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SketchFest NYC Preview: The Onion News Network & The Sound of Young America

Sketchfest_nyc_2008_logo_white The fourth annual SketchFest NYC runs this Thursday through Saturday (June 12-14) at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in NYC. Featuring nearly 30 sketch comedy acts over three nights, SketchFest NYC promises the best sketch comedy from across North America. This week, Blog Stage previews some of the highlights of the 2008 festival.

The festival opens tonight at 7 p.m. To conclude Blog Stage's week-long SketchFest NYC preview series, fest co-producer and performer (with sketch comedy troupe Elephant Larry) Alex Zalben talks about Saturday's events featuring the Onion News Network and The Sound of Young America:

The Onion News Network -- the recently-launched web video series and podcast from the makers of satirical newspaper The Onion -- will host a panel discussion on the final day of the festival, followed by a live taping of The Sound of Young America, "a public radio show about things that are awesome."

"Something we've talked about every year is having 'headliners,' so to speak," Zalben says, "and it's something we've actually pushed against, because of the idea of every show being even throughout the festival. So I think our first initial foray into the idea of having headliners is instead doing the Onion News Network show and The Sound of Young America show, and having them be special shows during the day, as kind of neat alternative programming."

Zalben says that the two afternoon events are an extension of the "industry chats" that SketchFest NYC has hosted in previous years. "We've had producers, we've had casting agents, we've had people that are specifically working on web producing, and the whole thing was more geared towards answering the questions of the participants of the festival."


Meet the faces behind the Onion News Network -- including producers, writers (such as Elephant Larry's Geoff Haggerty, who is also performing in the festival), and others -- who will also take the opportunity to screen some of their favorite ONN videos in front of a live audience, rather than on your home computer screen.

"Since it's SketchFest, we don't wanna make it 'general comedy fest,' " Zalben says. "The Onion News Network is, in our opinion, essentially sketch comedy. They have recurring characters (in terms of the newscasters), every video is three to five minutes long, they're all funny, and they have one specific idea that they follow throughout the course of the video, which in our definition is sketch comedy."

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The Sound of Young America is a popular public radio show and podcast. Jesse Thorn hosts in-depth discussions with personalities from the world of entertainment and the arts, and "interviews pretty much any comedian or comedy-related person you could imagine," according to Zalben.

Jesse_thorn_3 The live taping features special guests including singer Dawn Landes, internet phenomenon Ze Frank, WBAI host/blogger/vlogger Jay Smooth, and a live sketch by SketchFest NYC performers Pangea 3000.

"Last time we did it live," Zalben remembers, "Elephant Larry did a sketch, and we just crowded around the microphone to perform. When we travel, we end up doing radio shows occasionally. So we sit in a radio booth, doing a sketch that's usually us jumping around in costumes. We have sketches that we know work specifically for radio -- as opposed to doing an all-silent sketch."

The Onion News Network hosts a panel discussion June 14 at 2:30 p.m.; The Sound of Young America will hold a live taping June 14 at 4 p.m. For more info, including a full festival schedule and tickets, visit www.sketchfestnyc.com. Or click here to read the Back Stage web exclusive about this year's SketchFest NYC.

-- Daniel Lehman

Read previous SketchFest NYC previews: Rue Brutalia, Fearsome, and TROOP!   

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