The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, the world’s largest sketch comedy festival celebrates its 14th hilarious year in January, featuring over 150 shows and more than 1,000 performers from all over the country and the world. Click here for a full schedule of this event’s impressive and vast lineup. For two weeks, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival turns Stage 773 into a sketch comedy oasis, renting out the entire building and featuring simultaneous performances in all three theatres.
Unlike improvisation, sketch comedy is all original scripted material that is set for the stage. A sketch comedy performance usually consists of short unrelated sketches rooted in satire. Sketch comedy was born in Chicago with the evolution of The Second City Theater in the 1950’s. Over the decades, sketch comedy grew to give birth to such shows as, Saturday Night Live, SCTV, Mad TV, In Living Color, and 100’s of other entertainment venues. Unlike its cousin improv, sketch comedy consists of scripted short, satirical scenes. Strong writing is an extremely important element in sketch comedy.
The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (Chicago SketchFest) debuted in January, 2002 and lasted six weeks. Producer Brian Posen had originally intended to put up an original musical in that slot, but when the project fell through, he still wanted to keep his commitment to the Theatre Building Chicago. He called a few friends in the sketch community, and was met with overwhelming response. Over thirty Chicago sketch comedy groups participated in the first year, on very little notice. Subsequent SketchFest’s were shorter in duration; now the festival runs over two weekends.
Chicago SketchFest features panels of sketch comedy experts each year who educate and entertain participants and the public with stories and advice. Participants have included Second City ‘s Sheldon Patinkin, Anne Libera and Kelly Leonard, Late Night with Conan O’Brian writer Kevin Dorff, Groudlings founder Gary Austin, Mick Napier of the Annoyance, Saturday Night Live ‘s Tim Kazurinsky, Reno 911!’s Carlos Alazraqui and Cedric Yarbrough, The Comic Toolbox author John Vorhaus and Charna Halpern of ImprovOlympic.
Chicago SketchFest experiments with sketch comedy under pressure. While most sketch shows take months of writing and rehearsing, the Chicago SketchFest tests its participants with OctaSketch: The Eight Hour Project . Octa-Sketch teams up performers from different sketch groups – and different cities – and sets them up with a seasoned sketch comedy director. Each group is given eight hours to create a brand-new 30 minute sketch show to be performed that evening.
Every year Chicago SketchFest attendance has significantly increased, with over 10,000 audience members enjoying the performances at the 2005 event. As the word gets out further each year, we look forward to continuing our audience growth as we entertain Chicagoans during the harsh Chicago winter. Chicago SketchFest is the largest sketch comedy festival in the nation. The 2009 SketchFest featured more than 800 performers, representing over 100 groups, who performed over 120 shows.
While the majority of Chicago SketchFest performers are from Chicago (which, after all, is the sketch comedy capital of America), troupes from Boston, L.A., New York, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Austin, and Denver have also performed at Chicago SketchFest.