ComFest 2018 Chomps On Your Funny Bone
It was a mad dash to get ComFest tickets this year, as the much-anticipated 29th Annual National College Comedy Festival was completely sold out by Thursday. ComFest took place on both Friday Feb. 9 and Saturday Feb. 10, with student shows at 7PM followed by professional shows at 10PM for a weekend chock-full of good humor and fun. The lineup consisted of improv and sketch comedy groups from seven colleges and universities from the Northeast U.S. area, and had a total of twelve acts.
The Whistling Shrimp from Cornell University got the ball rolling with a suggestion from the audience: cats. The skit soon evolved into bits about a husband and wife mime opening containers to find cats stuffed into various liquid products. This phenomenon extends beyond their household, as the neighbor stops by to complain about cats spoiling his food, too. Whether it was a rag-doll in the milk or an orange tabby in the OJ, nothing was left untouched by felines. This group showcased impressive continuity and collaboration throughout their bits, and this tied the seams of the show together.
The Institute comedy group from Tufts University shifted gears to sketch comedy, and came on strong with a trivia show titled “WHY DID LINDA LEAVE ME?” dedicated to uncovering the truth about why the host’s ex-wife left him. He banished trivia contestants left and right in fits of passion, and his most egregious expulsion was when one contestant accidentally sided with Linda when answering an absurd personal question. The next skit focused on an awkward but enthusiastic father trying to empathize with his kids. The twist? The family had joined a religious movement governed by “Lord Zor,” an overlord who the family praised sporadically with science-fiction inspired salutes. The skit ended darkly when the children, unknowingly, went down to the basement to play with the soot of their cats that had been sacrificed to Zor.
The act that followed was Skidmore’s very own Awkward Kids Talking improv group. They asked for a location, a thing the location was known for, and the “hot spot” there. They got Boringberg: a town known for squid, where the hippest place to hang was the local hospital. In their bit, a young girl fascinated with the jellyfish in the aquarium accidentally cracked the glass and set all the jellyfish loose. She was so intrigued by them that she joined them writhing in a pile on the floor as they grasped for her feigned slow motion. Shifting gears, two rival moms pitted their daughters against one another to see who could sell the most squid ink in the Boringberg Girl Scouts, reminiscent of suburban mothers who would stop at nothing to be top dog. The improv ended with the Hospital Gala, an event that showed impressive inclusivity for welcoming a human and jellyfish cross-species couple.
After intermission, Slow Children At Play from Boston University preformed a skit where a man attempted to buy a bank, but instead was robbed by the “jazzy jailbirds”: a three-person singing group striving to be a quartet, but not quite there because they lack a fourth member. A robber duet joined in on the holdup and a wild shootout began. In the midst of the craziness, the bank’s buyer sang to the tune of The Wizard of Oz’s “If I Only Had a Brain,” but modified to “If I Only Had a Bank.” After, a sketch set in a film studio has to decide which film to fund next while constantly shooting down one man’s persistent pitch to create a robot butler movie. Finally, they acted out a car serial killer who strikes during traffic jams by enticing victims from other vehicles to trust her by sharing a special moment with them to an upbeat song.
Underground Improv Project from Muhlenberg acted out an enthralling Rat Uprising. The rat king and his squire discussed what to do about the growing opposition to his leadership, but he was too nonchalant and laissez-faire in his approach, and allowed the resistance to overtake his throne. Later on, a love story brewed between two teens: a regular schmuck, and Noodle Boy. Noodle Boy’s key trait was his weakness that caused him to have trouble chewing and doing mundane acts we take for granted, which caused hard times in the relationship. Next, the group created the Girl Who Can Spit At An Incredibly Long Distance, a long-winded, yet descriptive title of a character who indeed Can Spit At An Incredibly Long Distance.
The Sketchies from Skidmore finished up the Friday evening with a choreographed fish-themed dance skit to the song “Fish Bowl” that was loud, colorful, and fast-paced. The group then proceeded to brainstorm drinking games and ended up creating a game that was essentially drinking alone and alcoholism. The highlight of the Sketchies’ performance was undoubtedly the fire safety skit. It began with three students caught in a blaze in an unnamed dorm, weighing their options of escape. One smart thinker got out his fire safety manual for help, but unfortunately the manual was just filled with information about prohibited fire hazard items. One man onstage asked what could possibly have caused the fire. His friend responded, logically, that it had to be the 100-year-old, broken down washing machine in the basement. He said no way, because according to the fire safety manual, the fire must have been caused by the tapestry hanging in his room. The audience exploded in laughter as the skit was relevant to their lives as college students, doomed to comply with the questionable demands of strict fire marshals.
Saturday night rolled around, and Hammerkatz from New York University led the lineup. In their first skit, a couple comes back from marriage counseling and finds out they’ve been robbed of all their possessions. But, thanks to that very counseling session, they don’t freak out and instead express their distress with positive yelling only. This results in numerous tragedies met with frantic power poses and positive affirmations through gritted teeth. Hammerkatz also showed us the touching and amusing relationship between a farmer and his pig…that was actually a middle-aged man in a pig “suit” (really, a onesie and disturbing pig gloves). The group kept up to date on recent cinema and did a short bit on Call Me by Your Name. The actors walked out on stage, immediately made out, and then started shouting their names to one another — which is truly a solid representation of the movie.
The improv group 45 Kings from Loyola University of Chicago may have thought they discovered one of the Rings of Power, but the ring they tried on made them immediately defecate in their pants. The gag ran on until almost every member of the group hilariously and painfully spoiled their underwear. Then, two ladies faced off in a modeling competition where they contorted their bodies into uncomfortable positions while they jabbed at one another. This bit is revisited later, this time in a photoshoot where both women were speed walking around the stage, hoping to outdo the other. The photographer is frustrated, but takes a backseat to their fierce competitive spirit.
Skidmore’s own Skidomedy opened their skit in a classroom setting where a disgruntled teacher attempts to show her students a video titled “What Is Science?” During the video, instead of learning about science, the students are bombarded with preposterous pop-up advertisements that included DeviantArt ads and clickbait enticing them to join sketchy gaming communities. Later on, a talks show host interviews a man and woman from the fake film “My Nightmare House 8,” in which the ghost Lord Harrington steals the man’s ex-wife, and even comes out on stage to further enrage the ex-husband. A sketch that parodied Shark Tank introduced a man with a compelling case for investors: all they had to do was invest $90k and as a stipend, they got to pee in his mouth whenever they had the urge.
After Saturday intermission, Dangerbox, an improv group from New York University, explored the magic of appealing to your first crush on the playground. The main actress was persistent, but ultimately unsuccessful in wooing the man of her dreams by pretending she could play the sitar. Further along, there were impersonations of students in class discussions that start every comment by saying “I’d like to bounce off of that idea…” Dangerbox finished up with a bit about two people in a codependent relationship living as one person, and the havoc they cause in the school system because they refuse to split off into the right classes.
The Skits from Cornell University opened with a skit about an investigative journalism boardroom where they worked to expose people in popular culture. They discovered that Tom Hanks had a dog fighting ring, but deemed him too pure to callout. Instead, one of the writers sacrificed his own image, and claimed responsibility in order to save Hanks. Later, they put on a skit about how an experienced ghost tried to teach a recently deceased man how to haunt the living. Unfortunately, many of the senior ghost’s most striking “supernatural” disturbances were blamed on the air conditioning, not his hauntings. The freshly-dead man decided to teach the ghost how to send accidental revealing pictures and determined that was the best way to scare our generation. Further in the act, a dad watched over his son in heaven and overstepped his boundaries when he struck down his son’s new stepdad with a lightning bolt. Later, a doctor obsessed with the head, shoulders, knees, and toes song was distraught when his patient complained about his kidney, which was beyond his knowledge of sing-song anatomy. To end their performance, the Skits played limbo indefinitely while “In Limbo”.
To put a wrap on ComFest, the Ad-Libs improv group from Skidmore had a dance battle bit where a performer invented a cool new dance move: he scooted under his fellow performers’ legs and popped out the other side, announcing that his friend had just had a baby! Every year, the group pays homage to their original form — sketch comedy — by moving away from improv for their final act. The multi-bit performance took place in a hipster coffee house that ran on the dynamic between its very particular customers and military-like management. A customer that had finally ordered her 100th vent-caramel-three-pump-no-water chai latte (or something along those lines) got a celebration and banner from all the café hipsters.
At the end of both nights, all I had to say was thank you. Thank you to all the student comedy groups for showcasing their talents. It takes guts and gusto to perform in front of packed audiences (sold out three nights). So many intriguing ideas were experimented with and laughed about, and every group should be proud of their wild imaginations and prowess at delivering a punchline. This event was certainly a weekend well-spent, and it will be exciting to experience ComFest again next year for its 30th anniversary.