Sketchy Humor; Familiar Faces And Rising Stars Take The Stage Starting Today At The Fifth Annual SF Sketch Comedy Festival


From The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

January 12, 2006
By George Lauer

Three weeks of some of the funniest people in the country begin tonight in San Francisco. Some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t.

SF Sketchfest, the fifth annual San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festival, features familiar TV names and faces from “Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show,” “Arrested Development” and others, but it also gives a lot of stage time to people you haven’t heard of yet but probably will.

“That’s one of the best things about these festivals,” said David Owen, a co-founder of SF Sketchfest. “You get to see people on their way up before they become national headliners. It’s great to see big names in person and there are a lot of them this year, but I really thing the new talent is the best part. People like Aziz Ansari and Eugene Mirman — those guys are going to be big stars someday.”

Ansari, a 22-year-old New Yorker, was on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “2005 Hot Stand Up” honor roll as well as one of New York Magazine’s “Top Ten Comedians You Have Never Heard Of, But Should” lists. He makes his San Francisco debut 8 p.m. Jan. 23 with W. Kamau Bell and Jason Wheeler at the Punchline, one of five festival venues this year. Tickets are $10, on the low end of the Sketchfest range, which goes as high as $35.

Mirman, also from New York, does stand-up routines and videos that attract adjectives such as “alternative” and “absurd.” The word “funny” usually comes up as well. He makes his SF Sketchfest debut 11 p.m. Saturday at the Eureka Theater on Jackson Street with Summer of Tears. Tickets are $18.

Now for some of the acts you may have heard of:

-“Saturday Night Live’s” Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz will join Matt Besser and Ian Roberts for live improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade.
-Will Arnett from “Arrested Development” is scheduled for a session of monologues.
-David Cross and Bob Odenkirk from HBO’s “Mr. Show” will receive the annual SF Sketchfest tribute.
-Dave Foley from “The Kids in the Hall” will roll out a new musical comedy show, “Dead Diva.”
-Michael Showalter and David Wain from MTV’s “The State,” will try to get serious with a lecture, followed by questions and answers.

New acts are sprinkled throughout the three-week schedule, but one show in particular is devoted to new talent: Emerging Sketch Night on Jan. 23 at the Eureka features Something with Genitals, The Hot Bubbles, The Wooden Robot, Tossing Alice and Sunshine Fortress. Tickets are $10.

The festival has also become a major showcase of local talent in an old style of comedy enjoying a new burst of popularity. With roots in vaudeville, sketch is “a sort of marriage of theater and stand-up and improv,” Owen said. “There’s usually a script, sometimes closely adhered to, sometimes it’s pretty loose.”

Often including physical comedy, sketch routines have a beginning, middle and end.

“You do know where things are going with sketch comedy, but how you get there is not always the same. That’s where improvisation comes in,” Owen said.

The line from vaudeville acts a century ago includes Peter Sellers, Monty Python and a whole bunch of people on San Francisco stages this month.

Bay Area favorite Kasper Hauser, the only group to perform in every SF Sketchfest, returns for a fifth encore.

“Kasper Hauser is the greatest thing since sliced bread.” said Jesse Thorn, a sketch comic himself. “They’re the reason I’m involved in this at all. And this year, they’re doing a show with a really amazing group from L.A. called Ten West, who do this sort of hybrid of sketch and clowning. They’re just wonderful.”

Thorn, who does a radio show/podcast called “The Sound of Young America,” is also a member of Prank the Dean, a sketch group appearing in this year’s festival (Jan. 24 at the Eureka).

Other local favorites making their SF Sketchfest debuts are Will Franken and a new group called Boom Time featuring Brent Weinbach, Moshe Kasher and Alex Koll.

What started as a “Why-Don’t-We-All-Put-On-A-Show” lark by a few San Francisco State University grads has grown into one of the biggest, most prestigious sketch festivals on the West Coast.

Owen and fellow SFSU grads Cole Stratton and Janet Varney organized the first fest five years ago around their own sketch troop, Totally False People.

The first one was a long weekend with a handful of acts at one venue, the Eureka. Last year, the fourth fest grew to dozens of acts at two venues. And this year, it grows again from two to five venues, including one in the North Bay, 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley.

Fest five begins tonight with “Dead Diva,” a melding of sketch comedy, four-part harmony (the show stars four live divas) and a three-piece band all following a script by Dave Foley. It continues through Jan. 29.

“We didn’t expect it to do this,” Owen said, “but it’s still growing.”

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