Sketch Comedy Could Be The Next Big Thing

From The Contra Costa Times

January 6, 2003
By Pat Craig

If raw talent is any indication, sketch comedy, like stand-up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, just may be the next big thing.

Opening with a quartet of local groups, the San Francisco Sketchfest 2003 showed an elaborate display of comedic fireworks that promised a month full of big-time laughter and the notion that there is plenty available for those who enjoy laughing.

Sketch comedy is a hybrid form familiar as death, taxes and heavy traffic to anyone who has watched television over the past half-century. Essentially, each comic bit is a short play, written for laughs and performed with an intensity designed to build giggles into explosions of guffaws.

And the four groups that performed in Thursday’s opener – the Meehan Brothers, Totally False People, White Noise Radio Theatre and Kasper Hauser – not only packed a couple of hours with laughs, but offered a wide range of styles, from the straight-ahead vaudeville of the Meehans to the topical humor clad in harlequin suits proffered by Kasper Hauser.

The evening was held together by host and stand-up comic Joe Klocek, who introduced the acts and offered some of his own political hilarity.

The evening’s real winners, however, were members of the audience, who were treated to top-notch material from the four San Francisco-based groups. The show features these along with a number of acts from throughout the country, including headliners Upright Citizens Brigade and Fred Willard and his Hollywood Players, who perform Saturday and Sunday.

But even without any particular star power, the cleverness dial was turned all the way up Thursday, allowing the locals to impress not only with stylish material, but with performance quality polished to an astounding level.
I don’t want to sound like I’m fawning over this whole thing, but I was completely surprised at just how uniformly good the performers were, especially considering sketch comedy isn’t exactly a form that is packing nightclubs and theaters right now. The message, however, is that it should be, and if the work of these four groups is any indication of the quality of the other dozen or so companies that will perform over the next month, it will.

The Meehans were the only group I had seen before. They are a trio of brothers who revel in their Sunset District Irish roots, and perform an act that is more like something you’d see in a variety show than as sketch comedy. They are quite clever, though, and the routines quickly take you to planet Meehan, where things are considerably different from what they are on planet Earth.

Totally False People, which is producing the event, appears to be the youngest group in the festival, but has a mature approach to comedy and a sharp writing style that involves everything from the theatrical fantasies of 12-year old boys to courtroom sex and the dark side of practical jokes.

White Noise Radio Theatre began with a wicked parody of stand-up, from pandering for applause to the 12-step feminist comic, then did a series of bits aimed precisely at media targets for a delightful sendup of everything from TV news magazines to dramas.

Kasper Hauser, perhaps the most polished of the acts, closed the show with a wonderful collection of bits ranging from a TV game show that involved contestants talking on the phone to residents of the 14th century, to a cloying talk show that had an otherwise unflappable host do his best not to lose it despite his guest’s fascination with profanity.

This is really a show worth seeing. The 200-seat Eureka Theatre is small enough to give the audience a feeling of intimacy, the quality is tremendous, and by attending this, the second annual festival, you just might find yourself in on the start of something big.