From San Jose Mercury News
January 18, 2012
By Mark de la Vina
In the thick of the winter blahs, a flurry of performers and fans heat up the Bay Area every January and early February by engaging in the comedic equivalent of canoe races and fireside singalongs.
Welcome to Camp Sketchfest.
SF Sketchfest, which opens Thursday with RiffTrax at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, has become a comedy destination for discerning fans and comedy geeks alike. Since it began in 2002 as a way for local sketch performers to have a place to play, Sketchfest has evolved into one of the biggest comedy events in North America. Not only has it become a destination for aficionados, but comedians, actors, podcasters, musicians, filmmakers and anyone fixated on the funny also flock to the festival like a certain summertime childhood institution.
“It’s totally like summer camp,” Fred Armisen of “Saturday Night Live” and “Portlandia” once said of Sketchfest. “And audiences who go are always really cool, too.”
One of the most anticipated Sketchfest events this year is the sold-out “Wet Hot American Summer: The Live Radio Play,” which reunites much of the 2001 summer camp movie satire cast, including Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”), Paul Rudd (“Knocked Up”), Molly Shannon (“Saturday Night Live”) and Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”). Also on the Sketchfest schedule: a tribute to Eddie Izzard, Drew Carey’s “Improv-a-Ganza” and the residency of improvisational rapper-musician-comedian Reggie Watts.
“Sketchfest is about bringing together the performers and the audience so that in a short time they can see sketch, stand-up, improv and film in completely different styles,” says David Owen, who directs the festival with fellow founders Janet Varney and Cole Stratton. “It’s not something they’re doing every day out of the year.”
Just as summer camp allows participants to escape for a month or so, Sketchfest has become a bonding, out-of-town experience for performers who “take on a whole new life,” he says. “We’re trying to create a 17-day alternate experience.”
“With marginally less making out and skinny dipping, ” Varney adds.
In addition to the reunion of “Wet Hot American Summer,” a number of Sketchfest events have also sold out, but tickets for most of the festival’s shows are still available. Here is a quick look at the highlights of this year’s festival:
‘RiffTrax Presents Night of the Shorts III: The Search for Schlock’
Sketchfest opens with “Mystery Science Theatre 3000″ stars Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett providing their irreverent color commentary on educational short films with such guest riffers as David Cross (“Arrested Development”), Bruce McCulloch (“Kids in the Hall”), Paul F. Tompkins (“Best Week Ever”), Eugene Mirman and Sketchfest founders Stratton and Varney.
8 p.m. Thursday,ï»¿ï»¿ Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco, $30
‘Pretty Good Friends’
Park Slope Brooklyn comes to the Bay Area with this intimate comedy show packed with stand-up, sketches, short films and music. Friday lineup: Mirman, Tompkins, Michael Showalter, Bobcat Goldthwait and Dana Gould. Saturday lineup: Mirman, Goldthwait, Michael Ian Black, Jon Glaser and Ron Funches.
10:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday, Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., San Francisco; $28
‘An Afternoon With “Eagleheart’
Chris Elliott (“Cabin Boy”) discusses his Adult Swim hit “Eagleheart” with fellow actor/writers Brett Gelman, Maria Thayer and Andy Blitz, show creators Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg, and co-executive producer Jason Woliner.
1 p.m. Saturday, Cobb’s, $20
‘The Thrilling Adventure Hour’
Ben Acker and Ben Blacker stage the much buzzed-about comedy productions modeled after ’40s-era radio shows. “Adventure Hour” gets a Sketchfest twist with the likes of San Jose native Kevin Pollak, Colin Hanks (“Dexter”), John Hodgman (“The Daily Show”) and Joshua Malina (“The West Wing”). Joining the show on Saturday: McCulloch and Andy Richter (“Conan”).
9 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco; $40-$50
‘The Groundlings: The Black Version’
African-American alumni of the venerable improv group unveil an improvised show created by former Groundling Jordan Black. Featuring Black; Keegan Michael-Key, Daniele Gaither and Phil LaMarr of “MADtv” fame; Gary Anthony Williams (“Boston Legal”); and Cedric Yarbrough (“Reno 911!”).
8 p.m. Sunday, Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco; $20
Tribute to Eddie Izzard
Sketchfest spotlights one of the most acclaimed stand-up comedians of his generation in a night featuring clips from his career and a conversation with comedian Greg Proops.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St.; $50
Drew Carey’s ‘Improv-a-Ganza’
Carey gets the band back together with “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” cohorts Proops, Ryan Stiles, Chip Esten and Jeff B. Davis in an evening of improvisational long-form comedy that ditches the host format of the TV series.
8 p.m. Jan. 27 and 28, Marines’ Memorial; $55-$75
‘w00tstock: Founder’s Night’
Geek pride hits the stage with Adam Savage (“MythBusters”), Wil Wheaton (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and music-comedy duo Paul and Storm breaking out the songs, readings, comedy, demos and short films.
7:30 p.m. Jan. 29, Marines’ Memorial; $35
‘Reggidency: A Reggie Watts Series’
This Sketchfest residency showcases the vocalist/beatboxing dynamo/musician/comedian as he takes improvisation to a new level with rapping, singing and looping pedals. Each of the shows has a different format.
Music show, 8 p.m. Jan. 31, Yoshi’s-San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St.; comedy show with Garfunkel & Oates, 8 p.m. Feb. 1, the Mezzanine, 444 Jessie St., San Francisco; jazz collaboration with Robert Glasper, 8 p.m. Feb. 2., Yoshi’s-Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland; improvised scoring of silent film, midnight Feb. 3, Roxie Theatre, 3117 16th St., San Francisco; $25
‘MASH: Celebrating Robert Altman’
Film has increasingly become a major part of Sketchfest, as evidenced by Fred Willard at the “Best in Show” screening at 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Castro. But the festival really works its cinephile tendencies with “MASH” stars Elliott Gould and Sally Kellerman and the late director’s widow, Kathryn Altman, for the screening and discussion of the pioneering 1970 comedy.
5 p.m. Feb. 4, Castro Theatre; $25
When: Thursday through Feb. 4
Where: Eureka Theatre, Castro Theatre, Marines’ Memorial Theatre and other venues throughout San Francisco and Oakland
Tickets: $10-$75; www.sfsketchfest.com