A first-timer goes to Philly Sketchfest
The Ruba Club is a cabaret in a brownstone located on Green Street in Center City. It’s the kind of swanky place where one can imagine taking in a drink with some flappers or gangsters. There’s an array of questionable decorations adorning its walls, from a mounted deer’s head that looks straight out of an album cover to a framed picture of Albert Einstein, complete with an explanation of the theory of relativity.
But I wasn’t there to hear a Willie Nelson cover band or a lecture on physics, though the space has done both. Rather, I had arrived to see the third night of the 9th Annual Philly Sketchfest.
With 35 performers scheduled across four nights in three different venues, Sketchfest is made for fans of “Saturday Night Live” and other sketch comedy shows, and is one of several events that make up the blossoming comedy scene in Philadelphia. From April 20-23, patrons could buy tickets for one of three performances per night, with each featuring three different troupes acting out their sketches. I attended the 8:30 p.m. performance on April 22.
I’ll admit that I’m a comedy snob. Sure, I like “SNL” and “Key and Peele” as much as the next person, but my true love belongs to more esoteric programs, like “The Kids in the Hall,” “Upright Citizens Brigade” and the grandfather of them all, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” My mind recalled these sketches as the master of ceremonies announced, “And now, Rock Bottom University!” What could these groups do that I haven’t seen before?
As this thought ran through my head, one of the comedians ran out onstage with his bare posterior exposed and googly eyes placed on each, um, cheek.
“I transfigured my head into a butt!” he screamed at the audience, who replied with shocked applause.
Well, I thought as the performer shoved an unlit cigarette into his rear. That knocked me off my high horse.
Well played, Rock Bottom U.
The night continued with the aptly-named Philadelphia-based duo “Jon and Ian Have Something to Tell You.” Two guys in khakis reenacted movie scenes. All right, I haven’t seen that before (usually it’s guys in jeans). They riffed on “The Purge” and “Flight,” and I felt myself laugh more and more. I love a good parody, and this was prime content.
In between performers, I asked Josh Higham, a volunteer at the front of the Ruba Club, how long he had been volunteering.
“It’s my second year,” Higham said. “I have a podcast called ‘My First Sketch,’ and we got to perform this year. We talk about the first sketches we wrote, if they were accepted or not. It’s a lot of fun.”
The last performer was Thunderstood, a one-man show by comedian A.J. Schraeder. Schraeder utilized the venue’s screen to present a bit about mixing up texts. His last portion was about a young boy looking for his father in a “Where’s Waldo” picture. He approached the audience and pointed at each member.
“Not my dad,” he said. “Not my dad, also not my dad.”
When he had gone through all the rows, Schraeder stood up and frowned. “My dad never comes to my shows.”
The club erupted in simultaneous laughter and applause, and Schraeder took a bow.
As I called my Uber, I thought back to Wick and his podcast. If I were on it, I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, as I really hadn’t written a full-on “sketch.”
When I got home, I opened up Microsoft Word on my laptop. Feeling inspired by the night’s events, I titled a new document: “My First Sketch.”