If there is one comedy festival that you should actually go out of your way to get to, it’s SF Sketchfest. I’m not saying this because I am a San Francisco resident; I’m saying this because it is a damn good festival. The talent that comes through the city is phenomenal and based on the festival’s first couple days, the hordes of comedy nerds that fill the audience are just as great (save a couple of obnoxious hecklers with bad improv ideas).
Now in its 13th year, Sketchfest began on Jan. 23 with a boatload of shows, the main event being a10th anniversary screening of Napoleon Dynamite (yes, that movie is 10 years old). Fans of the cult favorite flocked to watch the tater tot-toting hero who set a precedent for nerdy awkwardness—and the movie still holds up after a decade.
Clive Farrington from ‘80s group When in Rome surprised the audience with a performance of the movie’s closing credits song, “The Promise,” and diehard fans gave the star of the movie, Jon Heder, a standing ovation when he came out for a post-screening Q&A. Moderated by Starlee Kine of “This American Life,” Heder talked about his experience making the independent film without any knowledge of how much of a cult favorite it would become. He didn’t indulge the crowd in Napoleon’s recognizable irritating scoff (although you can hear remnants of it in his voice), but he did share some of his moves that he did in the movie’s climactic dance sequence—which, by the way, was all improvised. Audiences left satisfied.
The following day, comedians and Bay Area natives Nato Green and Moshe Kosher hosted “Iron Comic”, a competition that mirrors the rules of Iron Chef, but instead of chefs there are comedians and instead of cooking food, they have to make jokes. The audience participates in the festivities by writing what kind of stand-up routine they want to see and putting it in a hat. The suggestions are then pulled out of said hat and Nato and Moshe decide what topic will serve as a source for a stand-up routine that must be created by the lineup of Iron Comics in eight minutes. In this particular show, Caitlin Gill, TJ Miller, James Adomian, Sean Keane, and Brent Weinbach were the comics of an “Iron” persuasion.
There were many suggestions from the audience. Many of them were bad. Actually, a lot of them were bad—and Moshe and Nato made sure everyone knew how bad they were. I didn’t disagree. Trite topics like “hipsters” and “Kim Kardashian” do not a good stand-up routine make. In three rounds, the five comedians went head-to-head as they performed timed stand-up routines on the fly. The topics were astronauts, carnival workers, and Barack Fucking Obama…what that meant, I have no idea. But the crowd loved it. And in the end, after an esteemed panel of judges voted, a sudden death round took place between the fearless musings of Caitlin Gill and the poker-faced hilarity of Brent Weinbach. After the smoke cleared, the audience voted, giving Brent the title of Iron Comic.
The final show that topped off my comedy-filled weekend was Natasha Leggero in London! Paris! Costco! But before the always classy Natasha Leggero took the stage, April Richardson from Chelsea Lately talked about the magic of watching TLC programming on Netflix after a break-up; Brett Gelman led the audience in a haunting session of Beyoncé praise and worship; and Nick Thune shared a wonderful story about how he is right and all other doctors are wrong when it comes to determining the sex of babies.
If you have never been to one of Natasha Leggero’s shows, I highly recommend it. It’s not a show, but more of an interactive experience. Without question, she is flawless when it comes to the inappropriate (remember the Pearl Harbor thing?), but she can work a crowd like no one’s business. Strutting onto the stage with an electronic cigarette and a bottle of Perrier, she managed to insult and praise a white guy’s dreadlocks at the same time. She also celebrated the love of a married gay couple while failing to make a love connection between a desperate woman and one of two potential suitors, one being a beer bro next door and the other being an awkward yet lovable man child. Everyone was a good sport.
All in all, it was a good start for SF Sketchfest…and it will probably just get better. The more-than-two-week festival runs all the way through Feb. 9. Click here for more info and tickets.