January 7, 2004.

Copyrightę 2003, Digital Chicago Inc.

Check out these 'Clowns'


If the news of 2003 has you down, your deliverance is at hand. Set a different tone for the New Year with laughter at Chicago Sketchfest 2004.

Founder and Executive Producer Brian Posen and Executive Director Jill Valentine have assembled 73 comedy troupes for this year's event, which is held at Theatre Building Chicago, from Thursday through Jan. 18. One hundred fourteen individual performances are scheduled in the facility's three theaters. Three performances will run simultaneously in each time slot during the two-week run of the festival.

Begun in 2002 to showcase local sketch comedy troupes, the event immediately became a national draw. The concept began in Seattle, with Chicago and San Francisco quickly following. It is now spreading across the country, but Chicago Sketchfest remains the largest nationwide. Similar events elsewhere usually include less than twenty troupes. Chicago attendance is expected to reach nearly 4000 at this year's festival.

Oak Park comedy troupe "Suspicious Clowns" will be appearing at Sketchfest for the second year. Formed by Vincent Truman and Scott Munn in 2001, the group has now mounted five productions to positive reviews. The seven members all perform and write. They try out new material on each other. "That way we can see what works and what doesn't and get rid of the easy humor that sounds like something you've heard before," Truman says. "We try to respect our audience and have something to say. It's not just about a quick laugh."

The roots of their humor reach back to the '60s. "All of us are huge fans of Beyond the Fringe. We love Monty Python and The Goon Show." Eccentric British comics Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Peter Cook set the pace for them. "They stretched the form of comedy," Truman explains. "We wanted to do on stage what they did on film."

To accomplish this, the Clowns build diverse scenes one upon another. They segue quickly and unexpectedly between ideas to construct a whole comedic sketch with limited use of blackouts.

"Comedy has gotten too easy, too predictable. If bellbottoms can make a comeback," quips Truman, "why not a more daring kind of humor?"

Another Oak Park-based group that will be taking their current production to the Sketchfest is Liquid Sketchbook, which will make its third appearance at the festival after closing a four-week run at Second City.

Diane Colchamiro, one of the troupe's founding members and main writer, is a Second City graduate, having studied comedy writing and improvisation there.

She describes their style as "character-based comedy."

"We don't do silly humor," she explains. "We try to draw humor from the genuinely funny things that happen to you while you're living your life. Our style is probably more highbrow than some others. We aim to be witty and perhaps a bit more intellectual."

Both troupes will appear during the 5:30 p.m. Sunday time slot. Suspicious Clowns will also be on stage at 8 p.m. Jan. 16, while Liquid Sketchbook will make its second appearance at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18.

Chicago Sketchfest 2004 is held at the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont in Chicago. Tickets are $10 for a single performance or $60 for a Festival Pass good for all eight dates. Friday or Saturday passes are available for $25. Call the theater at (773)327-5252 for reservations or log on www.ticketmaster.com. A complete schedule of performances is available at www.chicagosketchfest.com.