By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The 18th annual SF Sketchfest presented by Audible brings together another stellar line-up of talent to over a dozen SF comedy and theater venues for 18 days of hilarious improvisation, live podcasts, tributes, stand-up and ensemble comedy over the course of a whopping 250+ shows. Plenty of national names will be making appearances this year including such television and film legends as Carol Burnett, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris and the cast from influential Canadian sketch comedy show "Kids in the Hall," stand-up talents Paul F. Tompkins, Eugene Mirman and John Hodgman, noted improv troupes the Upright Citizens Brigade and Groundlings as well as return appearances by noted locally grown talents like Doug Benson, Margaret Cho, W. Kamau Bell, Greg Behrendt and popular drag queen Peaches Christ.
This year the festival spotlights television shows and landmark films with events dedicated to the CBC smash "Schitt's Creek," animated programs like "Futurama" and "We Bare Bears" and tributes such cinematic creations as the improvisational ensemble comedy Best in Show and the beloved 1983 comedy Local Hero . The number of venues utilized by the festival continues to grow with spots in the Mission District (Brava Theater Center and Brava Studio, the Chapel, the Alamo Drafthouse), North Beach (Speakeasy), downtown SF (Mezzanine, Pianofight) and Hayes Valley (The Sydney Goldstein Theater, formerly the Nourse) hosting events.
On Thursday, the festival heads into the home stretch with a full slate of events starting with a sold-out evening dedicated to HBO's show "Crashing" staring Pete Holmes as God-fearing, couch-surfing Christian stand-up who throws himself into his fledgling comedy career after learning his wife is having an affair. The event at the Alamo Draft House will feature Holmes, executive producer and renowned television show creator and filmmaker Judd Apatow and Season 3 love interest Madeline Wise discussing the show and possibly screening clips (Thurs/24, 7 p.m. $25). Across town at the Marines' Memorial Theatre, another sold-out happening will feature a return performance of the Improvised Shakespeare Company featuring company founder and creator Blaine Swen along with regular cast members Joey Bland, Ross Bryant and Brendan Dowling as well as guest Steve Waltien, who will create a fully improvised play by the Bard based on an audience suggestion (Thurs/24, 7:30 p.m. $40). The company will also perform two more times on Friday at the same venue, though only the late 10:30 p.m. show that night isn't sold out yet.
The Castro Theatre will present one of the most beloved films of the '90s, the acerbic workplace comedy Office Space. Director Mike Judge had got his start as college animation festival favorite for his Milton shorts (the seed that would grow into Office Space) and Frog Baseball, the notorious cartoon that introduced the world to Bevis and Butt-Head. The misadventures of the two stoned, metal-head teens would become a massive MTV hit, leading to a feature film and Judge's successful Fox animated series "King of the Hill" before his live-action film debut, Office Space. Drawing from his work as an engineer in Silicon Valley after graduating from college, the film spotlights the soul-killing work several friends face in their jobs at a software company. While not particularly successful at the box office, the movie struck a chord and would become a huge cult hit through VHS tape and DVD sales.
While Judge has had a remarkable streak since then, ranging from his incredibly prescient sci-fi comedy Idiocracy to his hit cable shows "Silicon Valley" and the animated "Tales From the Tour Bus," for this SF Sketchfest 20th anniversary celebration of Office Space, Judge and cast members Diedrich Bader ("Lawrence"), David Herman ("Michael Bolton"), Greg Pitts ("Drew") and noted character actor Stephen Root ("Milton") will answer questions and discuss the movie (Thurs/24, 8 p.m. $30-$40). Other Thursday highlights include a stand-up showcase at the Punchline featuring local favorites Alex Koll and Joey Avery, "Last Comic Standing" competitor Amy Miller and South Bay comic Clare O'Kane (Thurs/24, 8 p.m. $20) and a sold-out performance by revered local sketch comedy crew Killing My Lobster at PianoFight (Thurs/24, 8 p.m. $20; also on Friday night).
Friday brings another round of SF Sketchfest at the Speakeasy with a special immersive night of comedy patterned after the interactive theater regularly held at the venue by the Boxcar Theatre. In addition to each night featuring a different headliner performing in the Mainstage Cabaret (a group of improv all-stars including Second City alumni Scott Adsit of "30 Rock," Tami Sagher from "Inside Amy Schumer," Brian Huskey ("Veep," "Childrens Hospital"), "MadTV" player Stephnie Weir and special guest and "How I Met Your Mother" star Neil Patrick Harris are featured at Friday's sold-out show), but attendees can delve into a "choose-your-own-adventure" style experience throughout the Speakeasy, engaging in impromptu encounters and conversations with performers, working with comics to craft jokes and interacting with strolling improvisers, getting pulled into intimate comedy sets and more (Fri/25, 7 p.m., $125). The Saturday headliner on closing weekend will be Michael Ian Black ("The State," "Stella") and his friends including stand-up, actor and voice of "Sponge Bob SquarePants" Tom Kenny.
Other highlights on Friday include comic and author ("He's Just Not That Into You") Greg Behrendt hosting his show Bring the Rock! at the Swedish American Hall, giving other stand-ups and comic actors like "Reno 911!" regular Cedric Yarborough and Tom Lenk a chance to tell a story about a specific song and then attempting to perform the song backed by house band Electrik Snöfläke (Fri/25, 7:30 p.m. $30) and the Marines' Memorial Theatre's presentation of married comedians Moshe Kasher and Natasha Leggero offering up their stand-up show The Endless Honeymoon with guest comic Hoodo Hersi (Fri/25, 10 p.m. $25-$35).
On Saturday, things get off to an especially early start at Marines' Memorial Theatre with the Groundlings Children's Show that will feature the famed sketch comedy collective performing improvised bits aimed at entertaining younger audiences with such stars as Scott Adsit, Janet Varney, Brian Huskey, Gary Anthony Williams and Tami Sagher (Sat/26, 11 a.m. $15). Later that afternoon, SF Sketchfest takes a step into high tech with a virtual reality comedy show featuring Michael Ian Black, Andy Kindler and Emily Catalano playing a show that can only be watched with a PC set up with the Sansar Virtual Reality platform (Sat/26, 1 p.m., $4.99). Meanwhile, Outtake-o-rama: Infamous Celebrity Outtakes brings together voice actors from "Futurama" Billy West, John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche along with the show's executive producer and head writer David X. Cohen as they explore some historic and hysterical gaffes made on tape by William Shatner, Richard Nixon and others at Cobb's (Sat/26, 4 p.m. $30).
In the evening, SF Sketchfest presents an array of great shows including the sold-out SF premiere of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, a hilarious and outlandish play at PianoFight featuring Tom Lenk as the titular character who finds a depressed gay man on Craigslist and insists on dissecting his life to research her next big movie role (Sat/26, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., $20) while local heroe Nato Green revive his popular stand-up competition Iron Comic at Cobb's with guests Moshe Kasher, Amy Miller, Andy Kindler, Dwayne Kennedy, Greg Behrendt and Jackie Kashian (Sat/26, 6 p.m. $32). Other highlights include the sold-out performance of the Groundlings' The Black Version, which features an all African-American cast of improvisers including creator Jordan Black, versatile entertainer Wayne Brady, the aforementioned Cedric Yarborough and others improvising the "black version" of a movie suggested by an audience member at the Brava Theater Center (Sat/26, 7:30 p.m. $25) and the sold-out staging of Futurama Live: Mom's Revenge! celebrating the hilarious animated sci-fi show with the creators and cast the Marines' Memorial Theater (Sat/26, 10 p.m. $30-$40).
The festival wraps up on Sunday, starting out with an afternoon presentation of SF Sketchfest co-founder and comic actress and improviser Janet Varney offering up her podcast The JV Club at the Gateway Theatre, exploring her awkward teen years and those of her guests, stand-up Aparna Nancherla and Bay Area songwriter Matt Nathanson (Sun/27, 1 p.m. $25) and a Palace of Fine Arts tribute to Neil Patrick Harris that will feature the comic actor of television, stage and screen ("How I Met Your Mother," "A Series of Unfortunate Events," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and more) in conversation (Sun/27, 4 p.m. $45).
That night, the SF Sketchfest presents a line-up of the Best of Edinburgh International Spotlight featuring stand-up comedians from around the world who have made a splash at the like-minded the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, bringing Boston comic Alex Edelman, talented Brits Chris Turner, Jenny Bede, and Seann Walsh, French stand-up Clara N. Bijl and Canadian joker John Hastings to the Swedish American Hall (Sun/27, 7:30 p.m. $28), while The Milk Carton Kids Sad Songs Comedy Hour finds the neo-folk duo made up of songwriters Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale hosting a variety show at Marines' Memorial Theatre that will mix their tunes with songs from musical guest, Guatemalan tunesmith Gaby Moreno, and stand-up from Aparna Nancherla and Andy Kindler (Sun/27, 7:30 p.m. $35-$45). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the San Francisco Sketchfest website.
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