Just For Laughs The 2007 Sketchfest Has Expanded Beyond Sketch Comedy To Include All Manner of Tomfoolery

From The San Jose Mercury News
Cover Story 

January 11, 2007
By Mark de la Vina

The organizers of the San Francisco Sketchfest are guilty of false advertising.

The sixth annual comedy festival is touting a lineup that includes Paul ”Pee-wee Herman” Reubens, cast members of the late great ”Mystery Science Theatre 3000” and an opening-night presentation by Stella, the comedy troika that features VH1 regular Michael Ian Black.
Though they’re all part of a festival with the name that screams sketch comedy, none of these highly regarded acts will perform the kind of brief comic scenes popularized by the likes of such troupes as Monty Python or Second City.

No matter, explains Janet Varney, one of the festival’s three founding directors. Sketchfest has enlarged its tent to include all manner of artists — so long as they share the same passion for inventive, offbeat, alternative comedy. Seventy-four acts will perform at 10 Bay Area venues over the next two weeks, starting with Stella at 8 p.m. today at the Mezzanine in San Francisco.

”The lines between a lot of these comedy genres are really blurred,” says Varney, host of TBS’ ”Dinner and a Movie” and a member of the improvisational comedy group Pretty, Pretty Pony. ”What’s number one for us is that it’s funny and that many of the acts have the same sensibilities across the board, from sketch to improv to stand-up comedy to solo shows.”

Plenty of sketch comedy groups are in the lineup, such as the new group led by former Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, but SF Sketchfest 2007 offers a varied jumble of indie comedy performers. Among the shows worth sampling:

(box) Rob Corddry in Naked Babies, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Eureka Theatre; 8 p.m. Saturday at Throckmorton Theatre — The sketch ensemble featuring former ”Daily Show” correspondent Corddry also includes John Ross Bowie (”What the Bleep Do We Know?!”) and Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre vets Brian Huskey and Seth Morris.

(box) Comedy Death-Ray Show: David Cross, Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Benson, Todd Glass, Hard ‘n Phirm, Jimmy Pardo, 8 p.m. Monday, Cobb’s Comedy Club — This comedic variety show out of Los Angeles features an inspiring hodgepodge of performers, including ”Mr. Show” alumni Cross and Tompkins. It’s ”billed as the world’s greatest comedy night with some justification,” according to the Onion. Pardo emcees.

(box) RiffTrax Live with Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Smith Rafael Film Center; 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cobb’s — Like three smart, very funny old friends, the stars and writers of ”Mystery Science Theatre 3000” provide live, improvised commentary to spectacularly dreadful excuses for movies.

(box) Will Franken, 8 p.m. Friday, Purple Onion; 10:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and 8 p.m. Jan. 20, Eureka Theatre; 8 p.m. Jan. 23, Throckmorton Theatre — Sketchfest began in 2001 with the purpose of highlighting local talent. The Bay Area-based Franken, whose breathless comedy veers between a stand-up, sketch and solo show, is part of the latest crop.

(box) The SF Sketchfest Tribute: Paul Reubens, 8 p.m. Jan. 22, Palace of Fine Arts — Ben Fong-Torres interviews the versatile character actor best known for his Pee-wee Herman character as part of a retrospective of his varied work in film, TV and the stage.

(box) Bruce McCulloch Project, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Jan. 27, Eureka; closing night gala at 8 p.m. Jan. 28 at Mighty — The former Kid in the Hall presents his brilliantly absurd take on interpersonal relationships in a new, handpicked band of sketch comedians.

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