For actors, it’s pretty clear that New York City is the place to go to do musical theater, and Chicago is the home of improv and sketch comedy.
Becky Chicoine did that backward.
The Neenah native and University of Wisconsin-Madison theater graduate has taken a crooked road toward her current job as a writer and performer with the New York sketch comedy group OSFUG. (The group claims on its website that the origin of the name is unknown, but it has something to do with “OMFUG,” the cryptic letters on the awning of New York’s iconic old rock club CBGB’s.)
In addition to performing monthly shows at the city’s historic Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, OSFUG regularly posts funny videos to its YouTube channel and performs at comedy festivals around the country. This week, they’ll perform at the 13th Annual Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, which runs Thursday through March 11.
When Chicoine came to Madison to study theater (and legal studies, in case the acting thing didn’t pan out), doing improv was far from her mind.
“To be quite frank, the theater kids were really stuck up,” she said. “’Improv? Uh, yeah, that’s not acting.’ I didn’t communicate with the comedy side of Madison.”
Chicoine ended up doing a lot of musical theater and drama, both in campus productions and in theater productions around town. “I was Louisa in ‘The Fantasticks,’ which is funny because that’s not the role I should be playing,” she said. “I was doing Greek tragedy, which was a mistake. (It) closed down shortly thereafter, which was probably my fault.”
After graduating from UW-Madison, Chicoine moved to Chicago and was involved in several musicals before moving to New York in 2011. When she first arrived, she was nervous about writing her own material, and improv seemed like a smoother transition. She began taking classes at UCB.
“I was afraid of writing, and improv was an easy way of saying, “Oh, I’m just creating things on the spot.” It wasn’t until I met my writing partner, Sam Reece, who also came from a a musical theater background, and she gave me the confidence that I could write my own stuff.”
Chicoine and Reece formed their own sketch comedy group called Girls With Brown Hair. The duo were invited to guest-perform with OSFUG, which at the time was a four-member, all-male group. It went so well that they formed a larger group.
What distinguishes OSFUG from other sketch comedy groups, Chicoine said, is the speed and number of sketches they perform. No sketch tops two minutes in length.
“In a 45-minute show, our setlist has 35 sketches,” Chicoine said. “A friend of mine said to me, ‘I love it because even if there’s a sketch I don’t like, it’s over so fast.’”
Chicoine said her UW musical theater training comes in handy, because she’s able to sink into new characters pretty quickly. She’s also known to pitch sketches to the group where she gets to perform a little.
“It’s kind of a joke that every pitch meeting I’m always bringing a sketch where I sing or I dance,” she said. “They’re like, ‘OK, what sketch does Becky bring where she does the splits?’”
Chicoine said that while all seven of the members of OSFUG have side projects and other things they work on, all of them are committed to see OSFUG grow and reach a larger audience, perhaps even a TV show like the original Upright Citizen’s Brigade group (which included Amy Poehler) did.
“We’re always creating content now for the internet. We have our monthly show, but we’re really focused on how can we reach a bigger audience. That’s really important for a group to all have the same goals. The main thing is priorities.”