In the midst of their 20th anniversary season, the Comedy Pigs, Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s improv group, will present back-to-back weekends of its annual sketch show, starting this Friday night.
For the majority of the last two decades, the Comedy Pigs have followed mainstage productions at Maryland Ensemble Theatre, performing short-form improv. But with this year’s offering, “The Post-Aporkalyptic Sketch Show,” the group has decided to go in a different direction.
For one, the Comedy Pigs have moved from their usual 10 or 10:30 p.m. performance time, to an earlier time slot.
“If you show up at the usual Comedy Pigs time, the show will probably be over,” says Comedy Pigs member Anne Raugh.
“We have a lot of people say to us that they would like to come to more shows but they are so late,” adds member Laura Stark. “We decided to switch it up and try to do something at 8 o’clock. We hope to expand our audience and get people who wouldn’t normally come to our Comedy Pigs show.”
The earlier show time isn’t the only difference between the sketch show and a typical Comedy Pigs production,
“Typically we do short-form improv throughout the year,” says Stark.
Short-form is characterized by theater games and audience participation, much like the television show, “Whose Line is It Anyway?” But the sketch show is a rehearsed series of scripted bits written by Comedy Pigs members, similar to “Saturday Night Live.”
“It’s a nice change of pace for us and hopefully for our audiences, as well,” says Raugh. “It gives us a chance to be creative in a different way.”
The sketch show may be a nice change of pace, but Comedy Pigs members admit it can be intimidating.
“Everything is written down and I have to remember all sorts of things which is hard,” says Raugh. “I have much better luck if someone says, ‘I dare you to [adlib] about rubber bands and cranberries.’”
“It’s a little stressful sometimes because you’re depending on someone delivering a line so you can deliver yours,” adds Franky Russell, a Comedy Pigs member since 2008. “[But] we’re seasoned improvisors, so if someone messes up, we can improvise.”
Russell also points out that unlike with improv, during a sketch show, the material doesn’t change with the audience.
“[With sketch], if you open on a night and you don’t get a laugh, you’re doing the exact same thing tomorrow night. It’s different from improv where you get suggestions.”
Despite any trepidation, Russell says he prefers the sketch style to improv.
“That’s where I have my roots,” says Russell, who grew up watching “Saturday Night Live” and “Mad TV.” “I feel more in my element.”
Russell has written and filmed several videos for the sketch show, most of them commercial parodies that take products and “put a silly spin on them.”
Raugh wrote three sketches — one about a parent-teacher conference, a courtroom sketch, and another about the relationship between a man and his phone.
“It’s something that would happen in real life and you just flip it on it’s ear,” says Stark. “Most comedy comes from truth.”
In order to compose the two hour show, all Comedy Pig members write their own original sketches and then choose the best ones in a very democratic process.
“We’ll iron out ideas ... We vote, we make suggestions,” says Russell. “I think we’re all really good at receiving constructive criticism.”
Once the group has created a script, they begin weekly rehearsals, but instead of practicing improv skills like they would before a normal Comedy Pigs show, the troupe spends time working on blocking and even holds a tech week.
On top of giving the Comedy Pigs an opportunity to make audiences laugh, Stark says the sketch shows gives members insight into what their troupe members think is funny.
“With the sketches, it’s our sense of humor,” says Stark. “It’s always fun because you get to peer inside the mind of the Comedy Pigs.”