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Milwaukee Comedy Festival Turns 6

Laughs provide best medicine for summer blahs

Aug. 3, 2011
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Six years ago Matt Kemple decided to perform a comedy experiment. There was a lot going on in Milwaukee's comedy scene, but few people seemed to know about it. So he hatched a plan to host a two-day sketch and improv comedy festival. At the most basic level, "sketch" is described as short, prepared comedy vignettes, and "improv" is an improvisational, spontaneous group performance. The first festival was so well received by the audience that Kemple decided to do it again—and again. As it grew in popularity, stand-up was added, and Kemple's experiment emerged as the current Milwaukee Comedy Festival.

This year the festival will be held at ComedySportz (420 S. First St.). The change in venue will allow organizers to almost double the size of the shows. With more than 30 acts of the highest caliber, audiences will find much to laugh about. Milwaukee comedy performers are well represented on the roster, as well as acts from New York, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.

"This is looking to be our biggest and best year yet," Kemple says. "The acts we have this year are far superior to anything we've had before, and that says a lot because we've had some great performances in the past."

Two kickoff events will be held at the Alchemist Theatre (2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) in Bay View—one on Tuesday, Aug. 2, and the other on Wednesday, Aug. 3. Tuesday features an improv night that is free to the public and will allow for audience participation. Wednesday night is all about stand-up. The Milwaukee stand-up scene has greatly expanded in the past few years, and this show will highlight local talent. Entry is $5 at the door.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday ComedySportz will showcase eight different shows with giveaways and special guests. Typically, each show opens with a stand-up act, followed by a mix of three improv or sketch groups. They usually run about 90 minutes with a brief intermission. The Saturday midnight show only has three acts, so as to give extra time to crowd favorites Off Off Broadzway and Pimprov. "It will be a crazy show," Kemple says with a laugh.

Teen Comics Get in on the Act

Sunday, the festival's final day, is reserved for teen comedy acts. In Milwaukee there are several comedy workshops and classes offered for kids by organizations like First Stage and ComedySportz. Out of this, several groups have formed that bring fresh ideas and try to push comedy to a new level. The festival gives these young performers a place to demonstrate their talent to a larger audience.

"Some of these kids have been doing this for four, five years already," Kemple says. "Last year, teen comedy was one of the strongest days of performance we had."

The teen acts are appropriate for ages 10 and up. The other days of the festival are geared for ages 16 and up.

Kemple's long-term goal is to turn Milwaukee Comedy into a nonprofit organization. He wants to use the proceeds from the festival to provide a boost to the city's comedy scene by offering free and reduced-price workshops and shows throughout the year, and to maintain the group's website, where a free listing of comedy shows and activities in Milwaukee is posted.

"I love it when I see performers having as much fun as the audience," Kemple says. "I love to laugh, and I love to see other people laugh, too."

The Milwaukee Comedy Festival runs Aug. 4-7. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door.

For more information about the Milwaukee Comedy Festival or to order tickets, visit

Susan Harpt Grimes is a freelance writer living and working in the Milwaukee area. Laughter is an important part of life in Milwaukee, and she's glad others have discovered that, too.


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