I’ll let you in on a secret: I prefer sketch comedy to all of comedy’s other hilarious Hydra-heads. My transition from a roly-poly junior high kid to the health goth adult I am today has its genesis in my early devotion to Canadian sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall. A power-hour of old episodes aired every weekday just as school ended, and I literally ran home after the bell to catch the second half hour, my backpack jostling chaotically as I dodged awkwardly through a sidewalk-less industrial shortcut.
In my adult life, I discovered that sketch comedy doesn’t always go with a side of cross-dressing and that sketch has a spectrum, from stand-up storytellers to improv-created scenes. To keep their dramatic muscles loose, comedians frequently overlap forms—sketch to improv, stand-up to sketch. Portland’s comedy scene has been going through something of a slow, building boom over the past decade. So although the city has a number of great stand-up festivals (All Jane, Queer Comedy) and an improv festival (Stumptown) that grow in strength each year, I was overjoyed to see Portland’s the Best of the Sketch Fest, whose last year was 2008, reborn as the Portland Sketch Comedy Festival.
Co-founded by Ted Douglass (of Nacho Gold, which was formed from the bones of longstanding and now fallen troupe the 3rd Floor) and the Siren Theater’s Shelley McLendon (the Aces, Lone Wolves, Sedan), the Portland Sketch Comedy Festival seems as devoted to local comedy as it is to bringing in troupes from across the US and Canada. For years, Douglass was the guy to talk to about the Best of the Sketch Fest, so when he teamed up with McLendon, it seemed the festival couldn’t have found better stewards. Both Nacho Gold (Fri July 13, 9 pm) and the Aces (Sat July 14, 10 pm) perform this weekend, and both frequently receive well deserved ink from the Mercury for their quality shows. (To say I’m a fan would be an understatement.) If you haven’t caught them yet, they’ll be showcasing some of their best material to represent among the national and international performers.
Speaking of international, another group worth checking out is Brunch (Sat July 14, 7 pm). The Vancouver, BC, two-piece (Allie Entwistle and Kerri Donaldson) blew me away at last year’s fest. Alternating between vignettes of wry witches about to be burned at the stake to shoulder pad-clad motivational speakers, Brunch wove a sturdy story to their sketch routines. It set them apart from the other groups, and felt a little like an episode of Mr. Show—where one portion segues to another in ways you couldn’t have imagined, and everything gets tied together at the end with the most illogical bow you’ve ever seen. I know that’s a pretty high bar, but I think Brunch lives up to it—they’re Canadians, after all.
My other top pick is Patsy (Fri July 13, 7 pm), a huge, diverse sketch team from LA. Perhaps due to their Hollywood-adjacent environment, Patsy has a robust collection of funny web videos (an indulgence I have been known to binge). I’ll be interested to see who turns up, or if they all make the trek, because the group’s many members contain a varied collection of styles, from deadpan to high energy to just plain unsettling. Let’s get ready to sketch!