Sketch in the city

Video sketch comedy is on the rise in Minneapolis.

Local sketch comedy group LESTARIL works on an upcoming video on Sunday.

Maddy Fox

Local sketch comedy group LESTARIL works on an upcoming video on Sunday.

Austen Macalus

Sketch comedy is changing its form in Minneapolis.
 
 
A longtime hotbed of humor, the city boasts an impressive collection of comedians dedicated to open mics, improv and weekly stand-up showcases.
 
 
However, these live traditions take place in an increasingly digitized world where an online video can become a national sensation overnight. With Youtube, Facebook and other online platforms, comedians can cater to widespread audiences more easily than ever before. 
 
 
To take advantage of that reach, local comedians are focusing their effort on sketch comedy. Once a relatively untapped platform, there are more than five groups regularly releasing recorded sketches.
 
 
One such group is Boy Kisses Comedy, the four-piece known for absurd and innovative weekly live shows. It currently creates biweekly online sketches.
 
 
“It’s easy to forget there are other ways to do comedy when you are just doing stand-up,” Turner Barrowman, co-founder of Boy Kisses, said. “We wanted to explore this other thing and see what comedy looks like in other mediums — what does our voice look like translated through a camera or a song or something else?”
 
 
For Barrowman, video sketches are a way to step beyond what is possible in traditional staged comedy.
 
 
“Sketch allows you to explore absurdity and take bigger leaps logically,” Barrowman said. “You can reframe the reality of the world.”
 
 
Barrowman pointed to “Gold Hands,” a sketch following the demise of a character with unwieldy hands made of gold.
 
 
Whereas setting up nonsensical circumstances in a stand-up routine takes away precious punchline time, sketch eases in ridiculous concepts with visuals.
 
 
“With film, we are in that world already and everyone just accepts it because they can see it,” Barrowman said.
 
 
An affinity for absurdity is also what attracted comedians Mike Lester and Robert Baril to sketch, who are both regular performers at Acme Comedy Club.
 
 
“I enjoy sketch writing more than stand-up because you have a lot more avenues to go down in terms of shooting the sketch, character development and story arcs,” Lester said.
 
 
Working under the name Lestaril, the pair collaborates with local videographer Kalid Hussein and plans to release online sketches every week.
 
 
Lestaril’s works focus mostly on dynamic banter between the exaggerated personas of Lester and Baril.
 
 
“With sketches you get to play different characters,” Baril said. “You have to write for other perspectives and angles — which makes it more challenging but also more fun.”
 
 
A world of possibility 
 
 
Even a short, minute-long sketch takes a considerable amount of time and effort, from planning to post-production.
 
 
Videographer Matt Ayers, who has worked with Boy Kisses, Lestaril and other local sketch groups, recognized many of these potential problems with recorded sketches. 
 
 
Most comedians do not have the skills necessary to shoot, edit and produce videos on their own, Ayers said. Plus, buying film equipment and software makes learning an expensive process. 
 
 
“It’s a lot more technical work than stand-up,” Ayers said. “It’s just a whole other learning curve. I think it’s just a weird world to jump into.” 
 
 
According to Ayers, this may explain why many Minneapolis comedians have stayed away from recorded sketch in the past. 
 
 
“They don’t know the world exists,” Ayers said. “You don’t know what’s available to you until someone shows it to you.”
 
 
Video production tools — such as dramatic music, mood lighting and multiple camera shots — can actually enhance comedy, he said.
 
 
 “If you have good music for a piece, it makes it funnier. If you have a good close-up of someone’s face, it makes it funnier,” he said. “When you have everything, it’s magical.” 
 
 
Because comedians can do a scene multiple times, they can actually create more reliable jokes at a faster rate, Ayers said.
 
 
“You can perfect the craft. You don’t need to do jokes on the road for a year to get it nailed down,” Ayers said, adding that the “safety net” of multiple takes lets comedians be extra creative. If a joke doesn’t pan out, it can be cut or redone.
 
 
For Baril, this facet keeps the medium refreshing.
 
 
“There is still that sense of joy in performing,” Baril said. “There is that childlike sense of play that makes it exciting and fun.” 
 
 
While most comedians already post stand-up sets online and publicize on social media, recorded sketches translate better to online viewers — and there is an increased possibility of going viral overnight.
 
 
“It is considerably more convenient for an audience member to just click on a link on their phone or your computer versus having to come to an open mic,” Baril said.
 
 
An emerging ‘scene’
 
 
Although they may not be the first or only performers making sketch comedy, Lestaril, Boy Kisses and Ayers are on the forefront of a contemporary sketch renaissance in Minneapolis. 
 
 
The comedians themselves recognized something unique has been happening in the past few months — Twin Cities people connecting with sketch.
 
 
“I am seeing more people take it seriously or get it more on a schedule,” Barrowman said. 
 
 
For the performers, their involvement in sketch extends beyond just promoting their own work. 
 
 
As more and more comics come into contact with it, Ayers explained, the medium is likely to continue expanding.
 
 
“More people will start … thinking that could be a thing they do and that scene grows,” Ayers said. “I think the potential for it to grow is there. I think more people are becoming aware of it, the more their peers come out with stuff.”