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SF Sketchfest rolls through first week of programming

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 venues for 17 days of hilarious improvisation, live podcasts, tributes, stand-up and ensemble comedy over the course of hundreds of shows.

Moments That Changed The Movies: Up In Smoke by Academy Originals on YouTube

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 BamfordDavid CrossTodd BarryJames Adomian, and Janeane Garofalo, noted improv troupes The Upright Citizens BrigadeNaked 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, and popular drag queen Peaches Christ.

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 programming is lighter early in the week with just the sold-out staging of Select Thine Own Journey! An Interactive Fantasy Drag Show presented by Media Meltdown at the Gateway Theater scheduled for Tuesday (1/24, 8 p.m., Gateway Theatre) and a handful of shows Wednesday, including two sessions of Talking Simpsons, the popular podcast focusing on everyone's favorite animated family with hosts Bob Mackey and Henry Gilbert leading the discussion (1/25, 8 p.m. (sold out) and 10 p.m., PianoFight Main Stage). 

On Thursday, things ramp up once again with San Francisco's beloved sketch troupe Killing My Lobster sharing the stage with Santa Monica's acclaimed improv crew Cobranauts and an appearance by SF Sketchfest co-founder Cole Stratton (1/26, 8 p.m., Gateway Theatre) and a performance by mind-bending comic sound-effects maestro Michael Winslow who came to fame with his memorable turns in the Police Academy film series (1/26, 8 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club) among other showcases. 

Maria Bamford Stand-up by The Late Late Show with James Corden on YouTube

Friday's schedule brings an appearance by stand-up comedian and star of her own surreal Netflix sitcom Lady Dynamite Maria Bamford, who works out her insecurities onstage with her wildly hilarious, self-deprecating humor with rising comic Jenny Yang opening the show (1/27, 7:30 p.m., Sydney Goldstein Theater), the always hilarious Celebrity Autobiography featuring a line-up of actors and comics reading verbatim excerpts from the memoirs of various rock stars and Oscar winners including show creator Eugene PackNational Lampoon's Vacation film series star Beverly D'Angelo, Lucy Davis (the original UK version of "The Office," Shaun of the Dead, "Maron"), co-founder of the Groundlings original 'SNL' cast member Laraine Newman, comic actor Oscar Nunez (the US version of "The Office"), longtime Conan O'Brien foil and collaborator Andy Richter and "Cheers" mainstay George Wendt (1/27, 7:30 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club) and the sold-out sketch/stand-up feature BriTANicK with founders Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher along with guest Brent Weinbach (1/27, 8 p.m., Gateway Theatre).   

Friday also kicks off another residency by comic and actor Fred Armisen. While best known for the 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." For this year's sold-out show Comedy for Bass Players but Everyone is Welcome, Armisen partners with iconic Primus bandleader and four-string virtuoso Les Claypool on Friday, followed by bass player for the Go-Go's Kathy Valentine on Saturday and Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt on Sunday (1/27-29 8 p.m., Great American Music Hall). Other late-night options Friday include local stoned comic Doug Benson ("Super High Me‚" "Chronic-Con," and the "Doug Loves Movies" podcast) and his hilarious live movie commentary show The Benson Interruption where he and guests make relentless fun of the evening's feature of choice, The Lost Boys with guests Arden MyrinNunez and Chad Opitz (1/27, 10 p.m., Great Star Theatre) and a special revival session of Smug Shift, the stand-up show started in Oakland during the early 2000s by then local comics Weinbach and Moshe Kasher with guests Demi AdejuyigbeBobcat GoldthwaitMary Lynn Rajskub and Robin Tran (1/27, 10:30 p.m., Gateway Theatre).

A Mighty Wind (1/10) Movie CLIP - The Record Had No Hole (2003) HD by Movieclips on YouTube

Saturday's events kick off early with a sold-out 20th anniversary screening of A Mighty Wind followed by a spirited conversation with director/actor Christopher Guest and members of his stable of "mockumentary" players including Catherine O'HaraEugene LevyMichael McKeanJane LynchJohn Michael Higgins, and Michael Hitchcock moderated by Kevin Pollak (1/28, 1 p.m., Gateway Theatre), "Futurama vs COVID-3019" that will feature the popular animated sci-fi show's head writer David X. Cohen doing a live episode reading and Q&A session with cast members Billy West (Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg), Lauren Tom (Amy), Phil LaMarr (Hermes), Maurice LaMarche (Kif, Calculon, Hedonismbot), and the king of the shiny metal metaverse, Bender voice actor John DiMaggio (1/28, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club), Benson hosting a live session of his popular podcast Doug Loves Movies with guests Demi AdejuyigbePaget BrewsterAmy Miller and Arden Myrin (1/28, 4:20 p.m., Gateway Theatre) and a SF Sketchfest tribute to iconic Hollywood actor Elliott Gould with a 50th anniversary screening of Robert Altman's 1973 film The Long Goodbye followed by a rare in-depth discussion of his life and career (1/28, 5 p.m., Castro Theatre).

In the evening, the festival hosts a rare appearance by the all-star sketch comedy troupe Naked Babies. The reunited comedy quartet featuring such established players as former "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine, "Ballers," "Childrens Hospital"), Brian Huskey ("Children's Hospital," "Another Period," "Veep"), Seth Morris ("Kroll Show," "Parks and Recreation," "Broad City"), and John Ross Bowie ("Speechless") pushes the improv envelope after an opening set by That Guy at the Party Who Says Frankenstein is the Doctor (1/28, 7:30 p.m., Great Star Theatre). Other highlights include a stand-up set by noted actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo (1/28, 7:30 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club), a sold-out roast of famed cult-film actor Bruce Campbell ("Xena: Warrior Princess," the Evil Dead franchise, Bubba Ho-Tep) featuring the beloved figure getting skewered onstage by Peaches ChristDana DeLorenzoDavid Alan GrierCassandra Peterson (aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark)Kevin PollakTed Raimi and roastmaster Dana Gould (1/28, 7:30 p.m., Sydney Goldstein Theater) and the return of Theme Park Improv, the popular show that will include "Glee" co-creator Ian Brennan, actors Jamie Denbo ("Brooklyn 99"), John Michael Higgins (the Pitch Perfect series), Michael Hitchcock ("Best in Show"), Jessica Makinson ("South Park"), Oscar Nunez ("The Office") and festival co-founders Stratton and Varney doing long-form improvisations based on stories from special guest monologist Andy Richter (1/28, 10 p.m., Brava Theater Center).

Sunday continues the fun with the SF Sketchfest salute to "SNL" vet Laraine Newman with friends and colleagues ArmisenGouldStratton, Maurice LaMarchePhil LaMarr and Rob Paulsen and Cole (1/29, 1 p.m., Gateway Theatre), A Narfy Afternoon with "Pinky and The Brain" with Stratton hosting a discussion and clip screenings with voice actors Paulsen (Pinky) and LaMarche (The Brain) to go with classic clips from the show (1/29, 4 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club), a staged reading of Gould's adapted screenplay of the campy 1958 sci fi B-movie classic I Married a Monster From Outer Space with Bobcat GoldthwaitMcKeanNewmanAnnette O'TooleVarney and Baron Vaughn with music by pianist Marc Capelle (1/29, 4 p.m., Great Star Theatre) before Vaughn hosts a tribute to "In Living Color" actor and comedian David Alan Grier (1/29, 7:30 p.m., Cobb's Comedy Club )  The comedy onslaught 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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