With Piccolo Spoleto just two months away, the Office of Cultural Affairs is up to its eyeballs in the details of hammering out the final program for the massive 2007 fringe fest. Let’s forget for the moment the awkward fact that Piccolo’s a production of a municipal government office and, for some time now, the official outreach festival of Spoleto. So its “fringe” cred is wearing a little thin. Even so, there’s still enough edginess, irreverence, and full-on iconoclasm to be found in the festival — particularly in its theatre offerings — that it’s hard to complain too much.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the massive program of straight plays, sketch and improv comedy, stand-up, monologue, and film that’s collectively known as Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe.

The work of The Have Nots! and their many improv and sketch cohorts, this year’s Fringe pulls in acts from some of the country’s top comedy crucibles, as well as a fresh look at the best local work being created by their own members and friends. An early peek at the just-finalized program suggests it’s their most ambitious lineup in the outsider festival’s seven years.

With Charleston Stage Company now occupying the American Theater mainstage until at least 2009 (see Artifacts, page 38), the Nots!’comedy program will cover a constellation of downtown venues they first workshopped at January’s Charleston Comedy Festival: Theatre 99, Charleston Ballet Theatre, Tonik, Stars Bar at the American, and the cozy Buxton’s East Bay Theatre next to Subway.

Aziz Ansari was last here for Comedy Fest 2006. Since then, the S.C.-raised stand-up artist has hit it big, with an MTV series called Human Giant debuting on the channel Thurs. April 5. Ansari and co-star Paul Scheer will bring Human Giant — part sketch, part stand-up, part short film — to the CBT studio. Scheer will also team up with improv pal Jack McBrayer (Talladega Nights, 30 Rock) for improv a la Scheer & McBrayer.

Returning for a third time to Charleston, Boston-based sketch comedians The Late Night Players offer their absurdist take on life, sex, politics, love, and death, while Chicago’s Second City sends us The Fowler Family Radio Hour, a comedy revue that takes the form of a weekly broadcast from a small Southern town. Second City Piccolo alums Frank Caeti (MADtv) and Jen Bills will also be in town with their two-person comedy tour de force. Chicago-based comedian Paul Thomas will show off his versatility with a mixture of stand up, monologue, characters and songs in Paul Thomas: Late Bloomer.

New York City’s at least as well represented as Chicago here this spring: Upright Citizens Brigade will again have its Tourco here, and three-man UCB act Buffoons will bring the kind of sketch comedy that packed houses for their 2006 Comedy Fest run. Actress Susan Jeremy plays 22 roles in her one-woman play P.S. 69, about the life of a substitute teacher in a Brooklyn elementary school, and New York City based “theatrical” sketch comedy group the Harvard Sailing Team bring a don’t-miss pedigree from the People’s Improv Theatre in New York.

Theatre 99’s also big on the best of their own personal best this May, programming encore and/or reunion runs of Hobo the Musical, Mary Kay Has a Posse, Big Dicktionary, The Complete History of Charleston for Morons, Moral Fixation. There’s lots of new stuff from the home team, too. John Brennan premieres his one-man Banana Monologues, and Cabaret Kiki will showcase new material in Buxton’s East Bay Theatre.

With the Piccolo Fringe looming so large over the rest of Piccolo Spoleto’s theatre series, it’s fair to ask who’ll be creating the next unofficial “fringe” festival? The whispers have already begun…

Human Giant

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