Pulse: Sketch artists

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

If Shadowbox CEO and executive producer Steve Guyer has his way, Columbus will soon be known for more than just corn, burgers and Buckeyes. He hopes the Capital City will become known for laughter as well, after the theater company hosts the first Shadowbox Sketch Comedy Festival.

"The festival was the result of us wanting to raise the region's awareness of Columbus as a cultural center," Guyer said. "This event allows us to demonstrate that Columbus has a hell of a lot more to offer."

Six troupes will be showcased in the two-day festival, with each getting a 20-minute window to perform their best sketches before a panel of judges on Tuesday.

The judges - Shadowbox cast member Julie Klein, comedian and radio host Jerry Elliott and original Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris, making a return visit to Shadowbox - will provide feedback, and the troupes will each have a chance to perform their strongest sketch during Wednesday's "The Best of the Fest" show.

Morris will also perform Wednesday, joining members of both Shadowbox and the visiting troupes in two sketches. Morris will play the title role in "Hippie Ed," a sketch he performed with Shadowbox during their celebrity series in 2006.

He'll also join the company's Katy Psenicka in "Gardening with Garrett and Galinda," a cable talk show that's heavy on the double entendre, and perform an original song dedicated to his hometown of New Orleans with Shadowbox house band BillWho?

Psenicka said getting Morris to return to Shadowbox seemed like an obvious move.

"When we made the decision to do the sketch comedy festival, it seemed like a great fit for us to bring in someone with so much cache as an original [SNL] cast member who has gone on to make a wonderful living performing comedy and music," she said.

"We also thought that Garrett's name would be a good draw when inviting troupes to participate. I mean, who wouldn't want to get feedback and perform with Garrett Morris?"

Because the six troupes are all relatively young, many said they were excited to perform in this environment and hear what the judges have to say.

"Though we have performed in festivals before, we have never done so in this format," said The Indicators' James Cronin.

"I'm looking forward to getting feedback from the judges and being able to perform our best material the following night with the other troupes. Seems like a really nice way to bring comedians from all over the region together."

Patrick Ciamacco of The Laughter League added, "We're always looking for a reason to perform and have a good time as well as collaborate with other groups."

Psenicka said there was no audition process, but interested troupes submitted applications online, and from those Guyer and Shadowbox head writer Jimmy Mak narrowed the list down to the top six.

A big factor was figuring out which troupes would fit the Shadowbox vibe, Psenicka said.

Simple professionalism also went a long way in the selection process, according to Guyer. "Then, of course, there was the issue of funny. It was kind of shocking just how un-funny many of the troupes were.

"My overall, general impression is that these folks put their heart and soul into sketch comedy," he added. "It reminds me of us."

Super troupers

The Laughter League

Hometown: Cleveland

Description: A PG-13 sketch comedy troupe whose general rule is "a laugh a minute."

"Our name is a play on the famous comic-book heroes called The Justice League," said co-founder Patrick Ciamacco. "We like to think of ourselves as heroes of comedy. We're saving you from boredom one laugh at a time."

Cell Camp

Hometown: Chicago

Description: Offbeat and witty sketches filled with bizarre characters and situations

"We'll just say this: After seeing our show you'll never think of automated phone robots, Harvard Medical School or Anne Frank the same way again," performer Richie Cross said cryptically.

Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company

Hometown: Indianapolis

Description: Simultaneously satirical and ridiculous, with sketches germinating from real-life experiences.

Feral Chihuahuas

Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina

Description: Satirical social commentary that walks the line between offensive and offensively funny.

"It's not done for mere shock value," explained executive producer Tommy Calloway. "There's almost always a point buried in even the most offensive moments of one of our shows."

Wilhelm Scream

Hometown: Cincinnati

Description: A troupe that embraces comedy in all its forms, including sketch, improv and everyday life.

The Indicators

Hometown: Louisville

Description: A diverse troupe that expanded from improv to combining sketch, stand-up, music and multimedia segments.

"The sketches range from a condom commercial to a glimpse at what happens during a heated game of Jenga between two couples," said member James Cronin. "There will be creative use of a GPS navigational system and a Marlboro marketing meeting."

What: Shadowbox Sketch Comedy Festival

When: Tuesday-Wednesday, July 21-22

Where: Shadowbox, Easton

Web: shadowboxcabaret.com