January 3, 2012
By Dave Pehling and Kevin Jones
The eleventh annual SF Sketchfest brings together 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, tributes to such classic movies as M*A*S*H, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Wet Hot American Summer as 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 be the use 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 two performances of Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza (a looser, longer-format version of the popular show Whose Line Is It Anyway? featuring regulars Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops and Chip Esten) and the annual sold-out presentations of Celebrity Autobiography.
The festival opens with a bang Thursday night as the Castro Theatre hosts RiffTrax Presents Night of the Shorts III: The Search for Schlock with Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of Mystery Science Theater 3000-fame. Making a triumphant return to the Castro, the quick-witted duo who helped make MST3K a Comedy Central cult favorite will dismantle and roast some classically bad educational films with help from guest riffers David Cross (Mr. Show, Arrested Development, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret), Bruce McCulloch (Kids in the Hall), Eugene Mirman (Bob’s Burgers), Paul F. Tompkins (Tenacious D, Best Week Ever), and frequent Rifftrax collaborators Cole Stratton and Janet Varney (Castro Theatre, Thu/19, 8 p.m., $30).
Several of the above mentioned notable RiffTrax players will be appearing at additional events during opening weekend, as Mirman hosting his popular Brooklyn-based indie comedy showcase Pretty Good Friends for two nights with guests Tompkins, Stella member Michael Showalter and local stand-up legends Bobcat Goldthwait and Dana Gould (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Fri/20 10:30 p.m. $28), Stella’s Michael Ian Black, Jon Glaser, Ron Funches and musical guest Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Sat/21 8 p.m. $28). Meanwhile, McCulloch will offer The Pink Dot Stories at the Eureka Theater on Friday (8 p.m. $25), Cross and Mirman appear as part of the Delocated Witness Protection Program Variety Show with the Adult Swim show’s star Jon Glasser and prolific comic actor Paul Rudd (Cobb’s Comedy Club, and Tompkins hosts his popular variety show at Yoshi’s on Sunday with Judy Greer, John Hodgman and musical guest Ted Leo (7 p.m. and 9 p.m. $30).
Fans of Daily Show and Bored to Death star Hodgman would be advised to check him out at either Tompkin’s variety program or The Thrilling Adventure Hour (Marines Memorial Theater, Sat/21 9 p.m. and Sun/22 2 p.m., $40-$50), a modern take on the classic ’40s old-time radio drama that will also feature McCulloch, Paget Brewster, Colin Hanks, Kevin Pollack and Andy Richter. Hodgman’s own headlining show An Evening of My Expertise at Cobb’s with Dana Gould and local comedy crew Kasper Hauser has already sold out (Fri/20, 8 p.m. $28).
Avid podcast subscribers are probably well aware of Superego, the monthly improvised-sketch comedy podcast that boasts frequent guest appearances by stars like Drew Carey, Patton Oswalt and Jason Sudekis. But this year’s Sketchfest has the honor of hosting the group’s first ever live road show on Saturday at the Eureka Theater (1 p.m. $20). Those who are familiar with the podcast know to expect a gift from the stage craft gods if it even approaches the level of quality of the show’s audio production. For fans of silly, almost fantastical premises that rely heavily on pop-culture references, these guys are the new Monty Python. Paul F. Thompkins and Erinn Hayes of Adult Swim’s Children’s Hospital have been listed as special guests.
Other festival highlights this weekend include two sessions of Porchlight Storytelling hosted by locals Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte (The Purple Onion, Sat/21 and Sun/22, 8 p.m. $20), An Afternoon With Eagleheart featuring the Adult Swim show’s star Chris Elliot and its creators in conversation with Mirman (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Sat/21, 1 p.m. $20), the sold-out Wet Hot American Summer: The Live Radio Play with original cast members Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni, Marguerite Moreau, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Michael Showalter, David Wain and surprise guests (Marines’ Memorial Theater, Sat/21, 5 p.m. $60), several showcases for the famed LA underground comedy crew The Groundlings, a performance and tribute to influential improv group The Upright Citizens Brigade, a rare nightclub performance by Stella (Mezzanine, Sun/22, 8 p.m. $28) and much more. For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.