Posted inComedy, Spoleto 2008

Harvard Sailing Team

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What is it? The NYC-based sketch comedy group cracks wise about hip-hop, radio interviews, and greetings cards in this new compilation show. We gave their 2007 Piccolo show an A+, and their skits were a hit at this year’s Charleston Comedy Festival (they won a “Best Return Engagement” nod in March’s Best Of issue). With a growing local following, audiences are politely clamoring for more.

Why see it? These kids show other sketch comedians how it’s done with a confident and hilarious mastery of the genre. The nine-strong team will perform the highlights from their newest show, 100 Years of Song and Dance, in argyle sweater vests and pastel polos. It’s all absurd, incisively rooted in observances of everyday life, and frightfully clean-cut.

Who should go? Ivy League candidates; viewers of Saturday Night Live and MADtv who just know those shows could be funnier; fans of showtunes, and families — refreshingly for the Piccolo Fringe, this is refined, PG-rated entertainment.

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • May 26, 28 at 8 p.m., May 27, 29 at 7 p.m., May 30 at 7.30 p.m., May 31 at 7 and 9 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • (888) 374-2656

Clean Cut Comedy: New York comedians return with brand-new sketches

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Harvard Sailing Team is a nine-strong sketch comedy team based in New York City that has nothing to do with Harvard or sailing. But these sweater vest-wearing performers are as close-knit as you can get.

HST’s Piccolo show will be their third in the Holy City, following hilarious runs at Piccolo 2007 and this year’s Charleston Comedy Festival.

“Charleston audiences are different from the ones in New York,” says team captain and co-founder Chris Smith.

In his hometown, he performs every Saturday night at The People’s Improv Theater. The PIT is a black box space where his team is expected to be hot, fast, and funny from the get-go.

“In Charleston people have a very relaxed sense of theater and entertainment. They’re much more willing to follow longer ideas that don’t pay off right at the start. Maybe that relaxed energy is a Southern thing.”

HST tailors its shows to each venue, so some longer-form sketches will be included in their best-of package from the PIT show, 100 Nights of Song and Dance. There’s a number of musical skits, including riffs on rap music, Simon and Garfunkel, and Beauty and the Beast. The team will also be taking potshots at Diet Coke, cell phones, radio interviews, and Hallmark cards.

Smith is joined by his longtime buddy Billy Scafuri and seven of Smith’s classmates from a past improv course at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. They coordinate beautifully, both in terms of their sweaters and comic timing.

Despite their slick delivery, very few of their sketches are scripted.

“We used to have a writing team putting together scripts,” Smith says. “We still have that team, but not scripts anymore. They’re only as funny as the words you use — ideas are more exciting to say and talk about.”

When one of the comedians has an idea, he or she brings it into the rehearsal room to get a response from the other players.

“Everyone adds their two cents in an open discussion forum,” Smith says. “The group is our first barometer. If I pitch an idea and don’t get the reaction I want, I move on to something else.”

The second barometer of funny is the all-ages audience. Smith has specific goals when it comes to audience response.

“We want to be silly, absurd, and musical, but also accessible,” he says.

Posted inArts+Movies, Unscripted

Harvard Sailing Team

Here’s an extended version of this week’s profile of the Harvard Sailing Team, the improv team from New York that uses “Ivy League humor.” They performed at last year’s Piccolo Spoleto and again tonight. —J.S. |

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Harvard Squares

No poopy, sexy, farty jokes, please

By Kinsey Labberton

Harvard Sailing Team

Thurs. Jan. 17, 8 p.m.

Fri. Jan. 19, 8 p.m.

Charleston Ballet Theatre

477 King St.

(800) 514 ETIX, www.etix.com

www.harvardsailingteam.com

Our favorite faux Ivy League comedians, Harvard Sailing Team, are back.

As you recall, this New York-based sketch comedy group made a big splash at Piccolo Spoleto last spring, leaving a huge buzz in their wake.

Returning to town for the Charleston Comedy Festival, they promise new songs and new bits, but all with the same outrageously intelligent laughs.

“We’ve made a slow but definite transition,” says co-founder Chris Smith. “We’ve gone from the larval stage to a beautiful butterfly.”

A butterfly that’s cyber-savvy nowadays. The comedy site www.dotcomedy.com has picked HST sketch shorts “Awkward Goodbyes” and “Oprah Drunk Dialing,” which involves teammates Jen Curran and Clayton Early deflecting drunk dials from Oprah.

More of these so-called “viral videos” can be found on their website, www.harvardsailingteam.com. Check out CP favorites, “The Reason for Belly Buttons” and the hilariously sharp “Restless Leg Syndrome.” A sketch that proves those jiggly limbed folks out there aren’t just innocents with the shakes.

It’s a lesson in movement to see nine individuals perform synchronized slapstick. Of the five women and four men in the troupe, all but one of the members trained at NYU’s Tisch Drama School.

There, they took an intensive yearlong improvisation class that helped encourage the members to form the team. Chris Smith with his childhood buddy (and only non-Tisch grad) Billy Scafuri are the main writers, but all members lend ideas and help massage scenes into what audiences see on stage.

People who saw their Piccolo debut may remember a sketch involving a camera. Three members ask teammate Rebecca Brey to take their picture. She agrees then calmly takes the camera, hands it to one of them, and poses for the picture with the other two teammates.

Perplexed, they smile and take the image then attempt again to have Brey actually take the picture of them. This time, she steps away from them, leans down, then scoots the camera across the floor back to them, and gives a warm smile. What ensues is a Waiting for Godot-like farce, where the cyclical action of a warped everyday occurrence becomes the joke.

Like their signature squeaky clean Converse shoes, they manage to keep their show filth-free. That mean’s no “poopy, sexy, farty jokes,” the group says.

So grab your kids, folks. HST is a family affair and free of cover-your-ears moments. So fresh and so clean in fact, they’ve had a sweet 16 party attend one of their shows as well as a 90-year-old women.