Comedy festivals like to bring in hotshots with long resumes to kick off their runs, and the San Francisco Improv Festival is no different, bringing in … Emo Phillips. We put that ellipsis in there because, well, shit … it's Emo Phillips. The man was huge in the ´80s, a cross between Pee-Wee Herman, a slinky looking for a fix, and a shy, goth ferret, and he was ruthlessly weird, delivering Stephen Wright[en]like one-liners with maximum affectation. But what you might not know about the stand-up (in the event that you can recall him at all) is that he's a wizard joke writer, even landing three zingers on GQ's all-time joke list of many years back. This isn't one of them, but it's one of his: "I ran three miles today. Finally, I said, 'Lady, keep your purse."'
This weekend he'll sit in an imaginary boat with the troupe Bassprov, improvising lines that, if we know our bass fisherman, will be about the country going to hell and waitresses. The festival then continues for six more weeks, featuring national groups along with locals such as Oui Be Negroes, Storytellers Unplugged, Revolving Madness, 4 in 1, and Un-Scripted Theater.
Phillips and Bassprov perform with 3 for All at 8 p.m. (the show runs June 14-16) at Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), S.F. Admission is $20; call 863-1076 or visit www.sfimprovfestival.com. The SFIF continues through July 28. --Michael Leaverton
Clash of the Titans
It's a testament to the robotics industry that it still puts a premium on ass-kicking. How else to explain the continued success of RoboGames, the yearly competition that puts all manner of metallic contraptions through their paces in a breadth of events that recalls, and one day might supplant, the Olympics? Although some of the beatdowns are figurative -- no oil spills when 3-foot-tall bots play soccer -- many of them end with dismembered competitors dead on the mat. The combat events, always the main attraction for those with little practical knowledge of microprocessors and circuit boards, have a Mad Max quality that translated poorly during their televised heyday. It's quite a thing, however, to hear the shrieks of two 300-pound spinning hunks of metal methodically disembowel each other -- if robots could think, this is how they'd scream. Other athletes include walking humanoids, sumo bots, kung fu androids, and art bots, a hodgepodge group that includes robots that make drinks, paint, play music, or simply entertain.
RoboGames starts at noon (it runs June 15-17) at Fort Mason, Festival Pavilion, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $20 (free-$15 for kids); visit www.robogames.net --Michael Leaverton
The Joy of Daytime Televison
What with last month’s split-screen hysteria on The View (i.e., the pro-occupation/anti-war screeching match that resulted in Rosie O’Donnell’s too-early departure from the show, leaving viewers with the truly barfy, go-with-your-feelings-and-not-your-brain Elizabeth Hasselbeck), we sometimes forgot that comedienne Joy Behar is the real sage and only tolerable co-host of the morning talk show. To wit: This Italian-American is funny as hell and refers to the current Bush administration as “liars and murderers.” A blueprint for brassy broads everywhere, she’s pals with Sandra Bernhardt and survived a brief friendship with her former co-host and surgically transmogrified extraterrestrial Star Jones. Now you can catch her stand-up act, where, in addition to being more R-rated than normally allowed on live morning television, she’s sure to throw down some choice words about this past season of one of the most bizarrely and suddenly fascinating talk shows around. Plus, you have to admire anyone who Jones so dramatically called a “bitch” on live television.
Comedian Jeff Capri opens at 8 p.m. at Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California (at Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $45-75; call 776-4702 or visit www.nobhilltickets.com. --Brock Keeling
No Gimmick Required
From projecting trippy visuals to dressing up like characters from Dungeons & Dragons, bands these days employ all kinds of novelties and pyrotechnics to bring people out to their live shows. But somehow the only things singer/songwriter Keren Ann needs to be captivating are her throaty murmur and the occasional strum of her vintage guitar. That her quiet numbers sound so good even when stripped to their most basic elements is a testament to the Israeli-born, Paris-bred chanteuse’s evolution as a songwriter. In contrast to her last record, the bilingual French/English Nolita, on her latest CD Keren Ann sings exclusively in English, balancing ramblin’, Cowboy Junkies[en]like Americana vocals with jazzy, subtly European melodies that remind you that she grew up listening to Francoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg. But as deft as she is at being soft and understated, the girl can rock out, too, as evidenced on tracks like “Ain’t No Crime,” a propulsive, sexy torch song with dirty guitars and lyrics like “A skill for foolin’/ that’s all I have/ I promise kisses/ but not to love/ it ain’t no crime/ it’s what we do.”
Jason Hart opens at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Tickets are $15; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com. --Maya Kroth
We have no idea how the current storybook "fantastical creature" genre of art started, but we can only assume some crack illustrator had an Audubon fever dream and started assembling animal parts like Dr. Frankenstein's kid sister. Although the leading dictate of the realm is "make it cute," the work is usually cut with the same deadly seriousness that haunts most fairy tales. At the group exhibition "Duck Soup," leading practitioner Ana Bagayan turns in strong, suitably creepy examples such as Bird's Brood, which brings us slithery chicks with forked tongues hoping for a treat from mom, who's dressed in a nightgown and sitting in a river. It's a little scary and definitely surreal, like something dear John J. might've vomited up after a dark, stormy night spent with Edgar Allan Poe and a bottle of absinthe.
"Duck Soup" also features work by Michael Beck, Justin DeGarmo, and Joseph Daniel Fiedler. An opening reception starts at 7 p.m. on June 14 (and the exhibit continues through July 28) at Varnish Fine Art, S.F. Admission is free; call 222-6131 or visit www.varnishfineart.com. --Michael Leaverton