San Francisco is a “crazy great” town for improv, at least as far as Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Besser is concerned. It’s why, along with his fellow mainstays Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, and occasionally fourth member Amy Poehler, the group has appeared at music festivals like Outside Lands and remains a staple feature of the annual Sketchfest celebrations. Besser will return to the city to join other improv heavyweights for the 11th Annual San Francisco Improv Festival, Sept. 10-19.
[jump] Featuring an impressive schedule of improv shows and master classes from some of the key performers, the it's a unique opportunity to see first-class improvised comedy up close. Founded by Sam Shaw and Shaun Landry in 2004, the 2015 SFIF features improv from powerhouse theaters such as the UCB and Second City, as well as more independent groups hailing from places like Reno, Hawaii, and Kentucky. Matt Besser sees chemistry as a major component of a troupe’s success, and says deciding which guests to book on his weekly podcast on the Earwolf network, improv4humans, is the hardest part of the show.
“I think that’s why the first year of improv4humans isn’t as strong as years after that – because I didn’t realize how important that was,” Besser said. “I think I had some episodes where everybody didn’t know each other and it just wasn’t as strong. It’s just logical: if you can get people who work together, who are friends, they’re definitely going to be funnier and better together.”
Besser will tape a live episode of his podcast as part of the SFIF. Other shows include wife and husband team Stephanie Weird (MadTV) and Robert Dassie, who perform as the improv duo WeirDass, Susan Messing, who brings her show “Messing with a Friend” with guest Frank Caeti (MadTV), and over 30 more offerings. The festival will also offer the chance to learn the craft, as workshops from Besser, iO West instructor Karen Graci, Second City ETC co-founder Jane Morris, and more cover many of the basic tenets of improv comedy in its various incarnations.
Asked about a particularly memorable scene from his podcast wherein a man is cut off while driving, inadvertently ends up at an Italian family’s Sunday dinner where they attempt to drown him, and then the beats of the scene repeat but in the setting of Atlantis, Besser readily admits that he and his guests are very aware when they’re in the middle of an especially memorable moment.
“If you had said, ‘what was one of your favorite scenes,’ that might be the one I’d mention,” he agrees. “Sometimes when I laugh on stage or during an episode, it’s not because something is necessarily so funny, but because I’m simply delighted. I’m thinking about how well the scene is going, the groove we’re in, that we’ve hit it, we’ve found it, and it’s just so great. It’s like catching a big fish.”
San Francisco Improv Festival, Sept. 10-19 at the Eureka Theater, 215 Jackson St. Matt Besser offers a lecture on “The UCB Method” on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2-5 p.m, with a live taping of improv4humans with guests Susan Messing, Bob Dassie, and Stephanie Weir, 8-9 p.m.