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Thursday
May282009

Inside With: Chris Booth, Sketch ComedianBy: Andrew Singer

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THE BOYS OF CITY HALL Top row: Josh Wolinsky, Dan Kramer; Bottom row: Luis Nunez, Chris Booth and Patrick Frankfort | Photo: Liberty Edwards

Sketch comedian Chris Booth has been slugging it out in the New York sketch comedy trenches for several years. His team, City Hall, recently performed at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Booth, a native of Beaufort, S.C., was also recently named comedy curator for The Tank. The Apiary sat down with Booth recently to discuss sketch comedy, how he helped form City Hall and the Tank gig. His responses were edited for space and clarity.

What got you into comedy?
Around five to six years ago, I found a show at The Theater Under Saint Marks called Giant Tuesday Night of Amazing Inventions and Also There Is a Game, hosted by Andres du Bouchet. I was absolutely blown away by the show due to the stark originality of it. Everything about it really spoke to me as an artist, and that was the first time that I said to myself, "I can do this in New York." Before then, my view of comedy was very standup-centric, but also very classic setup-punchline. [At Night of Amazing Inventions] they really took ideas that everyone knows and they took them to an absurdist level. My sense of humor really jibed with that, and after seeing the show several times, I started to make the connection from a writing standpoint of the creation and end-mapping of each joke. Once I saw how it worked, I realized I could begin to work it myself.

Tell us a little about your sketch group City Hall.
City Hall is very much a collaboration of the five members of the group. Not to sound pretentious or anything, but we all support and push each other to different artistic and comedic heights. We sat down with City Hall and basically started discussing what we found funny, the things we found funny -- not necessarily other comedians we found funny, but the situations in life that we found humorous. The group really sort of grew organically from there, which is probably the biggest difference from any other project I've worked on.

How did City Hall form?
Josh Wolinsky and I were in a Fringe show together called Fringe a la Carte, which meant we did street performances. It was very bizarre. We were in City Hall Park in fact, doing a performance. We were sitting there, just making each other laugh, back and forth. We had a great time, and we were actually working together with another improv group. That relationship carried over into Punching the Midget [another sketch group], which carried into City Hall. He and I knew several people that we wanted to work with. And we both wanted to keep things light and breezy, focusing on what we found funny. We figured that odds were against us making it, so we might as well have as much fun as we can.

You've had a few members come and go throughout the years. Has that ever radically affected the dynamics?
We've had four core people in the group, and a rotating fifth cast member, sort-of. It's never happened by design. The first person dropped out of comedy and started a band, and the next person ended up getting married and moving away. The people we bring into the group are just people we want to work with or people we were interested in.

You've recently been named comedy curator for The Tank.
This is brand new. The current one is leaving in a few months, so I'm transitioning in. The Tank is a non-profit theater dedicated to showcasing new talent. It's not driven by a drink minimum, bringer shows or the need to get people to enroll in a class. It's purely non-profit theater to give people the experience of performing. Possibly even for those who have never stepped out in front of an audience before. As comedy curator, it's my job to book acts for the space. We have two theaters, one black box space upstairs with 50 seats and one on the first floor with 100 seats.

How do you pick shows?
Groups must have the drive and desire to put up a complete show. And I'm specifically looking for groups that may not have the ability to perform elsewhere. Maybe they have been formed from one of the three big improv schools but don't necessarily have a place to call home. I also look for groups that have a distinct comedic voice. I'll have many conversations to help find a way to pair them up with more established groups, so that the two can build on each other, both creatively and in terms of mixing together fanbases.

--Andrew Singer is a contributing editor for The Apiary. He performs regularly as "Soce the Elemental Wizard" and blogs for OutHipHop.com. He recently wrote about Dave Holmes.

RELATED
City Hall Facebook page
Official Web site for The Tank

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