Anyone who’s seen “Saturday Night Live,” “Mad TV” or any one of countless other TV comedy shows knows about the sketch – a scripted performance piece that spins out a comic idea or scenario over the course of a few minutes.
But sketches are harder to pull off than they look. They require more prep than does improv comedy, for instance, and more production (costumes, props and staging) than stand-up.
Those are likely big reasons why Pittsburgh, a town with several comedy festivals, has just one devoted to sketches. It’s Arcade Comedy Theater’s Sketchville, and it returns this week.
This is just the fourth Sketchville in six years, says Michael Rubino, Arcade’s director of programming. The Downtown-based theater is home base for several sketch troupes, but it attempts a festival only when it has time to do it right, he says.
“We like to put our whole foot forward and really spend a lot of time highlighting it and focusing on it,” he says.
The two-night festival features six troupes in all. There are three 75-minute shows a night, each featuring two of the groups.
These include established troupes like Frankly Scarlett, Secondhand Sketch and The Big Deal, and relative newcomers The Oneders, JFLE and Cousins. (Many of the performers came up through the ranks of Arcade’s own comedy classes, Rubino says.)
This will also be the first Sketchville in Arcade’s new and larger space on Liberty Avenue, which includes an 85-seat first-floor theater and a 75-capacity upstairs venue.
Historically, sketch comedy has run the gamut, from the slapstick of “Laugh-In” and the absurdism of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” to character-based pieces (“The Carol Burnett Show”), social satire (“Key & Peele”), and TV itself (“SCTV”).
Rubino says Sketchville likewise covers the waterfront.
“You’re gonna see a wonderful variety of content here,” he say. “There’s social commentary, there’s cultural parodies, there’s also just goofy, zany stuff. There’s songs, there’s dancing.”
In sketches that bracket each of the weekend’s six sets, Rubino himself will play “the mayor of Sketchville” – a town whose principal industry is sketch comedy.
“Every show has a through line of bookended sketches that are basically presenting the citizens that live in this town of Sketchville,” he says.
And yes, Sketchville does struggle with global trade, especially, he quips, “Canada’s cheap exports of sketch comedy."