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 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.
Arguably the biggest coup of this year's festival takes over the Sydney Goldstein Theater for two Friday night performances of Freestyle Love Supreme. Co-created by Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail, the improv-driven hip-hop musical features a cast of MCs, musicians and beatboxers taking suggestions from audience members to build the completely freestyle stage show. First staged in 2003 (long before the pair scored hits with In the Heights and Hamilton), the kinetic musical comes to San Francisco fresh from the end of a celebrated run on Broadway (1/24, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.).
Other Friday highlights include a performance by The Improvised Shakespeare Company at Marines' Memorial Theater that crafts a brand new play by the Bard based on audience suggestion (1/24, 7:30 p.m.) with special guest Thomas Middleditch of HBO's Silicon Valley (1/24, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.), a release party for Oakland stand-up product Moshe Kasher who celebrates his new album Crowd Surfing, Vol. 1 featuring the comic riffing off stories from audience members with fellow Bay Area comedian Brent Weinbach warming up the crowd at the Swedish American Hall (1/24, 7:30 p.m.), a sold-out east vs. west long-form improvisation "Harold" competition (a 30-minute improv exercise developed by comic actor and writer Del Close) featuring New York-based group Highwater and LA's Leroy with stand-up Jesse Hett also appearing at the PianoFight main stage (1/24, 8 p.m.), an episode of Let's Go, Atsuko! A (woke) Japanese Game Show with host Atsuko Okatsuka pitting comedians Alison Rosen, Chris Garcia, Adam Cayton-Holland and Beth Stelling against each other in absurd, satirical challenges at PianoFight main stage (1/24, 10 p.m.) and a tribute to The Chris Gethard Show with host and Broad City actor Gethard and cast members Bethany Hall, Connor Ratliff, David Bluvband and Riley Soloner in conversation with moderator Owen Burke at Cobb's (1/24, 10:30 p.m.).
Another featured attraction kicking off a sold-out three-night run at the Chapel Friday is the Fred Armisen residency, Comedy for Guitar Players but Everyone is Welcome. While best known for his comedy chops displayed on "Saturday Night Live" and "Portlandia" (he also co-created and acts in IFC's "Documentary Now!" and the HBO comedy "Los Espookys"), Armisen is an accomplished musician who played with the Chicago-based post-punk band Trenchmouth, filled in as drummer for Devo at the Burger Boogaloo in 2018 and is the current bandleader for "Late Night With Seth Meyers." The run of shows kicks off with country superstar Brad Paisley (appearing at the smallest Bay Area venue he's played since the start of his career) on Friday, followed by jazz guitar giant Bill Frisell on Saturday and guitarist for the Bangles Vicki Peterson on Sunday (1/24-26 8 p.m.).
On Saturday, the SF Sketchfest begins appropriately with a cartoon as the festival pays tribute to the 25th anniversary of the hilarious animated series "Pinky and The Brain" at Marines' Memorial Theatre with Cole Stratton moderating a discussion with voice actors Rob Paulsen (Pinky) and Maurice LaMarche (The Brain) to go with classic clips from the show (1/25 1 p.m.). Founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Matt Besser will host an afternoon performance of his show improv4humans at Cobb's Comedy Club with guests Colton Dunn, Chris Gethard and Horatio Sanz (1/25 1 p.m.), while Moshe Kasher and his comic wife Natasha Leggero offer relationship advice with a staging of their podcast The Endless Honeymoon at Marines' Memorial Theatre featuring "Upright Citizens Brigade" founder Matt Walsh and his wife, writer and performer Morgan Walsh as guests (1/25 4 p.m.).
As the festival rolls into the evening, the Sydney Goldstein Theater hosts the anticipated annual return Upright Citizens Brigade's A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T., the famed long-form improv show featuring UCB founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh along with guest improvisers Ronnie Adrian, Lauren Lapkus and Horatio Sanz, and special guest monologist Deborah Ann Woll, best known for her roles on HBO's "True Blood" and the Netflix series "Daredevil" (1/25, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.) while the popular extemporaneous sketch show Facebook Improv brings an all-star cast including Owen Burke, Chad Carter, Phil Jackson, Jason Mantzoukas, Seth Morris,Charlie Sanders and Paul Scheer improvising scenes based on the Facebook profiles of audience members to Brava Theater Center for a sold-out performance (1/25, 7:30 p.m.).
Edinburgh Comedy Festival favorite Seann Walsh presents his new stand-up show After This One, I'm Going Home at Cafe Du Nord (1/25, 8 p.m.), "Futurama" Gets Knocked Up a Notch comes to Marines' Memorial Theatre with a live episode reading featuring head writer and executive producer David X. Cohen and cast members John DiMaggio (Bender), Maurice LaMarche (Kif, Hedonismbot), Lauren Tom (Amy) and the legendary Billy West (Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg) and a Q&A session (1/25, 10 p.m.) and a staging of the comedy competition show Iron Comic with Nato Green and Kasher hosting as stand-ups Adam Cayton-Holland, Greg Fitzsimmons, Jessica Kirson and Subhah Agarwal scramble to put together a ten-minute set of material based on topics suggested by audience members at Cobb's (1/25, 10:30 p.m.) help fill out the second to last night of the festival.
"Futurama" cast members DiMaggio, LaMarche and West rejoin Cohen on Sunday for Outtake-O-Rama: Infamous Celebrity Outtakes at Cobb's where they will celebrate some of the most eye-opening bloopers ever put on tape by Richard Nixon, William Shatner and more (1/26, 1 p.m.), while Besser and friends Colton Dunn,Seth Morris,Shane Torres and Steve Berg do their best weed humor at the Gateway Theatre for the 420 Show (1/26, 4:20 p.m.) and Dan Lippert and Ryan Rosenberg host their podcast You're the Man Now Dog with guests Lauren Lapkus from "Orange is the New Black" and Phil Augusta Jackson, a writer for "Key and Peale" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (1/26, 1 p.m.).
Evening highlights include Bill Frisell's Harmony, a quartet that finds the guitarist delving into country, folk and bluegrass standards with vocal/instrumental collaborators Petra Haden (daughter of the late jazz bass great Charlie Haden, who also plays in the band That Dog), cellist/vocalist Hank Roberts and baritone guitarist/vocalist Luke Bergman at Marines' Memorial Theatre (1/26, 7:30 p.m.), a sold-out live recording of the chain-restaurant focused podcast Doughboys with hosts Nick "Burger Boy" Wiger and Mike "Spoonman" Mitchell at Cobb's (1/26, 7:30 p.m.) and Rebecca Watson's Quiz-o-Tron, a science-focused comedy panel quiz show that has stand-ups facing off with scientists at PianoFight (1/26, 7:30 p.m.). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.
for more features.