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Long-delayed 20th anniversary edition of SF Sketchfest kicks off

SF Sketchfest co-founder and comedian Janet Varney talks about festival's kickoff
SF Sketchfest co-founder and comedian Janet Varney talks about festival's kickoff 04:04

SAN FRANCISCO -- The long-delayed 20th anniversary edition SF Sketchfest brings together another stellar line-up of talent to 13 theater venues for 17 days of hilarious improvisation, live podcasts, tributes, stand-up and ensemble comedy over the course of hundreds of shows.

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Plenty of national names will be making appearances this year as the festival pays tribute to such television and film legends as stoner comedy icons Cheech and Chong, "Saturday Night Live" veteran and regular guest Larraine Newman, actor Elliot Gould, "In Living Colour" cast member David Allen Grier, a roast honoring cult-movie hero Bruce Campbell, and the cast and creators from landmark improv comedy film A Mighty Wind and popular television shows "Viva Variety," "Pinky and the Brain" and "Futurama." The schedule also includes the return of Fred Armisen ("Saturday Night Live," "Portlandia" "Los Espookys") for a three-night residency of his musical showcase "Comedy for Bass Players but Everyone is Welcome," stand-up talents Maria Bamford, David CrossTodd BarryJames Adomian, and Janeane Garofalo, noted improv troupes The Upright Citizens Brigade, Naked Babies with Rob Corddry and The Groundlings as well as emcore appearances by noted locally grown talents like Doug BensonBobcat GoldthwaitBrent Weinbach and Moshe Kasher, beloved comedy group Killing My Lobster and popular drag queen Peaches Christ.

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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 LA-based tech company Moment. The shows that can be streamed include the popular podcast "Hello from the Magic Tavern," the 25th anniversary tribute to the Comedy Central show "Viva Variety," the celebrity roast of Bruce Campbell and the return appearance of Judge John Hodgeman. Tickets for the streaming shows are in the $10-$20 range.  

The fest kicks off a packed opening weekend on Friday night with several sold-out shows including stand-up comedy gigs featuring such major names as "Mr. Show" and "Arrested Development" star David Cross (1/20, 7:30 p.m., Great Star Theater), rising comic Atsuko Okatsuka with established actor, stand-up and "The State" and "Stella" player Michael Ian Black (1/20, 7:30 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club), staged podcasts "Dead Eyes" (1/20, 8 p.m., PianoFight Main Stage) and "Mission to Zyxx" (1/20, 8 p.m., Gateway Theatre), performances by emerging improv troupes Bernie Mac and Cheese (1/20, 7 p.m., PianoFight Second Stage), Butt (1/20, 9 p.m., PianoFight Second Stage) and The George Lucas Talk Show, an improvised talk show with comedian Connor Ratliff interviewing guests in the guise of the Star Wars creator (1/20, 10:30 p.m., Great Star Theater).    

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On Saturday, the festival ramps up activity with 26 different events over the course of the day and evening. Early highlights include "Upright Citizen Brigade" founding member improv veteran Matt Besser presenting his off-the-cuff podcast improv4Humans ((1/21, 1 p.m., Gateway Theatre) and the sold-out "Off Book: The Improvised Musical" with Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino creating a musical off the top of their heads live onstage (1/21, 4 p.m., Great Star Theater). That evening, the festival presents a sold-out session of the Porchlight Storytelling series with hosts Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte alongside guests including comic and actor David Cross, stand-up talents Atsuko Okatsuka, Irene Tu, Ify Nwadiwe and Kate Willett as well musical support from Red Room Orchestra bandleader Marc Cappelle and friends (1/21, 7:30 p.m., Swedish American Hall), while the "Viva Variety" A 25th Anniversary Tribute: A Very Special Evening features "The State" co-creators Ken Marino and David Wain in conversation with Meredith Laupin, the former Mrs. (Agatha) Laupin and "your cool-ass pal" Johnny Blue Jeans (aka "Reno 911!" vets Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney-Silver and Michael Ian Black) discussing the classic Comedy Central spinoff from "The State" and showing clips (1/21, 7:30 p.m., Great Star Theater).

Saturday will also include the return of the "Upright Citizen Brigade" long-form improv show ASSSSCAT with UCB founders Besser and Ian Roberts along with guest improvisers Tim MeadowsJessica McKenna, Zach Reino, Carl Tart and guest monologist Nichole Sakura (1/21, 7:30 p.m., Sydney Goldstein Theater) and Music Night, a musical comedy show that offers up one-man bass/synth/vocoder-wielding wrecking crew Chaki delivering electro-funk originals from his Who Can You Trust Records EP Water and tasty covers of Prince, the O'Reilly Auto Parts jingle and the Misfits alongside DJ Real (aka musician/multi-media comedian Nick Stargu), Mustache and CleavageBen Visini, Mikey Walz and host Eric Rubin (1/21, 10 p.m., PianoFight Main Stage).

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On Sunday, the schedule is a bit more pared down than in past years, but there are still a number of entertainment options, including a stop of the Todd Barry: 2023 Stadium Tour hosted by Paco Romane that will include a feature set from Ever Mainard (1/22, 7:30 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club), an Asian comedy showcase with comedian, actor and writer Joel Kim Booster (Fire Island, "Loot," "Big Mouth," "Shrill") hosting Guy BranumAtsuko OkatsukaJes Tom, and Irene Tu, and journalist, comedian and MSNBC host Francesca Fiorentini's left-leaning podcast "The Bitchuation Room" with guests Robert EvansNato Green and John Iadarola (1/22, 8 p.m., PianoFight Main Stage). And this weekend is just the beginning of a veritable comedy onslaught that continues through February 5. 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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