Funny People…For Reals – SF SketchFest Delivers Comedy For Connoisseurs

The 9th annual SF Sketchfest is wrapping up today, spanning three weeks of laugh-o-lympics, led by a mix of the top name comedians and under the radar funny people who are just about to break.

I attended the festival this year as both an audience member and a participant.

Opening night at the SF Mezzanine featured a blistering performance from Neil Hamburger (O my stars, don’t get on his bad side), just off his tour with Pucifer. Hamburger was opening up for Tim and Eric’s band, Pusswhip Bang Bang.

backstage for Pusswhip Bang Bang

The audience at the Mezzanine were excited to see their nerdy Adult Swim heroes come out in spandex and sing bad seventies and eighties throwbacks but it was a bit of a let down as Tenacious D, and many other bands (Knights of Monte Carlo, Trainwreck, etc.) do musical band parody better. Anyone hoping for comedy bits or films mixed in with the songs went home disappointed.

Over at the Purple Onion, I performed in Joke-E-Oke, a show put on by  funnyman Harmon Leon and produced by Showtime’s Green Room host, Paul Provenza. Joke-E-Oke is a cool blend between game show and improv styled roast, where contestants have to get up onstage and perform stand up bits from legendary comedians. As they perform, they are judged, and heckled, by a panel of judges. The final round is a Don Rickles-off of ‘Yo Momma’ type insults until one person stands as the king of comedy.

Harmon led us into madness as the host for the evening with guest judges Paul Provenza, Mark Pitta and Rick Overton. Rick was also one of the featured comedians on the Joke-E-Oke wheel which was quite daunting. You don’t want to have to ape the judge. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery but it’s difficult when the subject could be making fun of you to your face.

Harmon at the Purple Onion

I was picked to go on first and I got Chris Rock as my Joke-E-Oke comedian to parrot. Which was perfect because though I may be a white girl, I think those that know me will agree – everything about my demeanor screams Chris Rock.

Ali Rock
Chris Rock

The evening progressed and I kept advancing to the next round. I made it into the final round opposite audience favorite Kozumi, who did an AMAZING Sam Kinison. It was tough having to insult her to her face, but I summoned up my inner bitch. In fact, I just imagined I was back in LA and it came quite naturally. Luckily we were both crowned as champs.

with Rick Overton, Robin Williams and Kozumi at Joke-E-Oke

Joke-E-Oke was being filmed as a pilot and will be coming soon to a TV network near you. If you love stand up comedy, you will love this show.

The festival had an amazing cross section of panel discussions (Reno 911 cast, Mystery Science 3000 cast), sketch and improv shows (Upright Citizens Brigade, Whitest Kids U’ Know), artists in discussion (Weird Al Yankovic in discussion with Chris Hardwick) cabaret shows, podcasts, a tribute to Conan O’Brien (which was canceled when he was understandably unable to attend) and lots of stand up. Only in this environment could you see author Dave Eggers mixing with Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt. Or having to make a decision on whether to go to see Dana Gould, Rob Huebel or Dick Cavett!

Dick Cavett

I was able to catch political live wire Jamie Kilstein at the Punch Line. He did a great bit about that included political comedy a bit on corporate music, labels and MTV which is something I’ve been talking about here for a while. I highly recommend him.

Jamie Kilstein

What was to come next really knocked me out of my seat. I see live shows so often that I am rarely moved anymore. I’m like the Anna Wintour of live entertainment – you won’t get much of a reaction out of me. I’m so focused on the event and I’m so in ‘work’ mode that I’m rarely caught up in the emotion of the song/joke/dance, etc.

Enter Reggie Watts. Holy hell! Reggie, a former musician in the 90’s, does a comedy act which involves using pedals, loops and beats and…voices. He uses all these different accents and voices and moves in and out of them so seamlessly that it’s nearly impossibly to figure out which is his own. And it’s all very stream of consciousness…I was on the edge of my seat. I was fascinated. I really can’t remember the last time a performer showed me something that caused me to stare, slack jawed. Reggie Watts. Get ready for him.

Reggie Watts

Oh San Francisco, I love you. I love the crazy graffiti murder hotel room I stayed in.

I love the weird signs and window dressings warning people walking by.

And I loved Sketchfest. My only complaint with the festival is that there was so much comedy and I was unable to see it all. The festival ran January 14th – February 2nd. If you live in San Francisco, that’s got to be the greatest gift ever…the super bowl of cutting edge comedy for twenty days in your own back yard. If like me, you were visiting, performing and then leaving, it was sad to say goodbye to so many good shows. Luckily I do live in LA and I am in close proximity to some pretty crazy geniuses.

Maybe there will be a festival of this caliber closer to me. Or maybe the television networks will get smart and put more comedy on the air.

Until then, Sketchfest is entirely worth the trip.

Kozumi doing Eddie Murphy at Joke-E-Oke:

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