Dispatches from Sketchfest: Braving the Storm

The best possible follow-up to this weekend's protests — and beyond.

This past weekend, SF Sketchfest was asked to do the impossible: fill the seats of a comedy festival while a city marched outside their doors.

Yes, the soggy, politically charged weekend could’ve been a disaster, but talents like Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Scott Aukerman; Upright Citizens Brigade founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh; and the reunited cast of Fox’s King of the Hill all rose to the challenge. Like many others, I attended Sketchfest shows around the Women’s March on Saturday afternoon, mixing laughter with action.

It was an invigorating combination, and with one weekend left until Sketchfest cedes into the fog for another year, a balance I desperately hope we can strike going forwards in the months to come. Here are a few highlights and some notes on upcoming shows.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Arlen, Texas

King of the Hill is often given less credit than it deserves in the pantheon of great animated television series. Not only was it incredibly funny, but the way in which creator Mike Judge and his cast were able to humanize a group of characters — some ignorant, all perhaps a little backwards — into fully relatable people was downright brilliant.

Sketchfest’s tribute to the 20th anniversary of King of the Hill’s debut featured all the voice actors who gave life to the residents of Arlen. The hysterical Pam Adlon pulled double-duty by performing the part of Luanne — voiced on the show by the late Brittany Murphy — in addition to Bobby, for a staged reading of the Season 2 episode “Husky Bobby”. During a Q&A session, Judge left the door open for King of the Hill to return somewhere down the line. If that happens, the first Whataburger is on me.

Battle of the Bang! Bang! Bandleaders

As soon as he took the stage, Comedy Bang! Bang! star Scott Aukerman joked that about how weird it was to do a tribute to a show that went off the air a month ago. While it’s true that the series aired its final episode on IFC in December, fans of Aukerman and the brilliantly surreal sketch-talk show hybrid he created were more than willing to fete the program and its creators.

Joining Aukerman were bandleaders Reggie Watts and “Weird” Al Yankovic, as well as members of the series’ writing staff. In addition to airing unseen clips and outtakes, Aukerman also offered the fascinating tidbit that Joanna Newsom was nearly selected to succeed Watts before a scheduling conflict caused them to bring in rapper Kid Cudi. Whatever the show is called, any time Aukerman and his friends get on stage is always a pure delight. We’re lucky he continues to put out the “Comedy Bang! Bang!” podcast, and tantalizingly, Aukerman did say that the show might be revisited somewhere down the line.  

Sign Spotting with the UCB

“A.S.S.S.C.A.T.” is one of Sketchfest’s seminal shows, transported from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatres in Los Angeles and New York. Scheduled for 7 p.m. the day of the Women’s March, there were more than a few folks (this writer included) who went straight from the streets into the gorgeous, newly re-opened Curran Theater. Never ones to be oblivious, UCB founding members Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh interacted with the audience and asked them about their protest signs.

Eventually, Firefly’s Nathan Fillion came on as the guest monologist to get the improv portion of the evening underway. With scenes ranging from a brother who keeps a protective perimeter around his little sister to ward off creeps to  a man whose wife has had an affair with a turtle, the UCB trio and guest improvisers Jessica McKenna and Jon Gabrus never let up for a moment. It was delirious and delightful, and a reminder that improv is one of comedy’s best tools for reacting to current news and embracing the absurd.

Upcoming Shows

Be a part of a live television taping at Seeso’s Guest List, featuring Myq Kaplan (Jan. 25), and many more!  Shows tape at The Chapel from Tuesday, Jan. 24 and Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m – check website for list of performers ($20).

Andy Kindler has made a lot of funny friends in his time as a stand-up comic. Andy Kindler’s Particular Show is a chance for him to show them off. At Cobb’s Comedy Club on Friday, Jan. 27 at 10 p.m., those friends will include “RISK!” podcast host Kevin Allison, comic Dana Gould, and improv legend Seth Morris ($25).

Seriously people, how is Zamata & Byer not sold out? Getting Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata and comic Nicole Byer (MTV’s Girl Code) together is one of the most enticing bookings of Sketchfest this year. These two incredible ladies are everything right with comedy. Let them blow your mind on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. at the Swedish American Hall ($25).

Don’t let the little ones miss out on all the fun! Story Pirates brings actors, comedians, and musicians together to celebrate the words and ideas of young people. This year’s special installment includes the aforementioned Sasheer Zamata and a special surprise guest on Saturday, Jan. 28 and 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit with Blunt Talk’s Mary Holland on Sunday, Jan. 29. Both Shows take place at Marines Memorial Theatre at 11 a.m. ($20).

Tickets: sfsketchfest.com

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