February 3, 2012
The eleventh annual SF Sketchfest comes to a glorious close this weekend, wrapping another stellar line-up of talent to a variety of SF comedy and theater venues for 17 days of hilarious improvisation, stand-up and ensemble comedy. Plenty of local and national acts that have performed at the festival in the past will make return engagements this year including bi-coastal improv heroes The Upright Citizens Brigade, Stella and The Whitest Kids U Know, onstage performances featuring players from the leftfield comedy shows Eagleheart, Delocated and Jon Benjamin Has a Van well as appearances by noted locally grown talents like Doug Benson, Killing My Lobster, Greg Behrendt and Brent Weinbach.
One of the biggest changes for the festival last year was the introduction of venerable Union Square venue the Marine’s Memorial Theatre. While some larger festival events have been held at the spacious Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in the past, the 650-seat venue will host a number of the bigger acts during this edition of the SF Sketchfest including this weekend’s annual sold-out presentations of Celebrity Autobiography.
Founded by co- creators Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel in Los Angeles a decade ago, Celebrity Autobiography has become an international comedy phenomenon. Built on the simple concept of acting out celebrity tell-alls live on stage, the regularly held shows grew as celebrities started attending and participating, eventually leading to a critically acclaimed Bravo TV special and a three-year run of sold-out performances in New York that won the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience.
Celebrity Autobiography: The Next Chapter includes classic readings, brand new material and brand new celebrity mash ups. From the words of celebs from Snooki to Streisand to Hasselhoff, Madonna, Ricky Martin, Beyonce, Bieber and beyond. For the show’s fourth visit to SF Sketchfest, Pack and Reyfel are joined by Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family, Feb 4 show only), Laraine Newman (Saturday Night Live), Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210), Fred Willard (Best in Show), Mrs. Brady herself Florence Henderson and more (Marine’s Memorial Theater, Fri/3 and Sat/4, 8 p.m. $50).
Marine’s Memorial will also host The Theme Park Improv Show on Friday night. Featuring fearless comic improvisers winging an entire set of fast-paced, long-form scenes and characters based upon stories from special guest monologist Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show, Breaking Bad). Returning to SF Sketchfest for its fourth sold-out year, the show features a spectacular cast including Dratch, Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory), Michael Hitchcock (Best in Show), Jessica Makinson (Halfway Home), Oscar Nunez (The Office), and Sketchfest co-founders Cole Stratton and Janet Varney (Fri/3, 10:30 p.m. $35 sold out).
Another in-demand Friday event will be WTF with Marc Maron, a live presentation of the popular podcast. A veteran alternative comedian and former Air America pundit, Maron exhibits a willingness to discuss all aspects of his life — drug problems, insecurity and family trouble — that allows his audience to follow and connect with him on a bi-weekly basis. By creating this over-the-air personal relationship, Maron is able to disarm the stable of notable comedians and actors that enter his recording studio (located in his garage), thereby ensuring that whoever speaks Maron opens up and shows a side of his/herself that could never come out in a TV studio. The best examples of this include Maron’s interviews of Robin Williams, Louis C.K. and the often vilified Carlos Mencia.
The second edition of WTF to be held at the SF Sketchfest will feature guests Geoff Bolt (The National Theatre of the Deranged), SF comedy legend Will Durst (Livelyhood), Pete Holmes (Ugly Americans), Arden Myrin (Chelsea Lately), and SNL’s Laraine Newman (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Fri/3 10:30 p.m., $25 sold out). Maron will also participate in Previously Secret Information, local comic Joe Klocek’s comic storytelling show (Purple Onion, Fri/3 8 p.m. $15 sold out) and headline a Saturday night stand-up show with Jen Kirkman and Chris Garcia (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Sat/4 8 p.m., $25 sold out).
The closing day of the SF Sketchfest brings finds the Castro Theatre offering a full slate of classic films with special guests discussing the creative processes behind these cinematic achievements. Things get started with a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Jim Henson’s classic family fantasy The Dark Crystal with a pre-screening introduction by famed Henson puppeteer Dave Goelz (who performed multiple characters in the movie such as Fezzig; he’s also the man behind The Great Gonzo) and rare behind-the-scenes footage (Sat/4, 11 a.m. $10).
Next the theater screens another family friendly gem, Christopher Guest’s Best of Show. Featuring many of the same players who made the mockumentaries This is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind such timeless achievements, Best of Show casts the director’s satirical yet loving eye at competitive show canines and their peculiar handlers with such improvisational screen talents as Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins. The screening with include an onstage Q&A with Fred Willard (who won an American Comedy Award for his role as clueless commentator Buck Laughlin) and his co-star Michael Hitchcock (Sat/4, 2 p.m. $20).
The SF Sketchfest salutes one of America’s great directors with a tribute to his funniest film as the theater screens Robert Altman’s timeless masterwork M*A*S*H. Still revered as one of the all-time great war comedies, the 1970 film delivers a much darker and grittier brand of laughs than the wildly popular television series it inspired as it follows the adventures of surgeons Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and “Trapper” John McEntire (Elliot Gould) as they try to keep their sanity as members of a mobile hospital unit during the Korean War. Gould, Altman’s widow Kathryn Altman and Sally Kellerman (the original “Hot Lips” Houlihan) appear for a conversation and Q&A preceeding the film (Sat/4, 5 p.m. $20)
Closing out the SF Sketchfest program at the Castron is a relatively early showing of the mother of all midnight movies: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A late-night staple for going on 40 years, the 1975 film adaptation of the British stage musical became a huge cult classic when fans started singing and dancing along with the onscreen action a few years after its original release, the movie is presented not with audience participation in mind but rather with local drag queen Peaches Christ performing live musical numbers backed by her motley friends as well as a rollicking onstage gabfest with Brad Majors himself, original star Barry Bostwick (Sun/4, 9:30 p.m. $20).
As far as stand-up talents, festival goers have a chance to see a rising star in Kyle Kinane. One of the few stand-up comics with an act that doesn’t appear to revolve around an on-stage persona, when Kinane talks about having a preference for Coors Light — the Silver Bullet — because he’s afraid that he’s a werewolf and it’s the only beer that successfully slays the beast inside of him, he comes across as a buzzed pal talking surrealist nonesense at your local dive bar.
Kinane successfully captured his booze-fueled wit on his 2010 debut Death Of A Party, a recording that’s remembered as one of the best comedy albums in recent memory. The album combines Kinane’s insane (and inane) observations perfectly with sidesplitting tales from his ridiculous-but-weirdly-sad life. Now slated to open for Comedy Central star Daniel Tosh on his upcoming tour, these two nights at the Punch Line with fellow new school comedian Morgan Murphy may be the last chance to see Kinane before he breaks through to the mainstream (Fri/3, 10:15 p.m., Sat/4, 8 p.m. $20).
Additional highlights of the SF Sketchfest’s closing days include an appearance by Odenkirk with the Birthday Boys in a sketch show called Seven Man Sweater that mixes live sketches and video shorts, including the story of seven guys stuck in one amazing burdensome sweater (Eureka Theatre, Sat/4, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. $20), comedian Greg Behrendt’s variety show Bring the Rock (Cobb’s, Sat/4, 10:30 p.m. $25) and more. For a more detailed listing of these events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.