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21st annual SF Sketchfest wraps up with final week of comedy

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

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 MaronTodd Barry, Matt BraungerRon FunchesJon 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 BensonBrian 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 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.  

On Tuesday night, the festival resumes with the Red Room Orchestra at the Great American Music Hall performing music from the black-humored '70s cult classic Harold and Maude with guests SF comedian Margaret Cho, frequent guest vocalist Petra Haden and comic/SF Sketchfest co-founder Janet Varney before Wednesday's celebration of director David Lynch's surreal television show "Twin Peaks," paying special tribute to none other than Special Agent Dale Cooper, Kyle McLachlan, who will appear in person. 

Red Room Orchestra - Falling (Julee Cruise cover) (Live in SF, 2023) by Oaktown Live Music on YouTube

To honor Lynch's frequent leading man, the ensemble will present additional songs from his films for the director including Dune and Blue Velvet. The evening will also feature the actor in conversation as well as in several surreal interactions with fellow "Twin Peaks" cast member Carel Struycken (The Giant/The Fireman), who made a mesmerizing appearance at last year's "Twin Peaks" celebration. Other guests include Cho, Haden, Varney along with Porchlight Storytelling co-founder and writer/actress Beth Lisick. The festival will feature another beloved local institution Wednesday evening when venerable SF troupe Killing My Lobster presents an array of its greatest sketches with Canadian comic Cam Wyllie (1/31, 7:30 p.m., Gateway Theatre). 

The Mortified Guide: Series Trailer (Now Available) by Mortified Show on YouTube

On Thursday, the comedy continues with Jamie Loftus and Caitlin Durante hosting their feminist film podcast The Bechdel Cast with a discussion focusing on last year's massive hit Barbie (2/1, 7:30 p.m., Club Fugazi), a stand-up show with headliner Matt Braunger (2/1, 7:30 p.m., Punchline Comedy Club) and popular storytelling show that was was turned into a Netflix series Mortified with guest performers Cynthia BrinkmanJonathan CoultonLeslie McleanZach Sherwin, and Kevin Wofsy sharing painfully embarrassing artifacts from their childhood including journal and diary entries, poems, songs and more (2/1, 7:30 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club). The Great American Music Hall also hosts another round of music with the first of two nights featuring actor Michael Shannon (Revolutionary RoadNocturnal Animals, 99 Homes, the Showtime series "George & Tammy") and guitarist Jason Narducy (Bob Mould Band, Superchunk) performing songs from REM's debut album Murmur and other tunes from early in the band's career before playing their second album Reckoning Friday evening. DJ Omar Perez also appears (2/1-2, 8 p.m., Great American Music Hall).   

On Friday, the action continues with return appearances by the Groundlings -- with Lauren BurnsEugene CorderoRyan GaulRoxana OrtegaBrian PalermoColleen Smith, and Cole Stratton presenting Personals, their long-form improv show on dating (2/2, 7 p.m., Gateway Theatre) -- and the Improvisational Shakespeare Company who improvise an entire play by the Bard based on an audience suggestion (2/2-3, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Marines' Memorial Theatre), Fake TED Talks, featuring former "Mythbusters" host Adam Savage, "Jeopardy" champ Amy Schneider and comics Guy BranumMatt BraungerJonathan Coulton, and Paul & Storm giving inane "expert" testimony on a range of topics (2/1, 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club) and comedian/actor Paul F. Tompkins and his popular stage show "Varietopia" featuring special surprise guests (2/2, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Club Fugazi). 

Space Oddity - Varietopia with Paul F. Tompkins by Varietopia with Paul F. Tompkins on YouTube

Saturday will feature a number of highlights as this year's SF Sketchfest heads into a packed final weekend with sold-out afternoon presentations of Off Book: The Improvised Musical with Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino (2/3, 3 p.m., Great Star Theater) and the game show Comedy Feud with Tim BaltzEugene CorderoPallavi GunalanLauren LapkusTawny NewsomeOpen Mike Eagle,  Leonard Smith Jr., Blair SocciPaul F. Tompkins, and Sasheer Zamata (2/3, 3 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club) as well as a presentation of the fantasy podcast Hello, From the Magic Tavern featuring hosts Arnie Niekamp, Adal Rifai and Matt Young with guest, comedian and actor Ron Funches (2/3, 3 p.m., Gateway Theatre).

Saturday evening, Funches will perform  with Blair Socci (2/3, 9:45 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club), just one of a number of stand-up shows featuring such heavyweights as Marc Maron presenting his new show "All In" (2/3, 8 p.m., Castro Theatre), Todd Barry doing his show "Half Joking" that features half written material and half improvised crowd work (2/3, 8 p.m., the Chapel), NorCal's own Brian Posehn (2/3, 9:30, Brava Theater Center). Another talent with Bay Area roots, Moshe Kasher offers up his show "Culture Vulture: An Evening in Six Scenes" with comedy and conversation featuring fellow local comic W. Kamau Bell, Guy Branum, electronic musician Sunshine Jones, and comedians D.J. Demers, Andie Grace and Ali Macofsky (2/3, 7 p.m., Brava Theater Center).           

Puddles Pity Party - Folsom Prison Blues / Pinball Wizard Mash Up (Official Music Video) by Puddles Pity Party on YouTube

This year's edition of the SF Sketchfest wraps up Sunday with its final handful of shows, opening with an early presentation of GLOP meets GLOG: The Glorious Ladies of Puppetry meet The Glorious Ladies of Groundlings, a family-friendly collision of puppeteering and improv show featuring a mostly female cast (2/4, 12 p.m., Great Star Theater), followed by an afternoon show with comedy clown Puddles Pity Party (2/4, 4 p.m., Great Star Theater). Evening entertainment includes a pair of celebrated Edinburgh Fringe favorites -- Sophie Codependent and the physical comedy of A Terrible Show for Terrible People created and performed by Bonnie He (2/4, 7:30 p.m., Marsh Mainstage) and the fantasy role-playing meets comedy podcast "The Trav-enture Zone" with host Travis McElroy and guests Eugene CorderoDani FernandezErika IshiiErin Keif, Griffin Newman, and Connor Ratliff (2/4, 7 p.m., Great Star Theater). For a more detailed listing of events and information on how to get tickets, please visit the SF Sketchfest website.  

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