SF Sketchfest kicks off 21st edition with explosion of comedy

The 21st edition SF Sketchfest brings together another stellar line-up of talent to 17 venues for 18 days of hilarious improvisation, live podcasts, tributes, stand-up and ensemble comedy over the course of more than 200 shows.

Plenty of national names will be making appearances this year as SF Sketchfest presents such television and film legends as the festival-opening event featuring Monty Python founding member Eric Idle, "Saturday Night Live" veteran and "TV Funhouse" creator Robert Smigel in his Triumph the Insult Comic Dog guise, iconic pop music parodist "Weird" Al Yankovic, the entire cast of groundbreaking sketch comedy shows "The Kids in the Hall" and "The State" -- who appear collectively and in a variety of combinations -- late night talk show host and sketch talent Amber Ruffin, recent Golden Globe winner for his role in The Holdovers Paul Giamatti, and "Mr. Show" principles and talented comics/actors David Cross and Bob Odenkirk. There will also be a 25th anniversary salute to the popular television show "Futurama," multiple staged podcasts and talk shows, appearances by stand-up talents Marc Maron, Todd Barry, Matt BraungerRon Funches, Jon Glaser and Brett Gellman, celebrated improv troupes The Upright Citizens BrigadeThe Groundlings and SF favorites Killing My Lobster as well as encore appearances by noted locally grown talents like Doug Benson, Brian Posehn, Margaret Cho and Moshe Kasher.

Taking a cue from its all-star streaming fundraiser that it held in 2021 after concerns over the surge in winter COVID cases first led the SF Sketchfest to be cancelled that year, for the first time the festival will be making a handful of events available to a global streaming audience via Veeps. The shows that can be streamed include the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog show "Let's Make a Poop," the popular podcast "Hello from the Magic Tavern," "The Kids in the Hall" presenting "Scenes They Wouldn't Let Us Do," comedian/actor Paul F. Tompkins and his popular stage show "Varietopia," and podcaster/comic Travis McElroy and his fantasy role-playing meets comedy podcast "The Trav-enture Zone." Tickets for the streaming shows are $14.99. The number of venues utilized by the festival continues to grow with spots in Alameda (Alameda Comedy Club), the Mission District (Brava Theater Center and Brava Cabaret, the Chapel, the Marsh), North Beach (Club Fugazi, Lost Church, Gateway Theatre, Great Star Theater, Cobb's Comedy Club), the Castro (the Castro Theatre), downtown SF (Punchline Comedy Club) and Hayes Valley (The Sydney Goldstein Theater, formerly the Nourse) hosting events.  

The fest kicks off a packed opening weekend Thursday evening with "Monty Python" veteran and noted comic actor and musician Eric Idle. Arguably the most successful individual member of the pioneering British sketch troupe along with his A Fish Called Wanda co-star John Cleese, Idle was often the creative mind behind the group's language-focused sketches such as the famed double entendre loaded "Nudge Nudge" routine. He was also a skilled guitarist and songwriter, penning most of the notable tunes in the Monty Python films like "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Live of Brian. During the mid-1970s, Idle was the co-creator of the BBC sketch show Rutland Weekend Television with songwriter Neil Innes, which served as the genesis for their popular Beatles parody band the Rutles, which recorded two albums, toured and was the subject of the faux documentary All You Need Is Cash that predated This Is Spinal Tap by several years. 

The Rutles - Get Up And Go by cheeseandonionsohno on YouTube

Idle's musical inclinations would lead him to writing the book for Spamalot, the hit musical comedy he based on Monty Python's Holy Grail. He also directed the closest thing the world would get to a Monty Python stage reunion in 2014 when he and the surviving members performed Monty Python Live (mostly) - One down, Five to go at the O2 Arena in London for ten sold-out shows. Idle will appear at Thursday night with his An Evening Without Monty Python show collaborator, improv comedian and "Whose Line is it Anyway?" cast member Jeff B. Davis. The show will include sketches, songs, conversation and the world-premiere screening of a clip featuring a never-before-seen Monty Python sketch (1/18, 7:30 p.m. Castro Theatre).

Friday night ups the ante with several sold-out shows including stand-up comedy gigs featuring such major names as NYC comic Marie Faustin -- who presents her bad date themed show "Why Are You Single?" (1/19, 7 p.m., Marsh Mainstage) -- "Mr. Show" and "Arrested Development" star David Cross who performs with noted actor and comic Kevin Pollak (1/19, 9:45 p.m., Club Fugazi), musical comedy stylist Demi Adejuyigbe (1/19, 9 p.m., Marsh Mainstage) and the Middle Eastern/North African comics showcase Hilarious Habibis (1/19, 7:15 p.m., Brava Cabaret). 

Other Friday highlights include David Wain's World of Wonder, a mix of comedy, music and magic with co-host Michaela Watkins and friends PollakTony Hale and Dulce Sloan (1/19, 7 p.m., Club Fugazi), the Red Room Orchestra performing music from the late '80s cult vampire comedy horror classic The Lost Boys with guests Tim Capello (the saxophonist who appears in the film's memorable beach concert scene), actor Alex Winter, SF singer Brad Brooks, comedic bass player Chaki the Funk Wizard and others (1/19, 8 p.m., Great American Music Hall) and Kevin Allison of the legendary comedy group and Comedy Central show "The State" hosting his popular podcast RISK! featuring participants' most intimate and shocking stories with guests FaustinHaleSloan and "Reno 911!" cast member  Kerri Kenney-Silver (1/19, 9:30 p.m., Brava Theater Center) 

On Saturday, the festival ramps up activity with 25 different events over the course of the day and evening. The comedy starts early with the full cast of "The State" including the aforementioned Wain, Kenney-Silver, Allison along with Joe Lo Truglio ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine"), Ken Marino ("Party Down"), Thomas Lennon ("Reno 911!" and "Viva Variety") and Todd Holoubek presenting a sold-out noon table read of new, rare, and never-before seen sketches (1/20, 12 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club). "The Bachelor" super fan Arden Myrin hosts her podcast "Will You Accept This Rose?" with guests Doug Benson, Brayden Bowers, Erin Foley, Bill Kunstler, and Jacquis Neal (1/20, 3 p.m., Gateway Theater). 

Celebrity Autobiography - Michael Urie reads Miley Cyrus by KUSH Comedy on YouTube

Later that afternoon, the always hilarious Celebrity Autobiography features a line-up of actors and comics reading verbatim excerpts from the memoirs of various rock stars and Oscar winners with creators Dayle Reyfel and Eugene Pack curating an evening with HaleLennonSloan, Pamela Adlon ("King of the Hill," "Louie," "Better Things"), original 'SNL' cast member Laraine Newman and Bullets Over BroadwayBound and the Child's Play series star Jennifer Tilly (1/20, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club).  

Cross stays busy on Saturday, playing another stand-up showcase with Myrin, Lane Moore and Nori Reed (1/20, 7 p.m., Club Fugazi) before returning the favor by appearing at Moore's improvised, interactive comedy show Tinder Live! (1/20, 9:45 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club). Most of the cast of "The State" appears Saturday night for Marino and Wain music project Middle Age Dad Jam Band with guest singers AllisonKenney-SilverLennonTruglio, actresses Nadia Quinn and Michaela Watkins, and parody maestro "Weird Al" Yankovic (1/20, 8 p.m., Great American Music Hall). 

Middle Aged Dad Jam Band LIVE May 2023 by David Wain on YouTube

On Sunday, the schedule once again gets off to an early start with children's author-illustrator Mo Willems hosting a panel of actors and comedians for a morning of drawing, laughs and music. AdlonKenney-SilverTruglioSloan, and "Weird Al" and Bay Area comic turned CNN show host W. Kamau Bell appear (1/21, 11 a.m., Castro Theatre). Meanwhile in North Beach, the festival will pay tribute to comic, writer, actress and late night talk show host Amber Ruffin, who performed on "Key & Peele" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers" before getting her own show. Ruffin will appear in conversation with fellow comic and actress Zainab Johnson (1/21, 1 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club). 

Not far away, there will be a rare screening at the Great Star Theater of the lost late '90s comedy The Wrong Guy featuring "Kids in the Hall" players Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald alongside David Anthony Higgins, Jay Kogen and Jennifer Tilly, who will participate in a panel discussion after the screening with festival co-founder Cole Stratton (1/21, 1 p.m.). Local favorite Doug Benson makes a pair of movie-centric appearances, hosting his cinephile podcast Doug Loves Movies with unannounced guests (1/21, 3 p.m., Gateway Theatre) before anchoring the Benson Interruption which will feature the coming and friends making fun of the latest installment of the Fast & Furious franchise Fast X (1/21, 7 p.m., Great Star Theater). One of the bigger events will close out the festivities Sunday when "TV Funhouse" creator Robert Smigel takes the stage as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, hosting his live quiz show "Let's Make a Poop" with contestants Adam Savage ("Mythbusters"), "Weird" Al Yankovic, actor/sound-effect comic Michael Winslow and surprise guests, as well as screenings of never-before-seen clips (1/21, 8 p.m., Castro Theatre). And this weekend is just the beginning of a comedy onslaught that continues through February 4. For a more detailed listing of events, upcoming highlights and information on how to get tickets, please visit the SF Sketchfest website.

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