Dispatches from SF Sketchfest: Opening Weekend

In which Japantown tributes to Bowie go awry, and Bobcat Goldthwait shuts it down.

Boy, does it feel good to laugh again.

For the sixteenth time, San Francisco Sketchfest has spread its arms around the city in a bear hug of mirth and delight.

The festival’s opening weekend featured everyone from perennial favorite Paul F. Tompkins to a reunion of Canadian sketch group Kids in the Hall. There was Joe Lo Truglio using a fake plastic hand so he could wiggle his index finger through the fly of his tuxedo pants, Janet Varney belting “Fireflies” with songsmith Rhett Miller, and Bobcat Goldthwait shutting down some truly misguided audience questions.

Taken together, the weekend was a whirlwind of comedy’s best and brightest uniting under the fog to offer a momentary reprieve from a truly devastating (and unrelenting) news cycle. Here are a few highlights and some notes on upcoming shows:

Workjuice (Greg Garthe)
Workjuice (Greg Garthe)

Don’t Forget About Little Janet Varney

I’m not sure if Paul F. Tompkins was the one to christen Varney with the nickname, but it’s both adorable and inaccurate, given Varney was everywhere. On Friday, she performed at the Brava with WorkJuice Improv (a group consisting largely of members from the popular “Thrilling Adventure Hour” show), before hopping on stage with Rhett Miller at Swedish American Hall to perform two duets with the Old 97s lead singer. Saturday saw Varney serving as narrator for the Kids in the Hall’s staged reading of their film script Brain Candy, and later reuniting with Tompkins to perform as part of his Spontaneanation podcast. As one of Sketchfest’s co-founders, we may take for granted the luxury of having Varney appear in so many things, but we’d be wise to count ourselves lucky to get such a heavy dose of her varied talents show after show after show.

A Full Circle Bowie Moment

During Rhett Miller’s variety show “Wheels Off,” he brought Tompkins to the stage and shared a story about how it was at the previous year’s Sketchfest, during an afterparty, that they both learned of David Bowie’s death. Apparently they went to a karaoke bar in Japantown to try and sing away some of their sadness, but of course the location had none of their requested songs available. Instead, Miller pulled out his acoustic and played “Five Years”. In tribute, Tompkins and Miller covered the song for the crowd at Swedish American, a tender and transcendent moment that went beyond humor and become something profoundly personal.

SoundTracks Live (Tommy Lau)
SoundTracks Live (Tommy Lau)

Amy Miles Goes to Ridgemont High

It might be easier to list who wasn’t in the cast of “Soundtracks Live” on Saturday afternoon. With a live band led by musician Amy Miles on the left and actors playing out scenes on the right, the cast dashed through a very satisfying re-telling of Amy Heckerling’s 1982 slacker classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Hearing Miles and Jean Grae belt out The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat” before seeing Wet Hot American Summer’s Michael Showalter take the stage as a pitch-perfect Jeff Spicoli was everything. Guest musicians included Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave with a great take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and guitar maestro Dave Hill slaying the vocals of “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. On the acting side, Wyatt Cenac made a cameo alongside Lo Truglio, Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Chelsea Peretti, David Wain, and many more. For an encore, everyone rapped the first part Hamilton opening track “Alexander Hamilton”. That the whole show was also a benefit for 826 Valencia was simply righteous.

Upcoming Shows

Before you march next weekend, join the hysterical ladies of Reductress Live on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Punch Line ($20).

Add some science to your laughs with SF Sketchfest Nightlife on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. at the California Academy of Sciences ($15).

See comics Scott Aukerman, Moshe Kasher, Natasha Leggero and more get analyzed at Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist: Live on Friday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Marines Memorial Theatre ($35).

Join @midnight host Chris Hardwick and special guest Nathan Fillion (Firefly) for The Nerdist Podcast on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 10 p.m. at The Curran ($35).

Be a part of a live television taping at Seeso’s Guest List, featuring Ron Funches, Todd Glass, Greg Behrendt, Sasheer Zamata, and many more!  Shows tape at The Chapel from Sunday, Jan. 22 through Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Check website for list of performers ($20).

Tickets: sfsketchfest.com

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