Comedy Troupe Puts On Decidely Sketchy Festival

From The Contra Costa Times

December 20, 2002
By Pat Craig

SKETCH COMEDY, the theatrical war-horse that runs back beyond vaudeville, is seeing a rebirth by those who came along well after its heyday in variety television and nightclubs.

SF Sketchfest, which has grown in just a year from a tiny festival featuring a half-dozen local groups to a nearly month-long celebration featuring national headliners, including the Upright Citizens Brigade and Fred Willard’s Hollywood Players, opens Jan. 2 in San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre and runs through Jan. 26.

Although the festival has more than tripled in size, with more than 19 featured groups, the Eureka is still, at 200 seats, a fairly small theater (which makes advance tickets for the more anticipated shows important).

“We like to keep it intimate,” says David Owen, a member of the Totally False People group and a co-producer of the festival. “Especially with sketch comedy, since most people are used to seeing it on TV, it just doesn’t do that well in a large theater. It’s too far away to see the characters’ performances and the expressions on their faces. It’s not just an audio thing, but a visual thing, too.”

Already well-established in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, sketch comedy is just beginning to get a foothold in San Francisco. Most of the groups still rent their own venues and produce their own shows (rather than being booked into conventional comedy clubs or nightspots). In fact, last year’s festival was simply a coalition of six groups who booked themselves a block of time at the Shelton Theatre.

Other groups performing in the festival include the Sklar Brothers, Kaspar Hauser, Killing My Lobster, the Meehan Brothers, White Noise Radio Theatre, Lester McFwap, the Third Floor: Los Angeles, the Sniffs, Some Kind of Cult, Bald Faced Lie, the Infinite Monkeys, the Tenderloins, Hoskins and Breen, the Latino Comedy Project and the Vestibules.

Last year’s festival did tremendously well, allowing it to make the big jump this year, Owen says.
“I think, in a way, it was like that cliche, if you build it, they will come,” he says. “There really wasn’t a place for people to do it. But now, people want to see sketch comedy live; there may be a boom.”

And considering many of the younger fans have little exposure to live sketch comedy, the territory is really fresh, and performers have an opportunity to take the short comedic pieces into different artistic directions.

“When we do it live at a festival or something, there are no guidelines, no censors, and we don’t have to answer to any television producers,” Owen says. “Some of the groups are blue, others work very clean; we have a good mix, and like to think the festival has something to offer everybody.”

Sketch comedy should do well in San Francisco, since the city has a background of supporting comedy in all forms. During the stand-up boom, San Francisco was awash in comedy clubs, and currently there are many improvisational groups working around the city (there’s a fine line between sketch and improv — both often deal with the same sort of material in similar styles, but sketch comedy is scripted, while improv isn’t). Early on, San Francisco supported the Committee, an improv group that grew to include both sketch and improv in its shows in North Beach.

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