Sketchfest Review: Comedy NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences, 1/26/11

From Spinning Platters

January 29, 2012
By Marie Carney


When I saw the roster of performers playing at California Academy of Sciences I knew I had to check it out. Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Greg Proops, Rick Overton and Will Franken were all scheduled to be there plus many more. I had no idea how they were going to pack in all of those performances, but with the entire California Academy of Sciences at their disposal it was easy to fit everyone in, but not so easy to see all the performers you wanted to.

NiteLife is a Thursday night event the California Academy of Sciences has been doing every week since they re-opened at their current location in Golden Gate Park. For $12, much less than the daytime price, you can see the museum and hear a performance or DJ. When I got there just before six the line was huge and it took about 15 minutes to get through the door, even if you already had your ticket! My timeliness was rewarded though because the main event of the evening, a conversation with Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant was ticketed, so the first thing we did was snag those tickets for later.

The first performances started at six thirty, either a fake docent tour through the African Hall with local sketch comedy troupe Kasper Hauser or a comedic version of the planetarium show. I chose Kasper Hauser, but made the mistake of not getting in line right away, thinking I had time to look through the museum a little, and even though I got in line at 6:20, I didn’t make it in until the next tour at seven. I can only assume it was a great decision to wait and miss most of the first stand-up set as well as Greg Proops’ Proopcast. The tour was hilarious, with one member playing the part of the tour guide and two more constantly interrupting him. The only weird part was some obnoxious heckler who kept yelling encouragement to various characters. Then at the end, when the yelling got out of control and everyone was super uncomfortable, it became super obvious that he was part of the show the whole time when he stripped down to a wrestling leotard and they all started fighting. Brilliant!

After the “tour” I went straight to the Piazza in the center of the museum to catch some stand-up. The room was a bit awkward for the situation to say the least. It is a big glass room with weird acoustics. Standing at the back of the room during comedian Anna Seregina’s set I didn’t hear any laughter other than my own even though, from the facial expressions I could see in front of me, she wasn’t bombing. When she finished her ten minutes comedian Josh Gondelman took the stage. His sense of humor was right up my music nerd alley. I could hear a little more laughter with his set, but the awkward acoustics were even more apparent when he made a joke about something said up front and none of us laughed because no one in back heard the original comment. Oh well.

Now it was time to get in line (again) outside the African Hall for Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. When we were let in the room Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant and moderator James Reichmuth (of Kasper Hauser) were posed up front like they were in one of the surrounding displays. While everyone slowly filled the room, they did a great job of holding their poses, even with arms in the air, and it wasn’t until the last couple minutes that I started to notice sweat dripping down their faces.

Once the conversation started it covered everything from their start on MTV with the sketch group The State to their new book “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit” (which I highly recommend). Of course, much of the focus was on The State and Reno 911 where both Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant were quite candid about backstage antics and auditions. In fact, they were quite candid in general which made the evening feel just that much more special. So special that I don’t really want to repeat it so I can just pretend they were all stories never told before.

The conversation ran a little over time, not that I minded, so I was only able to see 10 minutes of Greg Proops’ stand-up set, again in the awkward glass Piazza. Proops managed to make it work for him though, pointing out different people outside the room and making fun of them. This time the laughter managed to fill the crowded room for the show closer and I was glad I made it in time to see it. Proops is a seasoned comedian with the quickest of wits so even a room as ridiculous as the Piazza, with people wondering in and out the whole time, couldn’t stop the laughs.

Overall, Comedy NiteLife was great, but it was super crowded and hard to see everything I wanted to. The weirdest part of all though was that it seemed like half the people there were just there to drink in the museum and didn’t even know Sketchfest was there. Hopefully they saw something that might have converted them to SF Sketchfest fans. With so many great performers I can’t imagine that not to be true. I would certainly go again to this event if they do it again next year, and it will be nice to know, going in to it, that I’m going to miss something good, but that’s okay.

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