By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The 19th annual SF Sketchfest brings together another stellar line-up of talent to over 20 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 as the festival pays tribute to such television and film legends as Tony Shaloub, Sandra Bernhard, Kevin Nealon, Crispin Glover, original members of “The Monkees” Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz and the cast and creators from landmark children’s cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The schedule also includes the Bay Area premiere of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s new hit Broadway improvised hip-hop showcase Freestyle Love Supreme, stand-up talents Maria Bamford, Kristen Schaal, Patton Oswalt, Fred Armisen and George Wallace, noted improv troupes The Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings as well as return appearances by noted locally grown talents like Doug Benson, Margaret Cho, Bobcat Goldthwait, beloved comedy groups Kasper Hauser and Killing My Lobster and popular drag queen Peaches Christ.
This year the festival spotlights television shows and landmark films with world premiere screenings (the new Netflix comedy “Medical Police” and It Started As a Joke, a documentary on the decade-long run of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival), animated programs like “Futurama” and “We Bare Bears” and tributes such cinematic creations as writer/director Whit Stillman‘s films Metropolitan and Barcelona, the Disney favorite The Journey Of Natty Gann, the over-the-top horror comedy Re-Animator and the disaster parody classic Airplane! The number of venues utilized by the festival continues to grow with spots in Oakland (the Fox Theater), the Mission District (Brava Theater Center and Brava Cabaret, the Chapel, the Alamo Drafthouse), North Beach (Speakeasy, Cobb’s Comedy Club), the Castro (Cafe du Nord, Swedish American Hall, the Castro Theatre), downtown SF (Pianofight, Punchline Comedy Club) and Hayes Valley (The Sydney Goldstein Theater, formerly the Nourse) hosting events.
The fest kicks off on Thursday night with the premiere of “Medical Police,” the new Netflix series from the creators of the Adult Swim comedy “Childrens Hospital” that will feature the screening of episodes as well as a conversation with cast members and creators Rob Huebel, Erinn Hayes, Fred Melamed,David Wain, Jonathan Stern and Krister Johnson, moderated by author, actress and Porchlight Storytelling co-founder Beth Lisick (1/9, 7:30 p.m. Marines’ Memorial Theatre), while stand-up comedian and star of her own surreal Netflix sitcom Lady Dynamite Maria Bamford works out her insecurities onstage with her wildly hilarious, self-deprecating humor (1/9, 8 p.m. Castro Theatre). Thursday will also feature an evening of stand-up at the Punch Line with Hannah Einbinder, Matty Ryan and Jes Tom (1/9, 8 p.m. The Punch Line) and comedian Patricia Williams holding her mercilessly funny podcast The Patdown with Ms. Pat with co-hosts Deon Curry and Chris Spangle at Cobb’s Comedy Club (1/9, 8 p.m.).
On Friday, the festival ramps up activity with 22 different events over the course of the evening. Early evening highlights include the return of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, a hilarious and outlandish play featuring Tom Lenk as the titular character who finds a depressed gay man on Craigslist and insists on dissecting his life to research her next big movie role with the show moving from its SF Sketchfest premiere at the intimate PianoFight last year to the much larger Marines’ Memorial Theatre (1/10, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.), Kaspar Hauser’s 20th Anniversary Show presenting the home-grown group’s unique humor at the Brava Theatre in the Mission District (1/10, 7:30 p.m.), comic/actor Jon Glaser (“Delocated,” “Parks and Recreation” “Jon Glaser Loves Gear”) and his new variety show “Jon Glaser Is Coming To Town” at Cobb’s (1/10, 7:30 p.m.), a session of the Porchlight Storytelling series with hosts Lisick and Arline Klatte with guests including comic and filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, actress Erinn Hayes, podcast host and actor Bryan Safi, writer/comedian Josh Gondelman, comic Marcella Arguello and musical support from Red Room Orchestra bandleader Marc Cappelle and friends at the Swedish American Hall (1/10, 7:30 p.m.) and The Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow with Kevin Smith at the Fox in Oakland that features director/writer/actor Smith and longtime onscreen comic partner Jason Mewes hosting a screening of the new buddy comedy film of the same name followed by a Q&A session with the stars (1/10, 8 p.m.).
Later in the evening, Groundlings Alums Mary Jo Smith and Colleen Smith bring their storytelling podcast My First Time to the PianoFight main stage, exploring the first significant memories of essential life landmarks (past themes have been cars, virginity, love, hate, apartments and drugs) with guests Patty Guggenheim (also a member of the Groundlings), Oscar Nuñez (“The Office”) and Safi (1/10 10 p.m.) while Second City Chicago vets Scott Adsit (“30 Rock,” “The Office”), former “SNL” player Rachel Dratch, the aforementioned Jon Glaser and Tami Sagher take the iHeart Radio Stage at The Gateway Theatre for a sold-out reunion show of long-form improv (1/10, 10:30 p.m.).
Saturday offers up the first full day of programming for this edition of the festival, starting early at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre with the Groundlings Children’s Show featuring Bryan Palermo, Nuñez, Adsit, Dratch, Sagher and SF Sketchfest founders Cole Stratton and Janet Varney (1/11. 11 a.m.) before afternoon events like perennial guest Jimmy Pardo hosting his podcast Never Not Funny at the Gateway Theatre (1/11, 1 p.m.), a tribute to Emmy-winning actor Tony Shalhoub (“Monk,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) who is joined by his “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” co-star Kevin Pollak for a conversation and Q&A prior to a 20th Anniversary screening of the sci-fi comedy classic Galaxy Quest at the Castro (1/11, 1 p.m.), Conan O’Brien’s announcer and side kick Andy Richter holding his podcast Three Questions at Cobb’s Comedy Club (1/11, 4 p.m.) and Camilla Cleese, the daughter Monty Python comedy legend John Cleese, shows off some of what she’s learned about stand-up and sketch comedy by following in her father’s footsteps at the PianoFight Main Stage (1/11, 6 p.m.)
Saturday evening, attractions include the always hilarious Celebrity Autobiography at Marines’ Memorial Theatre featuring a line-up of actors and comics reading verbatim excerpts from the memoirs of various rock stars and Oscar winners. Fresh from a successful run on Broadway, creators Dayle Reyfel and Eugene Pack curate an evening with actor Scott Adsit, ‘SNL’ vet Dratch, original ‘SNL’ cast member Laraine Newman, Tony nominee and noted comic actor Richard Kind, comedian, actress and former host of “The View” Sherri Shepherd and Monkees frontman Micky Dolenz (1/11, 7:30 p.m.), the hit variety show Asian AF — a regular draw at the UCB Theatres in New York and Los Angeles — presents show creator Will Choi and over a dozen stand-up and sketch comedy talents at the Brava Theatre (1/11, 7:30 p.m.) a 45th anniversary screening of the midnight movie cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Castro with local drag queen Peaches Christ hosting cast members Barry Bostwick, Nell “Little Nell” Campbell and Patricia Quinn for an onstage discussion of the making of the film (1/11,9 p.m.).
The Brava Theatre hosts an edition of Theme Park Improv where a cast including Dratch, Michael Hitchcock (“Best in Show”), John Michael Higgins (“Pitch Perfect”), Jessica Makinson (“South Park”), Oscar Nuñez (“The Office”), and festival mainstays Stratton and Varney take a single suggestion of a theme from the audience and extemporaneously create an entire set of fast-paced long-form scenes (1/11, 10 p.m.), while a late-night musical comedy show at Cafe Du Nord offers up one-man bass/synth/vocoder-wielding wrecking crew Chaki delivering electro-funk originals from his forthcoming Who Can You Trust Records EP Water and tasty covers of Prince and the Misfits alongside DJ Real (aka musician/multi-media comedian Nick Stargu) and keyboard-playing comic Chad Opitz (1/11, 10 p.m.).
On Sunday, the entertainment continues at Marines’ Memorial Theatre with the creators and voice talent behind the hit Cartoon Network show “We Bare Bears” including former “SNL” cast member Bobby Moynihan, comic and actress Charlyne Yi and show runner Daniel Chong (1/12, 1 p.m.) and the anticipated SF Sketchfest Tribute to The Monkees at Marines’ Memorial Theatre that will feature surviving members Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz in conversation with biographer Paul Meyers, discussing the pre-fab group’s timeless television program, long-running appeal and plans for a new live album on Rhino Records set for release this April (1/12, 4 p.m.)
The Castro will also host a 35th anniversary of the ensemble comedy Clue that will include Lesley Ann Warren (“Miss Scarlet”), Colleen Camp (“Yvette”), local luminary and member of The Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin (Singing Telegram) and writer/director Jonathan Lynn for an onstage conversation about the making of the film and its legacy that will be moderated by SF-based comedian and magician Robert Strong (1/12, 7:30 p.m.). Additional recommended shows include the London-based comedy trio Police Cops presenting their acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe hit Badass Be Thy Name, a ’90s style action-film parody that pokes fun at vampire-hunting horror flicks and rave culture live onstage at PianoFight with comedian Alex Falcone warming up the crowd (1/12, 8 p.m.) and a mostly local stand-up showcase at the Alamo Drafthouse that includes Wilfred Padua, Arjun Banerjee, Francesca Fiorentini, Geoff Plitt, Krista Fatka and more (1/12, 9 p.m.). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.