Ninth annual SF comedy festival is very sketchy 

If the phrase “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard” holds even a grain of truth, there will be a lot of people working very hard over the next three weeks at the ninth annual Sketchfest in San Francisco.

The comedy celebration runs Thursday through Feb. 2, offering everything from traditional stand-up to special anniversary screenings of classic films of the genre.

The 20-day marathon features more than 70 events at 10 venues throughout The City and in San Rafael. The lengthy roster includes Dave Foley (Friday-Sunday); Andy Richter (Saturday-Sunday); Fred Willard (Jan. 30-31); Neil Patrick Harris (Jan. 30-31); “Weird Al” Yankovic (Jan. 23) and surprises like Lesley Ann Warren (Jan. 30-31) and Illeana Douglas (Friday).

“Every night of the festival has something completely unique,” says David Owen, one of the three festival directors. “We think that performers and artists from all different mediums like to do the festival because they get to do something outside of their normal routine — something fun and different. An acclaimed actor like Neil Patrick Harris, a television icon like Dick Cavett, or a musician like Aimee Mann is going to get to do something they wouldn’t do anywhere else.”

The logistics for such a massive agenda, with multiple events daily at multiple locations can be daunting, says Janet Varney, another of the directors.

“We always know, going in each year, that it’s going to be a handful,” Varney says. “Yet somehow it keeps growing larger and larger, and just when we think we’ve put certain systems in place, some new, exciting thing will come along and we’ll have to just sort of jump in and learn as we go. But that’s how this whole thing started, so after nine years I think we’ve finally started trusting ourselves! Plus, we have an amazing staff and volunteers.”

One of the more unique events in the lineup will be an 80th anniversary screening of the classic Marx Brothers film “Animal Crackers” at the Clay Theatre on Jan. 25. Cavett will host the evening with Bill Marx, son of Harpo.

Unfortunately, attending that screening means missing Comedy Noir at the Eureka Theatre, which occurs the same night. The lineup is packed with many such choices to appeal to the diverse interests of comedy enthusiasts.

“In the early years of the festival, it was primarily 20-somethings,” says Cole Stratton, the third festival director. “But as the festival has grown, so has the audience base — it’s a completely different crowd at, say, ‘Tim and Eric’ than it is for ‘Celebrity Autobiography’ with Fred Willard and Rachel Dratch. The one thing that all of these audiences have in common, though, is that they are enthusiastic, smart and appreciative, and our performers always speak their praises.”


Various locations, including but not limited to: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St.; Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave.; Punch Line Comedy Club, 444 Battery St., San Francisco
When: Thursday through Feb. 2
Tickets: $12 to $25

Opening Night
Featuring Tim and Eric, Neil Hamburger
Mezzanine, 444 Jessie St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $25

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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