It used to be all you needed for a comedy troupe were a half-dozen funny people and a place to perform. Nowadays, you need that -- and a guy with a camera. That way you can post material on YouTube and Vimeo.
For the Chicago-based troupe, Big Pink Loser, Aurora resident James Tracy is that guy with a camera. A 2011 graduate of Columbia College, where he was a film major, Tracy got pulled into the live comedy world when he was working on a 22-minute independent film his senior year of college.
The 12th Annual Chicago Sketch FestivalWhen: Runs Thursday, Jan. 3, through Sunday, Jan. 13; Big Pink Loser performs at 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13. For a full schedule, go to chicagosketchfest.com/2013-schedule.
Where: Stage773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, (773) 327-5252 or www.stage77.com.
"I was finishing a movie called 'Critical Mass,'" Tracy explains. "It as a dark comedy about a film critic who gives a negative review to a movie based on a popular sci-fi fantasy novel, and gets kidnapped by some fan boys who want him to change his review."
Some members of Big Pink Loser heard about the movie and asked Tracy if he would help them with producing short movies.
"They were familiar with performing onstage," Tracy says. "But they needed someone more familiar with production."
This was in July of this year. Six months later, Tracy is a vital member of their team.
Tracy has completed three short films, all of which are available on YouTube, Vimeo and on the troupe's website bigpinkloser.weebly.com. He has two more shorts in postproduction.
And in his role as producer, Tracy does a lot of behind-the-scenes work when the troupe performs live.
These days he is helping them put together the show they are doing as part of the 12th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival. They appear at 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13 -- the last day of the fest.
The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival is a celebration of the art of sketch comedy, the style popularized by "Saturday Night Live" and perfected locally by Second City. The festival attracts comedy groups from around the world and also gives rising local groups, like Big Pink Loser, a place to strut their comedy stuff.
"We are doing all new material," Tracy says proudly, adding, "We work collaboratively. I don't do much writing, but I am there to make sure we are on the right track. And to figure out the little details. And to make sure the creative people have what they need, like props and whatnot."
Sometimes the job is not as easy as it seems. Tracy recalls one time the troupe filmed a scene in a park on Chicago's North Side. The scene required so many actors and pieces of film equipment, all of it rented, that they needed three cars.
"After the shoot we needed to get the equipment back to the rental place, and the three cars got separated." Tracy laughs. "I wasn't sure every driver knew where we were going. So I had to get on my cell and track down all three cars, and make sure they made it to the right place."
Not the most glamorous job, but someone has to do it. And for Big Pink Loser, that someone is James Tracy.