The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival gathers writers, performers, and comedy lovers together to create and celebrate in the comedy capital of the world.
Debuting in 2002 when 35 local sketch comedy groups gathered to share their craft, The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival is now the largest in the world, hosting over 180 groups from around the globe, performing nearly 200 shows over 8 days. Every hour, on the hour, performances take place in each of Stage 773's four performance spaces.
With the festival averaging 20 shows a night, over 11,000 patrons annually brave the Chicago winter to enjoy this comedy oasis.
YEAR ONE: January 12th-March 2nd, 2002
The 1st Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival.
The idea for SketchFest was born in October 2001, when Chicago teacher/director Brian Posen wanted to create a venue to showcase the city’s best sketch comedy troupes and provide a venue for up-and-coming troupes, all free from financial burden. A theater was leased and sketch groups from around Chicago were invited to perform at no cost. The festival opened in January 2002, and ran for 7 weeks. Over 30 sketch comedy groups performed, nearly 2000 patrons attended.
YEAR TWO: January 3rd-25th, 2003 (poster)
The 2nd annual Chicago SketchFest has already become the biggest festival of its kind. Now playing at the Theatre Building in Belmont through Jan. 25, the festival seeks to both celebrate the local sketch culture and offer exposure to other national troupes. Our goal is to help build a creative relationship between sketch groups, says Brian Posen, the festival’s executive producer. There are just so many groups [in Chicago], Posen says. Second City and other schools are generating so many people who are so well-trained. And then they graduate and go off and form all of these different groups. The festival provides a venue for the troupes to enjoy and learn from each other’s work, while entertaining audiences in the process, he says. The Chicago area’s veteran sketch groups perform Wednesdays and Thursdays, with national troupes taking to the stage on Fridays and Saturdays. Sundays are reserved for new groups just starting out, and are the most popular, Posen says. The festival also offers sketch groups a substantial audience. Only in its second year, the festival’s attendance is growing and we have seen a massive increase in applications to the festival.
YEAR THREE: January 8th-18th, 2004 (poster)
The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival in 2004 expanded to three theaters and 120 performances. It ran two weeks, and attracted close to 5500 patrons. 71 groups performed that year. Besides the panels and forums, 2 new events were added: Sketchubator & Octasketch-The 8 Hour Project. Sketchubator ran Saturday nights at midnight, and provided a free-for-all for sketch groups to perform experimental work. Octasketch was an experiment modeled after ‘The 24 hours project’. Four seasoned directors were randomly assigned Five writer-performers, all from different sketch groups, and given 8 hours to create a 30 minute sketch show performed that night.
YEAR FOUR: January 6th-16th, 2005 (poster)
The 4th Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival features 100 shows from 83 local, national, and Canadian sketch troupes (chosen from more than 160 applicants) performing on all three stages at the Theatre Building. A variety of styles is featured, with everything from political satire, to clowning, to absurdism, to race issues, to women’s issues, all wrapped up in a funny package. “Sketch is the natural evolution of comedy right now. In the 80’s we had a huge hit with stand-up. In the 90’s we had a huge hit with improv. Naturally, what comes out of improv is sketch,” said Brian Posen. Workshop and professional audition opportunities are offered and lucky out-of-state ensembles audition for Second City producers. All festival attendees are treated to panel discussions and all-star performances, drawing from Chicago’s rich legacy of sketch comedy which influences to much of modern entertainment.
YEAR FIVE: January 5th-15th, 2006
Five-year anniversary! 92 sketch comedy groups (that's more than 700 artists) came together to perform, collaborate, share information and support one another, all under the umbrella of funny and love. A rock star event called Master Sketch was added.
YEAR SIX: January 4th-14th, 2007 (poster)
The 6th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (Chicago SketchFest) is the largest sketch comedy festival in the nation. The festival showcases performances by more than 100 sketch comedy groups over a two-weeks. This year's performers hail from New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Toronto, Vancouver and of course, Chicago. SketchFest troupes perform for and receive feedback from a panel of experts during “MasterSketch” workshops on Saturdays. The distinguished panel includes: stage and screen star/director Harold Ramis; vice president of Second City, Kelly Leonard; Annoyance Theater founder and award-winning director, Mick Napier; Second City Mainstage performer/director and screen actor, Ron West; Second City Mainstage performer, TJ Jagodowski; and head of the writing program of the Second City Training Center, Mary Scruggs. Additionally, the Octasketch workshop features one director from each of the four main Chicago comedy institutions: The Second City's Pat O'Brien, iO!'s Colleen Murray, Annoyance Theater's Mark Sutton and Comedy Sportz' Matt Elwell. Brian Posen, Executive Producer, says You can expect high-quality sketch comedy from the political to the absurd to the down-right silly. All of it funny and worth the price of admission.
YEAR SEVEN: January 3rd-13th, 2008 (poster)
This time, SketchFest reached 100 groups. Like past years, the festival was honored to host a mess of new groups and welcomed back some of our old friends.
YEAR EIGHT: January 8th-18th, 2008 (poster)
Sub-zero weather and blizzards… still, 10,000 bodies came through our doors again! SketchFest became trans-Atlantic, hosting some lovely folks from Manchester, England. SketchFest became family friendly for a few hours, with sketch BY kids, sketch FOR kids and sketch EDUCATING kids.
YEAR NINE: January 7th-17th, 2010 (poster)
The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival returns for its 9th smash year, hosting the best in local, national and international performers for the world's largest festival exclusively dedicated to the art of sketch comedy. This year showcases over 100 sketch comedy groups performing 150 shows over two weekends. In addition to these performances, the Festival features children's programming, workshops, networking opportunities, and other special events. The Chicago Tribune calls SketchFest a raging comedic beast and a well-organized and immensely likeable event...a rollicking good time. Performing at The Theater Building Chicago, the multi-stage complex quickly fills to maximum capacity as comedy lovers from all over Chicagoland traverse a mind-blowing 3-ring circus of comedy.
YEAR TEN: January 6th-16th, 2011 (program)
The 10th year was bigger and better than ever! Breaking records again! 129 groups performing 152 shows in 8 days!
The 11th year we went from 3 theaters to 4 theaters. 138 groups... 162 shows!
YEAR THIRTEEN: January 9th-19th, 2014 (program)
13 is our luckiest so far!!! Broken mirrors, black cats and open umbrellas decorate our lobby. Breaking all records. 159 groups performing 188 shows- including Italy and England!
The 11th year we went from 3 theaters to 4 theaters. 138 groups... 162 shows!
YEAR FIFTEEN: January 7th-17th, 2016
"I am stupid excited this year," says Posen, who offered personal invitations to groups from around the country. "In addition to hot new groups, we have old friends returning or reuniting just to celebrate our 15th year. There's not one weak link in this line up."
The 2016 event will also boast 165 groups performing 186 shows in 8 days.
YEAR SIXTEEN: January 5th-15th, 2017