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Sultans of Sketchfest

Elephant Larry, a sketch group spawned by the People's Improv Theater, showcases its multi-media talents in weekend festival.

Elephant Larry, the all-male sketch comedy group based at the People’s Improv Theater, will be getting a big showcase in Sketchfest NYC with a prime time show at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 10 (at Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street).

The group’s sketches present more than meets the eye, beyond their seemingly simple premises, such as a group of pirates competing at singing shanties, and a video-aided sketch about Smurfs villain Gargamel.

While some of Elephant Larry’s pieces -- like the shanties competition and another where a mad scientist creates a philosopher monster -- bear a marked Monty Python stamp, group member Alex Zalben says their biggest influence is The State (which had a short but influential run on MTV in the mid-1990s and has since spawned Reno 911 and the ubiquitous Michael Ian Black).

As Zalben explains, Elephant Larry doesn’t set out to copy their influences. “The State brought idea driven sketch to the forefront, and that’s the type of sketch we love to write and perform,” he says. “We’re actually very aware of what might seem like something else, and if it seems to be too much like a Kids In The Hall sketch, or a Monty Python sketch, we’d probably scrap it.”

The same goes for anything too specifically referential of pop culture or known quantities, adds Zalben. “The big exception is when you create a sketch that has the references, but still functions as a scene with character and plot,” he says. “That way, you still give the audience something to hang on to even if they don't get the reference.”

Elephant Larry, for one thing, is prolific, having built a repertoire of sketches to draw from for its shows, with more in the works. The next show the group plans to stage in the fall will have 90 percent new material, says Zalben. “If a sketch isn’t working, we'll cut it out of the show. Sometimes, sketches that work amazingly for the first two or three months we’ll start to get tired, and we'll switch them out of the show for a little, to give them a break. If somebody brings in a really great sketch to a meeting, or remembers an older sketch that we all forgot about, we’ll put it into the rotation.”

The group offers a blend of personalities, with Geoff Haggerty as the boldest, who can take on characters like the aforementioned philoso-monster; Chris Principe as its ‘everyman;’ lanky Stefan Lawrence as the oddballs like the mad scientist, with Jeff Solomon and Zalben fitting character parts as well as playing the straight men to the others’ oddities.

As in its Smurfs sketch, Elephant Larry has been adding video to its shows, including full-fledged video bits run between their live sketches (and also made available through their Web site). The videos, in turn, improve the live show, says Zalben, by giving the group more time to do more elaborate costume and set changes. “It’s evolving format, but there’s definitely a concerted effort to push what we can do production-wise with each show,” explains Zalben. “The audience is paying good money to come see us, and we want to make sure they come away with something that’s worth their time.”



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