The Insider’s Guide to SF Sketchfest: 8 Picks


From SF Weekly

January 13, 2010
By Irene McGee

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If you’ve never checked out SF Sketchfest (Jan. 14- Feb. 2) then you need to pinky promise us that this is your year to head to one of these shows, or we will never speak to you again.

We were lucky enough to get tips on 2010′s lineup directly from founders David Owen, Cole Stratton, and Janet Varney. They were members of the improv troupe Totally False People when they founded Sketchfest in 2001. The event was created partly out of frustration with the lack of venues geared toward sketch comedy. “We had to rent theaters or we’d perform at a comedy clubs,” Owen says. They decided to make a home for sketch comedy here by renting out the local Shelton theatre and teaming up with other Bay Area troupes. Nine years later, the organization receives over 100 submissions from groups vying for Sketchfest spots.

As an audience member, sketch comedy can tough to navigate if you don’t recognize the names of the artists performing. Plus, this year the festival is so broad in scope it will also include, as Varney points out, “music, podcasts filmed live, talk-show style interviews, variety shows with stand-up comedians, and some classic films too.” With all the great acts coming to town, and some taking the stage on the same night, how do you choose the right show for you?

Below, the insider’s picks for Sketchfest.

1. For the Movie Lover and Monty Python Fan As Owen excitedly puts it,”Here we are nine years in and we have our very first Python coming!” They’ll have Terry Jones on hand at the Castro Theater for an in-depth conversation before screenings of both The Holy Grail and Life of Brian. (Thursday Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., $10).

2. The Paul F Tompkins Show Varney says this is an “amazing variety show” so get your tickets now for Friday. The Paul F Tompkins Show is originally based out of a club called Largo in LA, and it involves a little bit of stand-up, a little bit of sketch, and a little bit of music. (Friday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. @ the Eureka Theater, $25).

3. The Greg Proops Chat Show Greg Proops has roots in S.F., and you probably recognize him from the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway. He’s joined by Linda Cardellini, a fave of ours from Freaks and Geeks who also starred on ER. Most importantly, the venue hosting this gig, Yoshi’s, has great Japanese food, and we here at the Weekly endorse activities that include eating good food while you laugh. (Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m. @ Yoshi’s, $25).

4. Mathew Lillard and Dr. God To those not immersed in the sketch comedy world, saying Dr. God operates out of Improv Olympic West may mean very little, but in the sketch comedy world it means a lot… even to God. Matthew Lillard (shaggy from the movie Scooby Doo) is the monologist. Being mere comedy mortals, we had to ask Stratten what a monologist does. He explained that this person chats with audience and then improvisers take nuggets from the conversation and turn them into a sketch. We accidentally learned a new vocabulary world during this interview. (Friday, Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. @ the Eureka Theater, $20).

5. Late Night Legend Conan O’Brien In fantastic news, this Sunday we get Conan live in a special Sketchfest tribute. Maybe he will explain his “screw you NBC I’m outta here” letter. This gig is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 17th at the Herbst Theatre, but you might want to check with NBC to make sure it’s not pushed back to 2:30 p.m. ($30-$50)

6. Emerging groups Saturday, Jan. 23rd check out Tang, the all female improv troupe performing at 10:30 p.m. with the Facebook Improv at the Eureka Theater ($20). According to Varney, “Tang is very edgy and fearless.” She also recommended you go see Holly & Inessa, a duo who are from Canada and therefore funnier then us. They’re on Saturday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. @ The Dark Room ($12).

7. Clear your schedule on Sunday, Jan. 31 What do Fred Willard, Neil Patrick Harris, Rachel Dratch, and Todd Barry have in common? They’re all here on Jan. 31. Luckily, we think you can catch both the Celebrity Autobiography (with Willard, Harris, and Dratch together with Laura Kightlinger, Steve Schirripa, Lesley Ann Warren, Dayle Reyfel and Eugene Pack) and still make it to see Red Wine Boys later that evening with Todd Barry and Mates of State. Celebrity Autobiography @ Cobb’s Comedy Club at 7 p.m. ($35). Red Wine Boys @ Mezzanine at 9 p.m. ($25)

8. Game Show Explosion! OMG pick me. We love live game shows featuring our funniest comedian favorites, including Conan’s sidekick Andy Richter. We’ve been practicing raising our hands and begging “me, me, me” on the off chance we get chosen to participate in Game Show Explosion! Truthfully, we’re not even sure that this performance includes audience participation, but we’re hoping it does because we will be that much closer to meeting Andy. (January 16th at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. @ Cobb’s Comedy Club, $30)

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