As I reported earlier this year, there is a new comedy competition in town – Sketchfest. Following a trail blazed in America, Adam Dahrouge and Ofer Yatziv, members of Israeli-Palestinian sketch comedy group Conflict Relief, set up the competition in London to boost the profile of the discipline.
I was invited to be a judge for the contest, which took place last weekend at the Victorian Vaults in Shoreditch – a bold move given my general antipathy to the form. Twelve acts and eight hours (over three nights) later I am still alive.
Truth be told it was rather a convivial experience to share the load with a small group of judges in a decent venue, and we all walked away with positives. Though the 40 minute slots will need to be shortened and there will need to be a closing ceremony (scores are being calibrated as I write this and the result announced on Tuesday), Sketchfest was a success.
Among the highlights for me were:
Rory and Tim: actually a three-piece of young performers, despite what the name suggests, who put together a set of sprightly sketches demonstrating a strong gag-writing ability and a lively imagination. In one sketch this imagination stretched to playing the role of a tube of fruit pastilles in a vending machine. Sounds dreadfully contrived, I know, but it was delivered with aplomb here.
Despite my reservations about the genre it would be great for a venture like this to be part of raising the standards of sketch by disseminating good ideas and novel approaches.
So On & So Forth: a three-man outfit with a time-travelling narrative thread to link with some smart skits and clever lines.
As is often the case with sketch troupes there is a kind of neurotic energy driving these chaps and it struck me over the weekend that one of the reasons I don’t respond as well to sketch as to stand-up is that sketch often seeks to amplify situations, escalating the ludicrous while stand up often seeks to pour cold water on scenarios that the comic considers to be ridiculous. I always err on the downbeat approach myself.
Thünderbards are a charismatic duo with a tight grasp on timing and on absurd asides. While not all of the sketches hit the mark overall, there was a lot of clever wordplay and snappy lines within. Meanwhile the personas of the two came across very well. Impressive stuff.
Allnutt and Simpson also had a good vibe with their audience, but their relaxed style was both kill and cure as it made them accessible but also seemed to prevent them from mixing up the pace within sketches. The chilled approach occasionally showed itself in the writing too where the thinking wasn’t always joined up – however, where it was flowing it was sophisticated stuff.
The Pin are another sharp duo with a great eye and ear for the ludicrous and a steady build up of it. There’s an air of practised professionalism about them which is so important in sketch, the confidence that you are in safe hands that will steer you through the inevitable peaks and troughs. In fairness The Pin, as with the others above, kept troughs to a minimum.
Plenty of positives to take away then, and plenty of reasons why Sketchfest should become a regular fixture. Despite my reservations about the genre it would be great for a venture like this to be part of raising the standards of sketch by disseminating good ideas and novel approaches. A more bite-sized format will help all concerned and maybe an even more ‘speed-sketching’ approach would widen the kinds of participants in the genre. There is no doubt hat sketch is still the preserve of white middle class men, no surprise given its historic roots. Formats like this could help break the mould and will make it fun trying.