Time Will Tell: SF Sketchfest Elevates the Cornball of Yesteryear to the Classic of Today

Like Snapchats, sketch comedies sometimes benefit from vanishing right after being seen: It was live before your eyes, and then it was gone forever, and maybe that's for the best. So, by trying to harness that fleeting essence in motion-picture form, are we bottling the lightning or just snuffing it out? To geek out on this and related questions is but one great privilege afforded by our 13th annual SF Sketchfest, whose proceedings include all manner of motion-picture comedy and public conversations with the people who make it.

Some movies and shows actually gain funniness from permanence, by accumulating cultural familiarity. Or so we hope, going into screenings commemorating the 10th anniversary of Napoleon Dynamite (7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Castro), the 20th anniversary of Cabin Boy (7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Castro), and the 30th anniversaries of Top Secret! (1 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Castro) and Revenge of the Nerds (8:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Castro), not to mention other arguably timeless throwbacks like 2001's Super Troopers (10 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Roxie) and the original Alan Arkin version of The In-Laws, from 1979 (7 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Castro, with Arkin in attendance).

It's still fun to wonder how improv works within scripted parameters, how audience-accustomed performers will seem on-screen, and how the results of their efforts will stand the test of time. As any subscriber to Brent Weinbach's YouTube videos or James Urbaniak's Vines can tell you, it's also fun to see firsthand how new moviemaking technology has democratized hilarity. Both of those guys are booked for multiple Sketchfest appearances, by the way, and there's also “Say Hello to My Little Funny,” a collection of short films made by stand-up comedians (8 p.m. Jan. 28 at Cobb's Comedy Club). Purists, take comfort: It's still live, as long as the audience is.

For nearly overwhelming details, visit sfsketchfest.com.

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