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.
On Friday, another full weekend of programming commences at the Castro when the SF Sketchfest pays tribute to iconoclastic actor and filmmaker Crispin Hellion Glover. Though best known for his breakout ’80s roles as nebbish teen George McFly in Back to the Future and speed freak Layne in the high-school murder melodrama The River’ Edge, Glover has maintained a unique career through the decades. While he regularly acts in mainstream films (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? in 1993, later the Charlie’s Angels reboot and Hot Tub Time Machine), he also has made a name for himself as an explorer of the fringes with his live readings and slideshow presentations and surrealist films. The Castro hosts an evening with Glover featuring a Q&A session, his “Big Slide Show part 1” and a 15th anniversary screening of his 2005 avant-garde movie What Is It? (1/17, 7 p.m.).
Friday also brings a return visit from the popular Sketchfest attraction with a twist. Held at the Palace Theater and presented in partnership with Boxcar Theatre, old-time radio show style podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour will be recast as an immersive show. Written and created by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, the show features a performance in the Mainstage Cabaret before attendees can delve into a “choose-your-own-adventure” style experience throughout the venue. Participants include “MythBusters” host Adam Savage, noted comics Paul F. Tompkins and John Hodgman, actors Arden Myrin, Busy Philipps, Paget Brewster, John Ross Bowie, Craig Cackowski, Mark Gagliardi, Marc Evan Jackson, Hal Lublin, Annie Savage, Autumn Reeser and Janet Varney, musicians Jonathan Dinerstein, Jonathan Coulton, Jean Grae and Old 97s frontman Rhett Miller and more. engaging in impromptu encounters with audience members (1/17-18, 7 p.m.).
Other Friday highlights include the podcast Dumb People Town, a celebration of idiots doing idiotic things at Marines’ Memorial Theatre with hosts Daniel Van Kirk and the Sklar Brothers, comic Chris Redd and musical guests Aimee Mann and Ted Leo (1/17-18, 7:30 p.m.), San Francisco’s beloved sketch troupe Killing My Lobster presenting a set of three sold-out short shows at PianoFight (1/17, 8 p.m.), a show featuring “Kids in the Hall” veterans Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson featuring McDonald performing his one-man show “The Reckoning” with Thompson doing stand-up at the iHeartRadio Stage at The Gateway Theatre (1/18, 8 p.m.), the Red Room Orchestra offering the first night of its annual soundtrack selections at the Chapel (1/17, 9 p.m.), British actress and comedian Tiff Stevenson (“The Office,” “Days That Shook the World,” “People Just Do Nothing”) delivering her hit Edinburgh Fringe Festival show Mother at the Swedish American Hall with an opening set from Nato Green (1/17, 10 p.m.) and Riffapalooza at the Brava Theater Center with past and present cast members and writers from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy,Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and Jonah Ray making fun of an onscreen atrocity (1/17, 10 p.m.).
On Saturday, the festival presents another full day of events. Early happenings include local actor and comedian Kevin Pollack hosting his podcast Alchemy This that will feature Pollack giving comic improvisers Chris Alvarado, Craig Cackowski, Joey Greer, James Heaney, Jessica Lowe and Cole Stratton some outlandish situations to bring to life onstage at the Punch Line (1/18, 1 p.m.), the popular absurdist sketch comedy podcast Superego with hosts and co-creators Matt Gourley and Jeremy Carter who are joined at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre by comic/musician Mark McConville and the busy Paul F. Tompkins (1/18, 1 p.m.). an Alamo Drafthouse 35th anniversary screening of the ’80s teen comedy Just One of the Guys that also features a conversation between co-stars Joyce Hyser and Sherilyn Fenn moderated by Beth Lisick (1/18, 3 p.m.) and local stoned comic Doug Benson and his hilarious live movie commentary show The Benson Interruption where he and guests Adam Conover, Eliza Skinner, Patton Oswalt and Vanessa Gonzalez make relentless fun of the afternoon’s feature of choice, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (1/18, 4:20 p.m.).
In the evening, the Marines’ Memorial Theatre hosts a rare appearance by the all-star sketch comedy troupe Naked Babies. The reunited comedy quartet featuring such established players as former “Daily Show” correspondent Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine, “Ballers,” “Childrens Hospital”), Brian Huskey (“Childrens Hospital,” “Another Period,” “Veep”), Seth Morris (“Kroll Show,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Broad City”), and John Ross Bowie (“Speechless”) pushes the improv envelope (1/18, 7 p.m.) followed by Trump Vs. Bernie, an onstage experience starring Anthony Atamanuik as Donald Trump and James Adomian as Bernie Sanders in a debate moderated by Nick Sahoyah (1/18, 10 p.m.). Meanwhile the humorously uninformed Fake TED Talks finds Jonathan Coulton, Molly Lewis, Matt Gourley, Adam Savage, comedy duo Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo and other taking liberties with the facts at Cobb’s Comedy Club (1/18, 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) and Jonah Ray: You Can’t Call Me Al, which features the comic covering some of his favorite “Weird” Al Yankovic at Cafe du Nord backed by a full band (1/18, 10:30 p.m.).
Sunday keeps the party rolling with an early sold out edition of Story Pirates, the popular family podcast that features comics taking story ideas from children and bringing them to outlandish reality with special guest Patton Oswalt at Marines’ Memorial Theatre (1/19, 11 a.m.) prior to a 20th Anniversary Tribute to “SpongeBob SquarePants” at the Castro that includes voice actors Tom Kenny (SpongeBob), Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick), Rodger Bumpass (Squidward), Clancy Brown (Mr. Krabs) and Carolyn Lawrence (Sandy), along with co-executive producers Vincent Waller and Marc Ceccarelli in a conversation moderated by Busy Philipps (1/19, 12 p.m.). The Castro also screens the landmark disaster parody Airplane! with writers/directors David and Jerry Zucker and stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty in attendance for a conversation with moderator Kevin Murphy (1/19, 3 p.m.) shortly before a tribute to pioneering stand-up George Wallace at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre featuring the comic in conversation with Patton Oswalt (1/19, 4 p.m.).
Sunday evening’s schedule offers up an onstage script reading of director Ed Wood’s classic of schlock horror Plan 9 From Outer Space created by Dana Gould (“The Simpsons,” “Stan Against Evil”) at Marines’ Memorial Theatre. The show mixes puppets, comedians and wry stage directions with a cast including Paget Brewster, Jeffery Combs, Bill Corbett, Dave Foley, Tom Kenny, Kevin Murphy, Jonah Ray, Eban Schletter, Paul F. Tompkins and Janet Varney (1/19, 7 p.m.). Other intriguing options include a recording of the Margaret Cho Podcast at Cobb’s with guests Kevin McDonald and Adam Savage (1/19, 7:30 p.m.), a tribute to actress and entertainer Sandra Bernhard at the Castro with a screening of Martin Scorsese film The King of Comedy that earned Bernhard a wider following (1/19, 8 p.m.) and Old 97s singer Rhett Miller’s variety show Wheels Off at the Swedish American Hall with Ben Acker, Dave Hill, Jean Grae and Janet Varney (1/19, 9:30 p.m.). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.