'Get a little weird with it': Austin Sketch Fest returns to an in-person format for 2022
The last time Austin Sketch Fest had a real, in-person, happening-in-the-real-world festival was in 2019. In the years since then, they’ve soldiered on and kept the fest alive in the virtual world, using Twitch streams to do their best and connect sketch comedians virtually. That was better than nothing, the festival’s producers say, but they’re very happy to be presenting the festival in its classic, pre-pandemic form again this year.
What are they most looking forward to? “Oh, I mean, being around people?” producer Ivy Le says with a laugh. “Seeing live performances, seeing live sketch!”
“For us, Sketch Fest and [other] sketch comedy festivals are a chance to get in touch with comedy that’s being done in other parts of the country and see what is new,” says Austin Sketch Fest artistic director Kyle Romero. “What are people doing? What are the trends? What are people making comedy about? I’m really excited about the kind of knowledge sharing that goes on at Austin Sketch Fest.”
Romero says that being in person makes both the communication and the comedy easier to do. “It’s really hard to do comedy over Zoom. We’ve all done Zoom comedy shows here, right?” he says to agreement from Le and show host Kim Trails. “And it’s tough because you rely so much on the audience response, and you do not get that [over Zoom]. You feel like an insane person doing a Zoom show, because it’s just you talking into a camera and you say a joke – you know, something weird – and it’s just total, dead silence.”
“In 2021, I did a drag show over Zoom for Sketch Fest,” says Trails. “And it was so weird, spending like three hours getting into drag… getting my voice ready, and then I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m just sitting on a stool for thirty minutes. I could be wearing, like, man pants. Why am I doing this?’ It was the most Buffalo Bill I’ve ever felt in my entire life.”
“You know, we do a lot of really silly stuff as sketch comedians and drag performers and standups,” Romero says. “And so when you’re doing it in the isolation of your own home, just completely devoid of context – you know, you’re just sitting there holding a rubber chicken or whatever and going like, ‘What am I doing? I went to college for not this. I’m smart. I could’ve been a lawyer.’”
Romero says that, while there are plenty of comedy festivals in town, the Sketch Fest is unique because, as the name implies, it focuses exclusively on sketch comedy. “You know, there’s tons of great comedy in Austin – we all know that,” he says. “There’s lots of great standup, there’s lots of great improv that’s happening. You know, shout out to fellow comedy festivals Out of Bounds and Moontower. Those are all fantastic and we’re big fans of those. But… we are the only one that’s doing sketch-specific comedy. So we’re really excited to bring some of these acts that don’t normally get a slot in some of these bigger festivals because [those fests] are more improv-focused or they’re more standup-focused. So yeah, we’re excited to show that to audiences and get a little weird with it and meet a bunch of comedians who are doing cutting-edge stuff all across the country, and bringing that to Austin audiences and showing them what sketch comedy is all about.”
The three nights of the fest will feature a mix of performers from across the country and from right here in Austin, including headliners Mo Collins and Girl God. Each night will be hosted by a local comedian, including, for night three, drag queen Kim Trails. “I’ll be performing… with Yesandra Larond, who is my drag sister,” Trails says. “If you’re in the improv world you know that is a pun, but I won’t tell you what it is if you’re not.”
Le says that when the Sketch Fest announced that it’d be happening in person this year, the response from comedians was higher than ever. “We got so many submissions,” she says. “Just really different styles… people from Chicago, obviously we had a lot of submissions from L.A. and New York. But all these acts from all over the country… are really excited because you know what? Austin is really seen as just kind of a mecca for comedy in North America.”
The Austin Sketch Fest is September 29 - October 1 at the Austin Scottish Rite Theater.