Field Trip! SF Sketchfest Report for Those Who Like the Funny

Jennifer Savage / Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 @ 10:49 a.m. / Humor

Sometimes I think how, of all artists, comedians have it the hardest. Authors, painters, musicians, dancers all make something tangible. Even if no one likes it, the the work – the story, the painting, the song, the dance – still exists independently of an audience. But a comedian, if no one laughs, the attempt at creation has failed. That’s quite a risk. They call it dying on stage for a reason. If you’ve ever attended one of our local comedy shows, you’ve witnesses this firsthand.

Hence the field trip to the City. At SF Sketchfest, no one died – except the audience, laughing! Now, it’s too late for you to attend this year’s festival, but not too late to plug into the circuit of awesomeness that is the current comedy world.SF Sketchfest is an annual comedy extravaganza that unfolds over three weeks in dozens of San Francisco venues. I caught three shows: Mapping the Heavens with Rob Delaney and Dave Holmes, Best in Show with Fred Willard and Michael Hitchcock, and Morgan Murphy presents Jen Kirkman and others. A perfect flight of comedic experience: traditional stand-up, a movie done entirely improv-style, and a roundtable discussion mixing funny and serious by people who clearly understand both.

Mapping the Heavens at Cobb’s Comedy Club

I can’t remember how Rob Delaney first entered my world, but ever since I started following him on Twitter, the number of bright spots in my day has multiplied. Profane and lowbrow and wonderful bits inspire giggles and love. Sometimes he links to his essays in VICE magazine, writings that include analyzing Katy Perry song lyrics, contemplating becoming a dad and why he’s suing Kim Kardashian, among dozens of other seemingly random topics. (Comparisons suck, but for the sake of efficiency, as a columnist, Delaney’s sort of a more contemplative Dan Savage. Or a Michael Ventura with a sense of humor.)

(Also he’s tall and nice-looking and has that awkward charm thing going on and essentially I have a big ol’fan crush on the guy.) 

In Mapping the Heavens, he and Dave Holmes riffed off each other in between presenting four other stand-up comics. They cracked wise, sure, but also balanced a self-deprecation and self-awareness that moved things along regardless of topic – comedy, politics, jail, masturbation, pedophilia, etc. Like when you’re running late to something, but the other guys in the car are so funny you can’t even get stressed out about it. Hey, here’s a topic! And…boom! And on to something else! Ha!

The line-up started with Greg Behrendt, affectionately known as “that guy from that thing.” Now, to provide some context, I am not so easily amused that just any story about fornicating primates would make me laugh. Therefore, the fact that Behrendt’s tale of witnessing two baboons getting it on in South Africa had me in hysterics should be properly appreciated. This is how you do funny, kids.

And then, Todd Barry– Todd! From Flight of the Conchords! He shared an advice column from Esquire magazine with the audience. One of those written-by-a-woman-for-men-about-women sort of things. How to treat us ladyfolk, because guys are always needing help with that. Except, as these things tend to be, it was inane, a point Barry made by interjecting his own comments in between each bit of advice. For example, the column’s author instructs men to “bench the tongue” in regards to kissing – because 10 million years of French kissing must be wrong? – and to not only keep fluffy towels around for post-coitus showers, but to “have more than I need.” Barry’s skewering of this nonsense is more of what we need.

The funny continued with Rob Baedecker, who emerged onstage in a lab coat and safety goggles because that’s obviously what a high school teacher forced to combine woodshop and sex ed classes would wear. Further research reveals that Baedecker is part of Kaspar Hauser, a comedy ensemble that, in addition to live performances, publishes SkyMaul. I’ve got to get my hands on one of those.

Wrapping up the show was Neal Brennan, co-creator of The Chappelle Show and COUSIN TO DJ RED, which I discovered after excitedly tweeting my post-gig ecstasy. Brennan walked a riskier line than the others, all sex and race, not unusual topics for jokes, sure, but he proved unusually adept at navigating them. Überwhite Humboldt County could use an infusion of Neal Brennan. And so could everywhere else.

(So much better than what I wrote: Wendy MacNaughton captured Mapping the Heavens in sketches. Sketches of Sketchfest!)

Best in Show at the Castro Theatre

While walking to the Castro Theatre, we passed by a man wearing only socks, shoes and a hat, his man parts flapping as he strode past unperturbed and seemingly scarcely noticed by the hundreds of people out on this sunny San Francisco Saturday. So there was that. And then we watched Best in Show on a big screen in a gorgeous theater and laughed as hard as the first time we saw it. Maybe harder – it’s been a while. I forget how fun seeing a movie in the theater can be when 1.) the movie is funny, and, 2.) the entire audience is enjoying it in unison. No one was texting! Having Fred Willard and Michael Hitchcock sharing Christopher Guest stories from the stage post-flick capped the experience off.

Morgan Murphy presents Jen Kirkman and others at the Punch Line

Another show where I went in partially blind, smitten with Jen Kirkman over her Twitter feed, but knowing about Morgan Murphy only what her Sketchfest bio said. (Look, I don’t have a TV, okay? I only know what’s happening by the links people send me, OK? OK.)

The show unfolded talk-style, with Murphy bringing out Kirkman, then SNL heroine Laraine Newman (!!!), adding Bay Area sex therapist Jenner Bishop into the mix, plus Greg Behrendt (see above) and Dave Anthony, who lives in L.A. with his wife Heather and son Finn. (No TV, but I can Wikipedia) (Anthony and Behrendt co-host a podcast, Walking the Room).

So this could’ve been really boring – I gave my husband the “Uh, honey, are you enjoying yourself?” look several times during the first 10 minutes before remembering that, 1.) That look never helps anything, 2.) I’ve drug him to far worse, like that band at Lil’ Red Lion (sorry, babe), and, 3.) He’s gracious in social circumstances in any case. But I needn’t have worried! Because not only was he pleased to hear crazy mother stories as swapped by Murphy and Kirkman, but he had a tad of the star-struck with Laraine Newman, and as the sex talk continued and the guys joined, the whole conversation was so damn interesting and funny that everyone was engaged anyway. Bobby said that after the show the guys in the bathroom were wishing it were longer… the show, that is. HA. (Sorry.)

The Takeaway

1. Laughing is good.
2. Visiting SF is fun.
3. You now have a list of people to check out.
4. You have a whole year to plan for SF Sketchfest 2013!

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