January 26, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO— 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 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 the annual sold-out presentations of Celebrity Autobiography.
Fans of the absurdist, drug-tinged cartoons from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim will be given the chance to see “Generation Y’s Mel Blanc” in person at Jon Benjamin Has A Van Live (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Sat/28, 8 p.m., $25.) Benjamin, the unforgettable voice behind standout characters in such popular shows as Archer, Bob’s Burgers, and Home Movies, has also succeeded in the live action world with his mockumentary show, Jon Benjamin Has A Van. Expect more of that biting wit, especially in the company of the show’s writers Leo Allen, Dan Mintz and Chelsea Peretti.
In recent years, the festival has seen a perpetual increase in podcast-related shows, and this weekend is full of them — seven total, with five of them on Saturday alone. Though all of them have risen above theever-growing crowd of comedy podcasts for all the right reasons, shows like Nerdist Podcast (Regency Ballroom, Sat/28, 8 p.m., $30), SModcast with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier (Cobb’s Comedy Clubb, Sun/29, 8 p.m., $25) and Doug Loves Movies (Cobb’s Comedy Clubb, Sun/29, 4:20 p.m., $20 (sold out)) have built such a following they’ve been able to spin off other shows.
This year’s rising star of the podcast world is Pop My Culture (Eureka Theater, Sat/28, 1 p.m., $20), which features SF Sketchfest co-founder Cole Stratton and actress/improv comedian Vanessa Ragland. Named “#2 Best Comedy Podcast of the Moment” by Rolling Stone this year, the show consists of the two friends speaking to a wide range of entertainers about the celebrity news of the moment. For their live show this year, the special guest will be stand up legend and longtime “comedy sports referee” Drew Carey.
Carey has a fairly busy weekend filled with Sketchfest performances as he hosts two performances of Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza at the Marine’s Memorial Theater. Carey rose to fame starting in the late 1980s as a stand-up comic, appearing on the talent competition show Star Search as well as several late-night talk shows. He is better known for his successful ABC sitcom The Drew Carey Show and his long stint hosting the U.S. version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the improvisational comedy game show that already had a successful run in the U.K. Carey currently works as the host of The Price Is Right after taking over the show from a retiring Bob Barker, but his Improv-A-Ganza will feature a looser, longer-format routines similar to what was done onWLIIA? with regular collaborators Ryan Stiles, Chip Esten (who has acted on Party of Five, the U.S. version of The Office and The New Adventures of Old Christine), Jeff Davis and Bay Area comedy product Greg Proops (a stand-up favorite who also works regularly as an actor, most recently in the Nickelodeon sitcom True Jackson VP) and musical director Bob Derkach (Marine’s Memorial Theatre, Fri/27 and Sat/28, 8 p.m. $55-$75).
Another must-see show on Friday night will be a tribute to the cult hit Comedy Central show Reno 911! with co-creators and stars Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney-Silver talking about the brilliant mockumentary parody of COPS with Nerdist co-host Matt Mira. The mostly improvised show (actors worked with a loose outline and the best bits were edited together for each episode), the stellar cast produced six seasons of the program as well as the underrated feature film Reno 911!: Miami (Cobb’s Comedy Club, Fri/27, 8 p.m. $25). Also sure to be popular will be the two-night run of Risk! With Kevin Allison. Another popular podcast hosted by the veteran member of comedy troupe The State, the show has been described as like a bolder, more unpredictable and R-Rated version of This American Life. Run regularly in New York and Los Angeles, these editions of the show will feature such guests as Ben Garant and Kenney-Silver, local drag legend Joshua Grannel (aka Peaches Christ), Steve Agee (from The Sarah Silverman Program), stand-up talents Myq Kaplan, Rick Overton, and Natasha Leggero as well as folk duo the Ramshackle Romeos (Eureka Theatre, Fri/27 and Sat/28, 10:30 p.m. $22).
Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Additional highlights of the SF Sketchfest’s schedule through Sunday evening include a nightlife event at the California Academy of Sciences featuring Night at the Museum/Reno 911! , the aformentioned local favorite Proops (who will perform stand-up comedy as well as present his acclaimed Proopcast: The Smartest Man in the World), uncontrollably funny comedians like Brendan Walsh and Matt Braugner, freeform comic musings from Community mastermind Dan Harmon at Harmontown (Eureka Theatre, Sun/29, 8 p.m. $20), a celebration of geekdom at W00tstock (Marine’s Memorial Theatre, Sun/29, 7:30 p.m. $35) and much more. For a more detailed listing of these events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.