Onassis, The Mantzoukas Brothers come up winners at 2011 Friars Club Improv & Sketch Competition

A new UCB Maude team and a long-running two-man improv group came up big as winners of $5,000 each in the 2011 Friars Club Improv & Sketch Competition, held over the weekend at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City.

The cash prizes serve as funding for the winning groups — Onassis and The Mantzoukas Brothers — to produce and shoot short films for the Friars Club Comedy Film Festival this October.

The Mantzoukas Brothers with FrISC2011 Executive Director Sue Constantine. All photos by Brooke Connolly.

Improv went first on Friday, with each of the five competing finalists having 20 minutes on the clock to receive an audience suggestion and do whatever they could, would and should with it.

Mantzoukas_brothers_frisc2011The Mantzoukas Brothers — Jason Mantzoukas and his brother, Vincent (Ed Herbstman) — emerged victorious after going up last with a monoscene that acknowledged the audience and ended with a bang of a black-out. You can see them monthly at The Magnet Theater in NYC (next scheduled date: July 15, 2011) where Herbstman is a co-founder.

Doppelganger had gone up first and finished a very close second (note: I was on the selection committee for FrISC but did not serve as a judge, though I did speak to some of the judges afterward) with their explosively fun scenes and imaginative use of the stage. Sasheer Zamata climbed over the back wall not once, but twice! You can see Doppelganger performing improv at various venues around NYC (including The Creek and The Cave, The PIT and The UCB this week alone).

Death by Roo Roo played their monoscene shorthanded as a four-man outfit (Anthony Atamanuik, John Gemberling, John Murray and Gavin Speiller). They have a regular slot on Saturday nights at the UCB in NYC. Standards & Practices crossed the border from Toronto to perform at FrISC 2011. And Middle Age Comeback, a duo (Jimmy Carlson and Craig Uhlir) from iO Chicago, filled in more than admirably as the first alternate after Big Black Car could not fulfill its finalist obligations. And no, I don’t know what the story was there. (Updated: I heard they were celebrating a team member’s wedding!)

Saturday was sketch night for FrISC.

Just like Friday, there was a great deal of variety among the finalist groups. So much so on Saturday that you’d suspect the judges may have had a difficult time separating the great from the truly great, because all five groups put on solid shows.

Onassis_frisc2011But Onassis, a new Maude team at the UCB’s NYC theatre, brought an energy and intensity to every sketch that the audience and judges simply could not resist, from Frank Hejl’s opening excitement about the restaurant specials, all the way through to Corey Johnson’s bring-down-the-house neurotic outbreak in the first day of college (pictured at left). Even their set changes induced laughs. An impressive performance all around from writers Emily Altman, Benjamin Apple, Frank Hejl, Drake Miller, Jason Saenz, Mike Scollins, and actors Lauren Adams, Jocelyn Deboer, Sue Galloway, Frank Hejl, Corey Johnson, Ben Rameaka — with an assist from super sub Fran Gillespie, who already had performed earlier that evening with Stone Cold Fox.

You can see Onassis and Stone Cold Fox debut new sketches monthly on separate Mondays as part of the UCB’s weekly Maude night.

Paulilu Productions presented a truncated version of The Paul Downs Syndrome, which they’ve recently taken (along with themselves, Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello) to Los Angeles. Related reading: My review of The Paul Downs Syndrome from August 2010. Somebody’s in the Doghouse — also a finalist in the inaugural FrISC last summer — returned as Leah Gotcsik and Marty Johnson presented a 20-minute version of the new show they’ll be bringing to New York’s UCB in July.

Last but certainly not least, Political Subversities filled the stage both literally and figuratively as their contingent sang their hearts out and even updated one sketch to reflect the New York vote to recognize gay marriages. You can catch their show most Saturday nights at The PIT in NYC.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →