Category: Live Events

Interview: Alex Zalben, Sketchfest NYC

Filed Under Interview, Live Events, Sketch Comedy

New York City’s second annual Sketchfest starts this Thursday with three days of performances from the best groups not only in the Big Apple, but across the country. I talked to Alex Zalben about what people can expect from this year’s fest and how to enjoyably endure seeing every show in the festival.

What are some of the newcomers to the festival that you are most excited about introducing to New York?

It’s like you’re asking me to choose one baby over the other… But I’ll try. Cody Rivers show is fantastic. They’ve been performing together for only a short while (relatively speaking), but have blown up on the sketch scene in the past year, and I can see why. Their show walks this incredible line between ridiculously surreal premises that could be mistaken for experimental theater, except for the fact that they each have a clearly defined idea behind them, which brings them into the realm of sketch. Fempyre is a rock duo from LA, and they are hilarious, rocking, and not to be missed. Slow Children at Play are awesome. They’re still in college (at Boston University), but are so polished and funny, we had to take them into the festival. I think their tape made me laugh the hardest out of the over 100 submissions we got. And American Dream from Chicago are excellent, just really well done, solid sketches.

Are there any targets that seem to be common across sketch groups this year? Does anything thematically tie some groups together?

I think that comedy targets are in a little bit of a transition period right now. Two years ago, it was definitely political humor. Last year, people were all abuzz with The Aristocrats about dirty or blue humor. With that faded away, I think something new hasn’t filled that void yet. If I was to guess, I would say that it’s not a target, but an approach that’s on the horizon. The rise of shorter form programming on the web has been an incredible boon to sketch comedy. People don’t want to see 22 minute shows, or ever 15 minute shows. They want three to five minute content. Who has that? Sketch comedy groups. That’s how we structure everything. It’s yet to be seen how it will fall out, but people are catching on very quickly that what they want for their next-gen programming in sketch. Conversely, I think there’s a huge push in the sketch community to embrace the theatrical aspects of comedy. It’s fine and good to stand their and tell jokes, but people are realizing that what makes sketch different is that it’s theater. You have props, characters… Why not take it to the logical extreme, and actually work on blocking, stage presence, pauses, etc. They’re two very different directions people are going in, and I’m excited to see how both go. Also, lots of jokes about bears.

Does the potential for industry attention change the tone of the fest at all?

I think it certainly puts the heat on the performers to put on the best show they can, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all. That being said, there’s a concerted effort on the producers part to not make this an industry supermarket. When we first decided about the festival, we picked and chose pieces from other SketchFests around the country, and what we enjoyed about each of them. The one constant is that they are full of a great, supportive, positive community of people who, more than anything are there to check out as many shows as possible, and laugh and clap whenever they can. So that was our number one priority: making this a great experience for the performers, making sure that all they have to worry about is performing, and we can take care of the rest (getting them into the shows, feeding them, being as prepared technically as possible, etc.) So to that end, we take care of the industry and press behind the scenes, in the same way, and just let the artists deal with the positive fall out.

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Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

Interview: Matt Besser, Upright Citizens Brigade and “Woo Pig Sooie” one man show.

Filed Under Improv, Interview, Live Events, Stand-Up Comedy

Matt Besser performing Woo Pig SooieAs one of the four members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, Matt Besser has founded a theater, a school and a community that finally made New York a rival to Chicago for improv. He’s since moved to Los Angeles, extending the community and establishing another coast for students and peers to play, where the industry can see much of the best live comedy performed today. However, Matt right now is more concerned with the middle of the country, as he is taking his one-man show about religion, atheism and the fighting Razorbacks “Woo Pig Sooie” across the South for a series of dates in June. We talked about the reaction he hopes his show will spark in the bible belt, as well as some of the politics surrounding it, along with touching on maintaining the integrity of the growing UCB and the sometimes cult of Del Close.

How do you think your Southern performances of “Woo Pig Sooie” will differ from our LA or New York performances? Are you expecting more negative reactions?

If I get negative, that’ll be a lot of fun. (laughs) You saw the show and it’s kind of a dialogue too, I like to talk to the audience a lot. And yeah, in California and New York, kinda preaching to the converted in a way. And I still expect to have liberal audiences, but I also expect because it’s in the bible belt I’ll get more reaction to certain things.

Usually when I do that show, everybody has different lines. Some people will be laughing along, and I’ll start talking about the pope or priests fucking kids up the ass and all of the sudden they’ll be like, “Whoa! Not funny any more!” (laughs) The Jews will be laughing and I’ll make fun of the Sabbath and “Hey, not funny anymore!”

You make that point in the show. Does the dialogue ever get too thick or does that comment defuse things right away?

I encourage it a little bit. If you know my work, I like a little bit of confrontation. I think that’s fun. I’ve only done this in New York, San Francisco and LA, pretty liberal audiences anyway. The only time it really got a reaction was I had a Catholic in the front row who kicked a chair against a chair. I engaged him and said, “What’s your point? There’s a story about priest molestation in the paper every Sunday, how do you feel about that? If there was a story about truck drivers molesting kids in the paper every day, we wouldn’t have trucks anymore. We’d find a different way…”

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Posted by Todd Jackson at 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

AristoContest 6 - God Damn Us, Everyone

Filed Under Live Events

Our most recent show featuring comic’s renditions of the Aristocrats Joke just about proved to me that there is no such thing as the bottom. We’re in the abyss here folks. Thanks to Scott Eckert (of the duo Scott & Ellie) for his rendition featuring the Supreme Court breaking all of God’s laws and the brilliant Liam McEneaney, whose baby-puppy animal-human hybrid was surely what Dubya was warning us about in his state of the union address (read his joke here). Also thanks to a could of drop-ins, Danny Perez and Joel Keller (of the blog TV Squad) for sharing their nightmarish visions of the act.

Our winner this time was from a man who hates the Aristocrats joke, Alex Blagg, who repudiation of all that we hold unholy was rewarded with a $100 prize, thanks to V2 Records, distributors of the Aristocrats Soundtrack. As a stunned Alex said in his acceptance speech, “irony.”

Again, thanks to all the performers who all have other shows that you should check out. Shows that their mothers probably approve of (slightly). After witnessing nearly 2,000 Aristocrat jokes now in film, theater and online, I think co-producer Alex Zalben and I may only have one or two more of these shows in us. If you want to experience this depravity for yourself it might be best to be at the next Aristocontest, March 25 at the PIT.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

Chappelle Plans Surprise Seattle Show

Filed Under Live Events, Stand-Up Comedy

In. oh, 40 minutes or so from now, tickets go on sale for “The Block Party All Stars featuring Dave Chappelle” - a show unannounced until today and naturally, as it’s Dave, had the appropriate PR effect - landing immediately on Yahoo’s home page (where I saw it.) Pretty effective promotion of his forthcoming concert film “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”, which also features surprise attendance at a Chappelle event for some lucky folks. The show takes place this Sunday at 7PM at Seattle’s Paramount Theater. According to the office Ticketmaster site, you can only get a ticket if you live in Washington, Oregon or Idaho and each ticket costs $52.50. Love a report on this one if any of my readers attends.

Buy a ticket to “The Block Party All Stars featuring Dave Chappelle” (sales start at 1PM on 2/15/06)

UPDATE: Looks like Dave will be going to more than Seattle. It’s merely the first stop in a tour of shows to promote the film. Cities include:  San Francisco, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Birmingham, Charlotte, North Carolina, Upper Darby, PA and the close-to-Dave’s-farm Dayton, OH. I did notice on the Dallas page that it says Dave will not be performing a full set. With two musical acts at each destination, I’m not sure this is not true for all points in the tour. Visit ticketmaster for all these shows.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:16 AM | Comments (2)

AristoContest Five. Hell’s Too Good for us Now.

Filed Under Live Events

When I nearly vomited at the first one, I couldn’t imagine enduring this nonsense to five shows. The human body is amazing. This installment featured a cartoon by Phil Haney of National Lampoon and the site superawesomewow, Sketchfights’ producer Josh Callahan and the misindentified-by-TimeOut New York Jon Friedman. (Still TONY, thanks for the “Don’t Miss” plug). And the winner of the $100 prize, provided generously by V2 records on behalf of the CD companion to the Aristocrats movie, was Margot Leitman, whose variation of the Aristocrats joke featured Lionel Richie and Nicole Richie and much of the ephemera surrounding them, in a very VH1 “Best Week Ever” way, save for being far too filthy for VH1 (at least at this date). I’ll never watch the “Hello” video the same, Margot.

Once more, check all these people out doing shows around NYC that don’t require theaters like the PIT to go through a Level 4 decontamination process afterwards. Also sheck out Aristocontest host and co-producer Alex Zalben’s new podcast SketchfestTV. Good stuff. We’ll do one more of these in February. Check the Aristocrats Joke Database for date and time.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:03 AM | Comments (0)

Fourth AristoContest - Now Actually a Contest!

Filed Under Live Events

Thanks to the fine folks of V2 records, performing comics won prizes instead of a figuartive sloppy wet kiss from the sub-cockles of my heart (I have no idea what my fellow producer Alex Zalben gives them). This Aristocontest was a “Best of’ - bringing winners from the first three back to perform their filthy, horrific jokes once again - ensuring each a special place in Heaven, right next to Jerry Falwell. Thanks again to Bob Powers, Katherine Bryant (and the censoring and vomiting Alex Goldberg), Baron Vaughn and runners-up Bob Wiltfong and Kurt Braunohler. All got funny stuff going on besides offending their mothers by participating in this bullshit. Go see them do that.

And the winner of the $100 grand prize was… Andres Dubouchet! You can read his winning joke here. Be sure to hit him up for cab fare if you see him - you know he’s got the money now. That prize money was supplied by the CD Soundtrack for The Aristocrats movie (buy it now) .

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:45 AM | Comments (1)

Sir AristoContest the Third

Filed Under Live Events

Drawing at least one rave review in the bee-ell-oh-gee-oh-sphere, Aristocontest 3 was a grand time for all who can laugh at pictures of open sores on penises. Thanks to Josh Schrei (who brought the pics of syphilitic genitals. Thanks, Josh!), Jordan Carlos, Todd Levin, Richard Jones, and winner Baron Vaughn of the Brooklyn Comedy Company, whose rap version featured Rosa Parks violated in ways the KKK never imagined. And as always many thanks to host and co-conspirator Alex Zalben of Elephant Larry.

We’re doing it again in December. Aristocontest Four promises to have a few surprises. Stay tuned.

Also, check out Fearsome‘s new sketch show “Fearsome and such…” at the PIT. The team performs some fantastic funny stuff at a frenetic pace that all connects together. There’s some great observational stuff about how we physically look while making out, some time travel to destroy a terrible sketch, much rewinding of another and one painfully funny pause. Check it out Fridays at 8PM at the PIT.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)
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