I asked a friend if he wanted to go to Sketch Fest tomorrow night, and he said, "I hate that Comedy Sportz shit."


Yes, so does any right-thinking adult.

1. Sketch comedy and improv comedy are entirely different beasts. Improv is unrehearsed, usually fast-paced, and often relies on audience suggestion. If it involves games, it's improv. In my experience, it's more miss than hit - and there will be none of it at Sketch Fest. To quote myself: It's unfortunate that the word "sketch" implies something that is hastily drawn. Sketch comedy is scripted, rehearsed, and presented with varying degrees of theatricality. The jokes have been practiced and revised. And if you've never seen it live, you're missing out - the energy and intelligence that bristled through last year's festival made it one of the highlights of the summer.

2. One of the best shows I saw last year was the Cody Rivers Show, a two-man sketch troupe from Bellingham who perform high-concept, brainy sketches that are just absofuckinglutely brilliant. The Cody Rivers Show was invited to Portland by local comedy troupe the 3rd Floor - the 3rd Floor also handpicks the acts performing Sketch Fest, based on the best shows they've seen on the sketch touring circuit. (In fact, the Cody Rivers Show was also at last summer's fest.) They have excellent taste.

There's short Q&A in the paper with the 3rd Floor's Ted Douglass (who with his wife Jordana Barnes, also of the 3rd Floor, produced a baby girl last weekend-- congrats!). I'll post the full text of his responses after the jump. In brief: Women are funny. Suck it, Hitchens.

Participating Troupes: The 3rd Floor, The Apple Sisters, Becky & Noelle, Dirty Jeans & Thunderchief, MEAT, Pangea 3000, Troop!; Fri-Sat 8 pm, $10 per show/ $32 for 4 / $56 festival pass, Artists Repertory Theater 2nd Stage, 1516 SW Alder, more info here

How is this year's fest different from past years?

1) The festival still consists of the best sketch comedy troupes we've seen on the sketch circuit this year. But what we're really excited about is that this is the first festival where there are more all-female acts than male. MEAT, The Apple Sisters, Dirty Jeans & Thunderchief and Becky & Noelle all feature female comedians performing original material that doesn't consist of mother-in-law & period jokes. I think this is indicative of a change sweeping over comedy on a national scale. With the recent Emmy nominations honoring female writers and performers from 30 Rock & SNL in a much greater capacity than ever before, we're hoping we might finally be escaping the old show-biz misperception that "women aren't funny."

We also have some groups performing in a slightly different format. Pangea 3000 is an all-new troupe made up of graduates of Boston University's sketch troupe, "Slow Children At Play." This is one of the rare times that a group of students has continued working together after graduating from the long-running college group. And Troop! (attending BotB for the 5th time) is bringing what amounts to a one-act play or "long-form sketch" in which all the sketches in the show tell one 45-minute story. They just debuted the show at Sketchfest: NYC in June and blew people away.

And MEAT is having a reunion. Also returning for their 5th time,=2 0MEAT is performing for the first time since last year's Best Of The Best Sketch Fest. Even though the group has officially retired, they're getting back together to perform for their favorite audience, Portland (and no, that isn't pandering....they REALLY love it here.)

We also have a new feature this year, in The Freebird, a showcase of each of the groups performing one or two of their most-requested sketches. This show takes the place of the hit-and-miss "Scramble Bamble" which was basically an open-mic for sketch comedy troupes. Unlike "the Bamble", "The Freebird" is sure to be incredible.

How has the Portland comedy scene changed in recent years/how do you see sketch fest fitting in to that?

2) The Portland comedy scene has really exploded in the past 6-years or so, and has reached an apex this past year. Since Sketch Fest started in 2003, we've seen many new sketch groups come up in Portland. We've stand-up take off again with several up-and-coming Portland stand-ups tearing up the national circuits (Dax Jordan, Lonnie Bruen, Augie Smith, etc...) and, of course, improv continuing to do bang-up business in the form of ComedySportz, Super Project Lab & The Liberators (to name a few).

A major goal of Sketch Fest has been to try to put Portland on the national comedy map, by bringing national touring acts to town and proving to the rest of the country that we have the kind of audiences that would support and appreciate out-of-town performers. Portland has proven us correct every year with Sketch=2 0Fest, as well as showing up when our own troupe "The 3rd Floor" brings in groups to perform after us at our regular shows at The Miracle Theatre.

With those seeds sewn, Portland was finally ready this year for some more comedy festivals, both of which did extremely well. The Bridgetown Stand-Up Comedy Fest was a smash hit in the spring, bringing heavy-hitters like Patton Oswalt to town. And just last weekend, ComedySportz held their World Championship at PCS and enjoyed packed houses.

It's a good time to be a comedian in Portland. And we hope we had even the slightest hand in that.

What're some acts that you're most excited about this year?

3) We're very excited about the whole line-up this year. Most of the groups are either long-time favorite groups that have performed here before (Troop!, MEAT, The 3rd Floor), or performers that have been here before, but who are now performing in new groups (Dirty Jeans & Thunderchief, Becky & Noelle, Pangea 3000). We've just seen each of these groups perform at SketchFest:NYC and they blew our minds. We are also VERY excited to have a brand-new troupe peforming for the first time in Portland. They are called The Apple Sisters and they are spectacular. They do an irreverent-disguised-as-wholesome 1940's musical radio show (think The Andrews Sisters crossed with The 3 Stooges but with the subversive wit of an Amy Sedaris).

And, again, we're very excited about The Freebird.