pulled an audience member onstage and said "Look at this guy," over and over using different tones and inflections was essentially an old improv exercise taken to its extreme.