The ever-unpredictable thrills of improv opened Comedy Month on Monday. Through Sunday, more than 200 comedians will converge on the theatre to banter with and amuse audiences.
Among the most well-known names in the show, Minneapolis-based improv artist Jill Bernard is expected to wield her trusty Zoom Rhythmtrak 123 drum machine in her multi-character, one-woman, and totally unscripted musical. Bernard's comedy effortlessly spans eras, once even delving into the French Revolution. At 10 a.m. Sunday, she will offer a special session of personal instruction for $30-$45.
Other don't-miss highlights of the week include performances from Chicago's Banquet, L.A.'s Billy Hawk and Philly's homegrown "enfants terrible," the Rare Bird Show and the Real Housewives of Philadelphia, considered cultural institutions among comedians in this area.
"It's a great opportunity to see both local comedic talent and from around the country," said Alli Soowal, a festival producer from Cherry Hill. She is a member of the Real Housewives, who performed earlier this week, and BWP, which will hit the stage late Saturday night.
"To perform in this is just a joy. I found that improv is such a supportive audience that you perform in front of. They are pulling for you and want you to do well."
Increasingly popular over the last two years and returning this year is ComedySportz Philadelphia's "The In-Complete Works of Shakespeare."
Fueling the comedic momentum will be Sketchfest week, following the free-wheeling improv with scripted routines, offered through live action and video sketches. From Oct. 10-15, Sketchfest will showcase the wealth of talent on the local and national scenes.
L.A.-based Philly native Meg Favreau will return to her roots. Local favorites Animosity Pierre, Camp Woods, and Hate Speech Committee, among many others, will perform, along with out-of-towners such as the award-winning vaudeville Chris and Paul Show from New York, and viral video celebrities Last Call Cleveland from Ohio. Last Call Cleveland is wildly popular for "One Semester of Spanish, Spanish Love Song," a courtship song derived entirely from high school Spanish textbook vocabulary.
Highly anticipated is Don Montrey's Dirtiest Sketch in Philadelphia contest, a "sketch-off" Tuesday night that will push the comedic limits beyond what may be politically correct.
Comedy Month will wrap up with City Spotlight offerings Oct. 17-23, when the funniest local stand-ups will take center stage.
Those who appreciate more world-weary humor from the wise may get a kick out of the Old Comedy Buffet on Oct. 17, featuring stand-ups who are all 40 or older. Comedians will reminisce about the horrors and successes of starting out in the business of laughter in a show Oct. 19.
A lineup of college humor, an improvised Hitchcock homage and female-only jokes round out the rest of the week.
On Oct. 14, the best of Philly's comedy scene will bring out their funniest artillery in an all-star showcase at Bing Supernova's Cavalcade of Fools.
Three weeks of hilarity will culminate in the CIF National College Improv Tournament on Oct. 22, when comedians from more than 100 colleges will slug it out.
Nelson summed up the month's comedic variety, aimed at pleasing all kinds of audiences:
"Improv is a lazy Sunday drive, an adventure where you don't know where you're going. Sketch is a scheduled itinerary of the 'Best of' hits that you play along the way. Stand-up is the best brand navigator you could ever buy."
Philadelphia Comedy Month includes themed weeks: the Seventh Annual Philadelphia Improv Festival continues through Sunday; the Fourth Annual Philly Sketchfest from Thursday through Oct. 16; the First Annual City Spotlight, a showcase for local stand-ups, sketch groups, improv acts and others, Oct. 17-23; and the CIF National College Improv Tournament, Liberty Bell Regional, Oct. 22.
Below are this weekend's highlights of the Philadelphia Improv Festival. For a full schedule of all events this month, go to www.phlcomedy.com.
7 p.m. - The Score (hails from Washington), The Andrews Sisters (New York City), Fletcher (Philadelphia)
8:30 p.m. - ShawnMikael(s) (Washington), Firth & Arjet (Austin, Texas), ImprovBoston Mainstage (Boston)
10 p.m. - The Amie & Kristen Show (Philadelphia), MattAnd (Philadelphia), Lekker (Baltimore), Banquet (Chicago)
7 p.m. - Hidden Falls (Boston), The Imposters (New York), Adrift (Various)
8:30 p.m. - Marjean (Boston), Asteroid! (Philadelphia), BillyHawk (Los Angeles)
10 p.m. - BWP (Philadelphia), Hello Laser (New York), Rare Bird Show (Philadelphia and Los Angeles), Drum Machine (Minneapolis)
7 p.m. - Rookie Card (Philadelphia), Rubin (New York), Caveat (Washington)
8:30 p.m. - Jessica Tandy (Philadelphia), Featherweight (New York), Vox Pop (New York and Washington)
Tickets are $10 each night Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday. The Friday and Saturday night shows are $10 per block or $20 for the entire night. A full pass to the improv festival is $60. A full Comedy Month pass is $125.
All events are at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St., second floor. Theater information: 215-496-9722.
Contact staff writer Maki Somosot at 215-854-5289 or email@example.com.