There’s a new chuckle fest in town, and it isn’t afraid to saddle up next to the likes of behemoth Bridgetown, not to mention newer contenders like Stumptown Improv and All Jane. In fact, such is the proliferation of comedy festivals around these parts (the first-ever Queer Comedy Fest also happens this weekend), you may be forgiven for asking if we really need another one. When it comes to Sketchfest—running at the Siren Theater from July 13–15—our answer is yes. We talked to festival cofounder Ted Douglass about the art of sketch, the reason for the season, and why three nights, 11 shows and 12 sketch comedy troupes will prove that more laughs are always better.
How did Sketchfest come about?
In 2015, the insanely talented Shelley McLendon bought her own space, the Siren Theater in Old Town. Toward the end of last year, Shelley asked me if I would be interested in putting together a brand-new sketch comedy festival with her. It's an idea I had been toying around with for years, but had never gotten off my duff to do it. Shelley's enthusiasm for the event, along with our complementary producing styles, made jumping on board a no-brainer.
So how would you define the genre?
The only real definition of the form is that it's written and rehearsed in advance. It is most commonly presented as short-form pieces, but over the decades that I've been working in sketch comedy, both in Portland and while touring the festival circuit, I can't say that brevity is a defining trait anymore. I've seen cast sizes from one person to 20. I've seen fully costumed shows and casts that just wear T-shirts and jeans in every sketch. I've seen full theatrical productions and stripped-down shows involving zero tech. I've seen 20-second sketches and shows that are essentially just one long 45-minute sketch. It can be just about anything. Isn't that exciting?
Why does Portland need Sketchfest?
Those who follow comedy know that comedy's holy trinity is stand-up, improv, and sketch, and they are in a kind of never-ending cycle of taking the spotlight. Our excellent stand-up scene blew up in conjunction with Bridgetown 10 years ago. Then our improv community rose up in popularity, demanding a national festival in Portland. And now, sketch is taking off once again, with many new troupes popping up around town at comedy venues like the Funhouse Lounge, Curious Comedy, the Brody Theater and our own home, the Siren Theater. So, we feel it's time to once again bang the drum and celebrate sketch on a national scale.
What's Portland's sketch scene like?
It has reached a point where you can find a sketch troupe performing nearly any weekend of the year. There are four local sketch acts performing in our festival: the Aces, starring Siren Theater owner Shelley McLendon and Michael Fetters; D&D, a smart and strange two-man act; Lone Wolves, a group that performs solo sketch pieces; as well as Nacho Gold, a brand-new troupe born from the ashes of Portland's recently retired the 3rd Floor.
But really, what's the draw for audiences to this particular comedy festival?
We have amazing comedy talent from all over the place, all super-excited to be performing for Portland audiences. [Portland audiences] have the reputation for being some of the smartest and most appreciative audiences in the country. This is not a joke. Take a bow, PDX.
We have 12 groups attending this year from all around the country and beyond, including our very special guests, the Groundlings, from Los Angeles. The Groundlings have been the breeding ground for some of the biggest names in comedy: everyone from Will Ferrell to Pee-Wee Herman to Kristen Wiig to Jon Lovitz to Laraine Newman.
Any other reasons?
We also have beer and wine and powerful air conditioning.
Thu–Sat, July 13–15, Siren Theater