Founders’ Picks: Cole Stratton

This week, the founders of SF Sketchfest will be selecting some of their top choices for the week ahead. Next up is Cole Stratton.

sklarpicCole: “Ok, I admit it. I like sports. But even if you don’t, you’ll still get a kick out of the Sklarbro Country podcast, which is hosted by long-time fest performers Randy and Jason Sklar. It’s a hilarious podcast from Earwolf that features the brothers, long-time drop-in guest co-host Dan Van Kirk (who’s impressions, especially Mark Wahlberg, have been killing it on this and Doug Loves Movies) and a bevy of fun guest comedians and athletes. James Adomian, who is one of my favorite character comics and impressionists, is also on hand, as is Jon Daly, who you may remember as a Pittsburgh Pawn Star from Kroll’s Show, and Moshe Kasher, a former local who is also doing his Hound Tall podcast this weekend. It’s fast, it’s funny, and returning to the fest after being absent for a few years.

behrendtGreg Behrendt is a prince among humans — so giving, hilarious and kind, but also, he can shred on the guitar. One of our favorite shows to do at the festival, Bring the Rock features Behrendt and a kick-ass backing band ably assisting guest comics who tell a story and then cover a song related to it. This year’s lineup features Dana Gould (long-time Simpsons scribe and amazing stand-up comic), Andy Kindler (from Dr. Katz and Bob’s Burgers), Kate Micucci (one half of adorable comedic song duo Garfunkel & Oates), and some woman named Janet Varney, who’s bio on our site says something about voicing Korra on Nickelodeon and co-founding some San Francisco comedy festival.

PicturethisposterI love stand-up comedy, but sometimes you need a really fun hook to set a show apart, and Picture This! has a doozy of one. While comics do their sets, animators draw behind them, projected onto a screen. It’s a fun melding of prepared material and impromptu artwork, with both stand-ups and sketchers feeding off of one another. It’s a pretty stacked line up of comics — The aforementioned Sklar Brothers, John Roberts (Bob’s Burgers), Jay Larson (from the great Crabfeast podcast, also at the fest), Amy Miller (who did great on the last season of Last Comic Standing, and memorably sparred with Norm MacDonald), Anna Seregina (ex-local from The Business, now an LA staple), and Bucky Sinister (Oakland’s own poet and stand-up and long time fest performer). And it’s hosted by Brandi Posey, a great comic and podcaster. It’s a really fun, unique night out.”

Founders’ Picks: Janet Varney

This week, the founders of SF Sketchfest will be selecting some of their top choices for the week ahead. Next up is Janet Varney.

“What swiftly became one of my favorite shows in Los Angeles is also one of my all-time favorites at SF Sketchfest: The Black Version, with Jordan Black, Nyima Funk, Daniele Gaither, Karen Maruyama, Gary Anthony Williams and Cedric Yarbrough, who together combined have some of the most impressive comedy credits in show business. They’re all tremendously talented improvisers from the famed Groundlings school and theatre in Los Angeles. This amazing cast lets YOU decide which popular film they’re going to perform the “black version” of, before your very eyes, complete with musical accompaniment. My only warning is that if you’re concerned about something being TOO funny, this might be the wrong show for you. Otherwise, see you Friday January 22nd at 10pm at the Brava Theater.

Ronna and Beverly(1)And here are a couple of suggestions for Saturday the 23rd: I’m also just a little bit in love with the ladies of Ronna and Beverly. Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin have been doing these characters for as long as I’ve known them, which is at least a decade. They inhabit the imaginary souls of Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsburg to such an astonishing and brilliant degree, I myself forget that underneath the wigs and tacky (sorry ladies) makeup are two totally different people. And their guests for the evening? Oh, just the amazing Guy Branum and the incredible Kate Micucci, two of comedy’s most unique and delightful voices. You can pick up a lesson or two about how to be better in (and out of) relationships on Saturday, January 23rd at 8pm at the JCCSF Kanbar Hall Theater.

GravidWaterFrom there, you can hop over to the Brava to check out Gravid Water at 10pm, where you’ll see a ton of famous faces perform in half-written, half-improvised two-person scenes. Actors perform lines they’ve learned from a scene in a play while their scene partner onstage improvises responses to each of the memorized lines. It’s been a huge hit each year we’ve had it at SF Sketchfest, just as it is in Los Angeles and New York, where it’s a regular staple at the UCB theaters. Seeing this show is a little bit like watching a series of magic tricks— you can’t quite understand how they’re pulling it off so incredibly well!”

Founders’ Picks: David Owen

Over the next three days, the founders of SF Sketchfest will be selecting some of their top choices for the week ahead. First up is David Owen.

“I like the strange and unexpected, so I’m excited about the Found Footage Festivals meets Everything Is Terrible! show [Wed, Jan 20th at 8pm at the Castro]. FFF and EIT! are two separate groups who are both master curators of weird and wonderful videos. I don’t know where they find this stuff. It goes WAY beyond funny internet videos because they find all sorts of obscure VHS tapes, old films, commercials and some insane oddities. And the hosts are funny too. You won’t believe your eyes and you won’t stop laughing.”

“I also can’t wait for our fake Presidential Debate [Fri, Jan 22nd at 10:30pm at Cobb’s
Comedy Club
]. We’re calling it the “Write-In Candidates” debate, and it features some of the best character improvisers in the world playing both real and imagined candidates in a fully improvised debate. James Adomian, Matt Besser, Paul Gilmartin, Mary Houlihan, Brian Huskey, Dan Van Kirk and moderator Tom Shillue are all amazing at what they do and this is going to be a really unique once-in-a-lifetime experience, and also a lot more entertaining than the real debates that are on TV every other day.”

JeffGarlin“Finally, I’m a huge Jeff Garlin fan, and I’m looking forward to having him back at the festival [Sat, Jan 23rd at 7:30pm at the Brava Theatre]. Not only is he one of the funniest guys on the planet, a great standup comic, improviser and interviewer, but when you’re in the audience watching him you feel like you’re just hanging out with him in his living room and he’s talking to you and making you laugh. He’s personable and intimate and connects with audiences, and he knows everyone in Hollywood so he’s got great stories. He has some very cool guests, with Dan Mintz and Sarah Tiana joining him, and an opening set by one of my favorite sketch groups, Charles, from Seattle.”


SF Sketchfest 2015
Jakub Mosur

The last day of SF Sketchfest 2015 kicked off with beloved childrens’ book writer Mo Willems and a group of comedians game for silliness! To introduce his cast Willems said, “Parents, you have done your job right if your kids don’t know a single person on this stage!” Grown ups in the crowd (parents, librarians, teachers and comedy-fans who tweeted they didn’t realize it was a children’s show) cheered as he introduced Scott Adsit, John Cho, Janeane Garofalo, John Hodgman, Kate Micucci, Busy Philipps, Kevin Pollak and Kristen Schaal. The Marines Memorial filled with glee as the actors leant their voices to the stories, the real Trixie joined the stage, and everybody was given paper and pencils and a lesson in how to draw The Pigeon.

After story time, Scott Adsit hopped over to Verdi Club, where he joined host Matt Besser and comedians Colton Dunn and Lauren Lapkus for an afternoon performance of the improve comedy podcast improv4humans. A bevy of topics were riffed, including: abandonment of a newborn by their parents, an all-foreigners house party, the humiliation of parents describing sex to their children, parties after Sunday church service and the afterlife. At one point, Besser called out an audience member who indicated on Twitter they would blow kisses at Lauren Lapkus during the show. This became a running bit when Lapkus caught the blown kiss and put it in a plastic cup which was then flipped over and placed on a table, to which everyone on stage proceed to incorporate in various sketches.

At Cobb’s, SF Sketchfest presented the first public screening of upcoming Comedy Central series “Another Period,” a show chronicling the misadventures of a fictional wealthy Newport family at the turn of the century. Cocreators Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindholme and cast member Moshe Kasher projected a big family tree to introduce the quirky family members and help, and talked about how much fun they had naming each outrageous character. After providing a bit of background on the show, they screened episodes 5 and 8 to a howling audience. Afterwards, cast members Paget Brewster, Moshe Kasher, Armen Weitzman and Jason Ritter joined for a Q&A revealed which moments of the episodes were based on research (a seventeen course dinner party for the family dogs) versus writers’ ideas (a cape made of puppies) and what it’s like to kiss Christina Hendricks. The first questioner of the Q&A asked, “I know this may be a stupid question, but was the dog in episode 8 the dog in “Mike & Molly?” Unbelievably, Kasher confirmed it was, and the dog spotter went home with a bottle of Cocaine Wine, signed by the cast. The colorful series is sure to cause a commotion when it airs on Comedy Central.

The 30th anniversary of “Better Off Dead” reunited writer/director Savage Steve Holland with original cast members original actors Curtis Armstrong (Charles De Mar), Diane Franklin (Monique), Amanda Wyss (Beth) and Kim Darby (Jenny). Guest understudies on Heder, Kevin Pollak, Paul F. Tompkins, Eddie Pepitone, Steve Agee, Annie Savage, Paul Brittain, Cole Stratton and Janet Varney joined the table read. They read the first draft of the script, quite different from the final 1985 version, but with much recognizable dialogue from the cult classic: the audience demanded their two dollars along with the performers. The reunion lovefest continued backstage as cast members and understudies autographed each others’ special commemorative posters made for the live read. (See the story and photos on Entertainment Weekly: link to our press page for the EW story.)

The Eureka closed out the last night of SF Sketchfest with improv featuring “Key and Peele” writers Colton Dunn, Phil August Jackson, Charlie Sanders, Rich Talarico and special guest Ian Roberts. The show kicked off with sketch comedy from Wendigo from Magnet Theater in NYC. Wendigo blended multimedia into their sketch comedy, with music and video clips bookending sketches parodying “The Bachelor” and imagining what an actual friend zone could look like.

The Key and Peele writing team dove right in, asking for suggestions from the audience and picking some perfect ones from this local San Francisco crowd – “LSD” and “bike safety.” The improv scenes showed the writers’ versatility, moving between physical comedy and dry humor while playing a huge variety of offbeat characters. Audience favorites included an extended scene about a horrible TV show called “Saboteur” running six seasons (but no movie) and ruining one network completely. Dunn delivered the very meta punchline that the whole show was meant as a sabotage from a rival network. Other scenes parodied everything from Supreme Court Justices to picky eaters ordering at a deli to, of all things, fans of water-skiing. The writers had a blast playing off the crowd in a show that was fast-paced, witty, and hilarious!

And at Verdi Club, Janeane Garofalo hosted international standup comedians Wil Anderson, Dan Clark, Maeve Higgins, Matt Kirshen and Daniel Sloss at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival International Spotlight. Garofalo set a high bar at the start of the night, with her unique, intimate delivery, hopping off the stage to perform from the crowd. One by one, each of the comedians nailed their material, the short sets leaving the audience eager for more. These are all names we’re bound to hear much more in the coming years.

Thank you to our performers, sponsors, founders, staff, volunteers and most of all our audiences for coming back year after year and making this festival so much fun.

Visit Facebook and Instagram and check out #sfsketchfest for more photos and recaps from the fest!

Thanks to Nadee Gunasena, Matt Zagariello and Morgan Davis for writing contributions.


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Tommy Lau

Margaret Cho performed two sold out shows on Wednesday night to a packed house at the Verdi Club. The room was full with chairs lining the walls, the crowd ready to be roasted and entertained by Cho’s wicked sense of humor!

Local San Francisco comedian Kate Willett kicked things off with a hilarious set, sharing her stories about finding love – or at least a one-night stand – everywhere from the Burning Man playa to the Trader Joe’s checkout aisle. She asked the audience the age old question – “how old do I have to be to have sex with someone who doesn’t call me dude?”

Then Cho took the stage to loud applause from the entire room. She started her set by remembering some of the late comedy greats, sharing her memories of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers – two great mentors that she called her father and mother in comedy respectively. Her story about Joan Rivers’ funeral – with a memorable eulogy delivered by Howard Stern – set the tone for a wild evening of comedy. Cho’s not afraid to get personal – some of the audience’s favorite anecdotes happened during her stories about changing how she identifies from lesbian to bisexual, and the fascinating differences she’s observed between having sex with women and having sex with men. No topic was off limits, from a recent set she bombed at a rape victim benefit to her plans for justice against Boko Haram. As Cho said, “There’s no I in team, but there’s a Cho in psycho!”

Rhett Miller’s variety show Wheels Off returned to SF Sketchfest at Cobb’s Comedy Club Wednesday night. Rhett started the night with three songs: Wheels Off, Noreen, Longer Than You’ve Been Alive.

He introduced his first guest, Michael Chabon: “Of all the people who’ve won the Pulitzer Prize, this one’s the coolest.”Michael Chabon read an essay about his son’s splendid attempts at middle school self-expression through fasion, reflecting on his own youthful fashion identity: a tshirt he had printed with the word LIBERTINE. He confessed it wasn’t a totally accurate description of him as a teenager.

Janet Varney hopped onstage as an unannounced surprise guest for a Peanuts skit, written by Ben Acker (Thrilling Adventure Hour). She stayed on stage to sing a harmonic duet with Rhett from his forthcoming album.

The next guest John Vanderslice, with drummer Jason Slota, rocked Cobb’s.

A silver-haired right reverend with more than a passing resemblance to Paul F. Tompkins appeared, and Rhett Miller went to work getting the preacher to confess Satan was real, ending with a round of Satan or Not Satan, where Rhett had to admit Satan was behind Rock & Roll.

The crowd was treated to an encore of Vanderslice, Rhett Miller and Jason Slota with a rocking rendition of Wilco & Billy Bragg’s California Stars (original lyrics by Woody Guthrie).

Visit Facebook and Instagram for more photos and updates from the fest!

Thanks to photographers Tommy Lau and Jakub Mosur, and contributing writers Nadee Gunasena and Morgan Davis.