By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The 18th annual SF Sketchfest presented by Audible brings together another stellar line-up of talent to over a dozen SF comedy and theater venues for 18 days of hilarious improvisation, live podcasts, tributes, stand-up and ensemble comedy over the course of a whopping 250+ shows. Plenty of national names will be making appearances this year including such television and film legends as Carol Burnett, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris and the cast from influential Canadian sketch comedy show “Kids in the Hall,” stand-up talents Paul F. Tompkins, Eugene Mirman and John Hodgman, noted improv troupes the Upright Citizens Brigade and Groundlings as well as return appearances by noted locally grown talents like Doug Benson, Margaret Cho, W. Kamau Bell, Greg Behrendt and popular drag queen Peaches Christ.
This year the festival spotlights television shows and landmark films with events dedicated to Comedy Central’s “Baroness Von Sketch,” the CBC smash “Schitt’s Creek” and the HBO couch-surfing comic hit “Crashing” featuring Pete Holmes, animated programs like “Futurama” and “We Bare Bears” and tributes such cinematic creations as the improvisational ensemble comedy Best in Show, the beloved 1983 comedy Local Hero and director Mike Judge’s landmark debut Office Space. The number of venues utilized by the festival continues to grow with spots in the Mission District (Brava Theater Center and Brava Studio, the Chapel, the Alamo Drafthouse), North Beach (Speakeasy), downtown SF (Mezzanine, Pianofight) and Hayes Valley (The Sydney Goldstein Theater, formerly the Nourse) hosting events.
On Monday night, the festival hosts a tribute to one of the queens of television comedy, Carol Burnett. An actress, comedian and singer Burnett was working steadily in television and onstage starting in the mid-1950s with regular work in New York City cabarets and the short-lived sitcom “Stanley” that co-starred Buddy Hackett. Her first big break after being nominated for a Tony for her role in the Broadway musical comedy “Once Upon A Matress” came as a regular player on “The Garry Moore Show,” a variety program that would also launch the television careers of Don Adams, Don Knotts and Jonathan Winters.
Burnett would host her own groundbreaking series starting in 1967. “The Carol Burnett Show” would become one of the most beloved television programs of the ’60s and ’70s, laying the groundwork for future sketch comedy shows with it’s hilarious movie and television parodies and the skilled interplay of an ensemble cast that included Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence (who would later have her own show “Mama’s Family” that sprung from an ongoing series of sketches). Until the series went off the air in 1978, the show was regularly the most-watched on television.
While Burnett would appear in other television shows and films afterwards (notably the hit 1982 musical Annie and the Peter Bogdonavich comedy Noises Off a decade later), the comedian remains best known for her landmark show which found a younger audience through both syndication and video tape and DVD releases. Burnett will talk about her life and career at this special tribute at the Castro featuring the comedian in conversation with fellow comedic actress Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me,” “Dream On”) Monday night (Mon/14, 8 p.m. $55-$75)
The entertainment continues on Tuesday with Riffer’s Delight at the Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission District. Patterned after the cult Comedy Central show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (minus the outer space and robot elements), the monthly show features comedians Natasha Muse and Nato Green providing a ridiculous running commentary on a well-regarded film as it plays. This edition will feature the comics cracking wise about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with help from special guests Kaseem Bentley and Baron Vaughn (Tues/15, 7 p.m., $15). At the Gateway Theatre, social media comic Manon Mathews — who came to celebrity with popular videos on Vine before starring in the film Holiday Breakup and appearing on the shows “Broad City,” Single By 30″ and “Sorry Not Sorry” (Tues/15, 8 p.m. $25) while the popular podcast Oh No, Ross and Carrie with Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy that explores a variety of fringe religions and alternative medical treatments takes over Cobb’s Comedy Club (Tues/15, 8 p.m. $25-$35).
On Wednesday, the popular local variety/game show The Normal Show with hosts Jason Reichl and Reid Koster will be held at its regular home PianoFight, challenging attendees to compete for worthless prizes amid a mix of comic sketches, original music and outlandish dances (Wed/16, 7 p.m. $15). The podcast Talking Simpsons with hosts Bob Mackey and Henry Gilbert takes an in-depth look at one of the beloved animated show’s most controversial episodes — “The Principal And The Pauper!” — alongside fellow “Simpsons” experts Allie Goertz and Julia Prescott at the Gateway Theatre (Wed/16, 8 p.m. $15) and the Alamo Drafthouse presents The Mission Position, a regular comedy showcase hosted by Adrian McNair and Irene Tu (and featured in the Viceland series “Flophouse”) with guest stand-ups Danielle Perez, Dauood Naimyar, DJ Real, Jordan Thewlis, Matt Lieb and Torio Van Grol (Wed/16, 8 p.m. $20)/
Thursday finds the festival ramping up for the weekend with eight different events including the massive SF Sketchfest edition of NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences. A weekly happening at the Academy aimed at boosting attendance among a different demographic than the families and tourists who regularly visit the museum/aquarium, the night offers a mix of comedy, science, food and drink with presentations of two popular podcasts — the medically-focused Sawbones with Justin and Sydney McElroy and the strange-but-true tales of Omnibus with John Roderick and “Jeopardy” champ Ken Jennings — the science quiz show You Should Know This! with host Kevin Whittinghill and guest scientist Dr. George Engelmayr, the bad writing contest Worst First Chapter that has participants battle to see who can craft the most spectacularly awful science fiction with host Jonathan Coulton. There will also be two shows at the stand-up stage featuring comics Arjun Banerjee, Becky Braunstein, Chase Brockett, Pedro Gonzalez, Mike Hanford, Conor Kellicut, Ben Kolina, Jazmyn W. and many others (Thu/17, 6 p.m. $12-$15).
Other Thursday highlights include a Marines’ Memorial Theatre tribute to comedy writer and actress Julie Klausner, who created, wrote and stars in the Hulu show “Difficult People” with co-star Billy Eichner and hosts the popular podcast “How Was Your Week,” who will be interviewed about her career by Tom Scharpling, the host of the long-running weekly radio program “The Best Show with Tom Scharpling” (Thu/17, 7:30 p.m., $25-$35); We’re No Doctors, a podcast hosted by comics/actors Busy Phillips and Steve Agee discussing their hypochondriac fantasies with guests Dana Gould and Go-Go’s great Jane Weidlin at Cobb’s Comedy Club (Thu/17, 8 p.m., $25-$35); and subversive comic and prankster Harmon Leon offering up his multimedia show Harmon Leon Infiltrates Trump’s America along with Killing My Lobster spinoff musical duo Claptrap featuring members Meg Trowbridge and Eric Rubin at PianoFight (Thu/17, 8 p.m., $18). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.