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 nearly 300 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.
After an extremely busy kickoff weekend, on Monday the Castro will host a tribute to famed “Saturday Night Live” veteran and comedic actress Molly Shannon hosted by “Kids in the Hall” player Bruce McCulloch. Shannon was already establishing herself with television appearances when she was hired to join the “SNL” cast in 1995. She would also make notable appearances in “Seinfeld” and “Will & Grace” before moving into film, starring in Superstar as her popular “SNL” character, nerdy Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher. The tribute will feature Shannon talking about her career with McCulloch prior to a 20th anniversary screening of Superstar (1/13, 7 p.m.). Monday also includes a preview of the anticipated Freeform comedy series “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” with creator and star Josh Thomas (the young star and creator of the Hulu dramedy “Please Like Me”), joined by co-stars Kayla Cromer, Maeve Press and Adam Faison at the iHeart Radio Stage at The Gateway Theatre (1/13, 8 p.m.).
Tuesday continues the festivities with Riffer’s Delight, a comedic movie commentary in the vein of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (minus the sci-fi theme and robot puppets) with regular hosts/comedians Natasha Muse and Nato Green and guest Curtis Cook skewering the ’80s action favorite Rambo: First Blood Part II at the Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission (1/14, 7 p.m.), McCulloch presenting his one-man, part stand-up/part storytelling show Tales of Bravery and Stupidity at the Gateway Theatre (1/14, 7:30 p.m.), and An Awkward Conversation with Tony Hale (“Arrested Development,” “VEEP”) moderated by Marc Hershon that will discuss his illustrious career in comedy television and his upcoming animated Netflix series “Archibald’s Next Big Thing” at Cobb’s (1/14, 8 p.m.). SF Sketchfest also pays tribute to renowned comic Brian Regan with a Q&A and conversation session with fellow stand-up Todd Barry at the Marines’ Memorial Theater (1/14, 8 p.m.).
Barry will also headline his own show on Wednesday when he brings The Crowd Work Tour, his ongoing exploration of making a stand-up performance out of freeform riffing and audience banter rather than set material, to Cobb’s with support from Philly comic Reggie Conquest (1/15, 8 p.m.). Other midweek highlights on Wednesday include the interactive local comedy game show Baby Sheriff with hosts Dan Linley and Sara DeForest at PianoFight (1/15, 7 p.m.), a live staging of the popular podcast Jordan, Jesse, Go! with hosts Jesse Thorn (NPR’s “Bullseye”) and Jordan Morris (“@Midnight,” “Unikitty”) speaking Tony Hale and Glynn Washington (NPR’s “Snap Judgment”) on a variety of subjects at the Punch Line (1/15, 8 p.m.) and the festival’s tribute to veteran comic Robert Klein who takes the stage at Marines’ Memorial Theater for a conversation and audience Q&A with former Rolling Stone writer/editor Ben Fong-Torres (1/15, 8 p.m.).
On Thursday, the activity ramps up as the festival heads towards it’s second weekend with the annual takeover of NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences that will include Paul F. Tompkins Hogs The Covers, with the comic and actor performing a set of songs and comedy, The Mads: Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu (“Mystery Science Theater 3000”), riffing on film shorts screened in the Planetarium, fake docent tours of the aquarium with The Norwegians of Comedy as well as sets from a variety of stand-up comics and sketch troupes (1/16, 6 p.m.). Thursday also brings the return of a perennial SF Sketchfest favorite when Judge John Hodgman presides over the Castro Theatre. First coming to fame with his hilarious commentary on ‘The Daily Show,” Hodgman has since achieved broader success as an author, actor and popular podcaster. He hosts a live onstage version of his podcast Judge John Hodgman where he weighs in on such philosophical questions as whether a hot dog is a sandwich with NPR radio host and Hodgman’s co-host/moderator Jesse Thorne (1/16, 7:30 p.m.).
Additional must-see shows on Thursday include San Francisco’s beloved sketch troupe Killing My Lobster presenting three short shows at PianoFight (1/16, 8 p.m.), a set from acclaimed stand-up Chris Redd at Marines’ Memorial Theater (1/16, 8 p.m.) and a sold-out showcase of sketch and improv groups at the PianoFight second stage that includes Arizona’s Cosmonauts Sketch Comedy Troupe, local act Mission Baby and comedy duos sara+sofia and Odell & DeJong (1/16, 9 p.m.). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.