Fest of the rest
Snubfest gives rejected comics
a second chance
It began a year ago with a rejection letter and a hole in the Cornservatory's schedule.
"The space was available for a weekend," says Angela McMahon, whose company, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, has been in residence at the Lincoln Square theater since 2000. "We'd just gotten turned down by a comedy festival, so my husband, Tom, suggested a 'reject fest.' It's the same idea as what Slamdance is to the Sundance Film Festival. And it's an opportunity to laugh at ourselves."
In just three weeks, McMahon recruited a lineup of artists who had been kicked to the curb by other festivals, and Snubfest was born. Its success persuaded the McMahons and Corn Productions to host an annual underdog event. Provided they had been passed over by at least one comedy festival in 2005, all acts that applied to Snubfest '06 were accepted.
"It's a wide, varied group, going off in every direction," says Corn Productions' Robert Bouwman. "There's sketch comedy, straight improv, games and long form."
Snubfest '06 features a dozen rebuked ensembles from across the country, who all throw down at the Cornservatory in three-segment showcases on Thursday 12, Friday 13 and Sunday 15. Performers aren't scouted by HBO, but they can earn slots at Chicago Sketchfest and Chicago Improv Festival. There's also a Saturday midnight improv jam and a Sunday screening of humorous (but dismissed) short films.
New to this year's lineup is a stand-up contest at Lincoln Restaurant. Lincoln Lodge, in its sixth year of weekly comedy shows at the old-school eatery, joined Snubfest when McMahon contacted the producers for leads on potential stand-up judges.
"We did one better by volunteering to participate as a venue," says Lodge coproducer Tom Lawler. "Snubfest made a lot of noise in its first year, and since Angie's doing most of the heavy lifting, we saw a great opportunity to ride her coattails."
Seven solo funnymen—including Chicago Underground Comedy founder Tony Sam, Edge Comedy's Dave Odd and Second City TourCo member TJ Miller—will be rated on humor, performance skills and comic chutzpah by a panel of three audience members. The winner receives the Dwight "Hairy" Heggenberger Memorial Award for Comedic Achievement (in honor of the Lodge's fictitious founder), which consists of an onion burger, fries and a Coke (Heggenberger's favorite meal)—plus a cash prize of $19.76, signifying the year he disappeared.
Friday and Saturday's performances at the Cornservatory are capped off by The Last Snob Standing contest for selected festival acts, judged by Lawler, Bouwman, WNEP Theater's Don Hall, Toronto Improv Festival's Kevin Patrick Robbins and a secret celebrity from an influential local comedy club. The winner hosts Snubfest's closing night, but all contestants get feedback, whether or not they want it.
"I'm the Simon Cowell of the festival," Hall admits. "I don't particularly like improv or sketch comedy, although I happen to direct both. When it comes to judging, I have no mercy."
So why would anyone pay to see shows that weren't good enough to get into festivals?
"Everyone gets rejected at some point," McMahon says, "and the most common reason is that their application materials are incorrect or don't reflect their talent."
"There are lots of good comedy acts that submit crap tapes," agrees Hall, who also selects candidates for Chicago Improv Festival and teaches a class about improving your odds in the festival lottery. "If I've got 75 tapes to go through, and I spend the first five minutes of a tape watching the audience walking in, I'll hit the eject button before I even see their actual show."
Hall believes that the original rejections benefit Snubfest audiences by motivating performers to tighten up their acts.
"People who've been turned down have something to prove," he says.
And even though McMahon and Bouwman concede that some of last year's performances were weaker than others, it's worth the effort to seek out pleasant surprises.
"All of the out-of-town groups were outstanding," McMahon says. "And it's like saying, 'Why should I go to the Playground when I could go to Second City?' You never know when you'll see a diamond in the rough."
Snubfest acts get their day in the sun Thursday 12 to Sunday 15 at the Cornservatory and Lincoln Restaurant.