Comedy Review: Celebrity Autobiography

From The San Francisco Chronicle

February 2, 2010
By David Weigand


The old saw about comics being so funny they could get laughs by reading the telephone book may very well be true of the eight comics who took the stage at Cobb’s Saturday for one of the highlights of the ninth annual Sketchfest. The one difference is that instead of an alphabetical list of names and numbers, these comedians got to read excerpts from celebrity autobiographies.

The concept is pretty simple: Get a bunch of very funny people and ask them to read passages from books allegedly written by celebrities (although, more than likely, penned by their publicists). Of course the books are mostly inane, but it takes real comic genius to milk them as well as they were milked on Cobb’s stage Saturday before a sold-out audience.

The readers were Laraine Newman, Maria Bamford, Steve Schirripa, Rachel Dratch, Eugene Pack, Dayle Reyfel, the great Fred Willard and Jason Segel, stepping in for fellow “How I Met Your Mother” cast-mate, Neil Patrick Harris, who had to cancel. Most of the show, co-presented with Litquake, was side-splittingly funny, and only a few bits were probably better in concept than in delivery. For example: It probably seemed like a funny idea to do a group reading from the Jonas Brothers’ collective memoir, with Segel, Schirripa and Willard playing the teen-throbs and Dratch piping in from time to time as the “bonus Jonas,” younger brother Frankie. But it became clear during the evening that the material had to be both self-aggrandizing and clueless to really kill, and there isn’t a lot of either quality in the Jonases’ book.

But audience reaction for most of the skits was justifiably stratospheric. Picture, for example, Willard, dressed for a day at the country club in a khaki suit, orange striped tie and deck shoes, reading from “The Man With the Gold,” by the immortal Mr. T.

The audience also heard Schirripa reading from the gospel according to Star Jones, Reyfel sharing Marilu Henner’s description of how she got her husband to step it up a notch in the bedroom, Segel (who seemed to have made a pit stop at the bar on his way to the stage) offering David Cassidy’s version of the one time he sort of had sex with his “Partridge Family” “sister,” Susan Dey, and Bamford declaiming Suzanne Somers’ wish in verse (from her book “Touch Me”) that if people did have a little “Extra Love” to give in life, they really shouldn’t waste it on dogs. “Extra Love” is the title of that poem. Not exactly “Endymion,” but maybe Somers’ redundant “The Quiet Loneliness of Being Alone” is more to your taste.

Another group reading wove passages from Burt Reynolds’ and Loni Anderson’s respective tomes with workout advice from Sylvester Stallone (Pack), spliced with naughty bits from Tommy Lee’s raunchy memoir (Segel).

While many of the evening’s authors are out of the spotlight these days, one in particular is purposely ducking it. Pack, a co-founder of Celebrity Autobiography, read from “How I Play Golf” by Tiger Woods. The passage described Woods’ approach to putting, but Pack’s interpretive reading gave new and lascivious meaning to the golfer’s analysis of his own technique of sinking the ball.

SF Sketchfest: Closes tonight with the cast of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ and special guest Dave “Gruber” Allen, for a screening of “Danger on Tiki Island,” 7 p.m. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F. $25. (866) 468-3399.

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