SF Sketchfest, or The San Francisco Comedy Festival, is a comedy festival founded in 2002 by Bay Area actor-comedians David Owen, Janet Varney and Cole Stratton. It takes place every January in a variety of San Francisco venues and features primarily sketch comedy groups, as well as some stand-up comedy performers.
In its first year, SF Sketchfest presented six Bay Area sketch groups in the intimate 80-seat Shelton Theatre: The Fresh Robots, Kasper Hauser, The Meehan Brothers, Please Leave The Bronx, Totally False People and White Noise Radio Theatre.
In 2003, the second annual festival featured Fred Willard and his Hollywood Players, the Upright Citizens Brigade and The Sklar Brothers performing at the 200-seat Eureka Theatre.
In 2004, the third annual festival featured a tribute to Amy Sedaris; a panel discussion with Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy and Michael J. Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000; and performances by Totally Looped featuring Dan Castellaneta and Rick Overton; Slovin & Allen; The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show featuring David Koechner from Saturday Night Live; Girl's Guitar Club featuring Karen Kilgariff and Mary Lynn Rajskub, who played Chloe on 24; and current Saturday Night Live castmember Fred Armisen. Improvisational comedy was added to the festival with Beer Shark Mice featuring David Koechner and Neil Flynn. Film was added with the Bay Area premiere of Martin & Orloff. The 400-seat Cobb's Comedy Club was added as a larger venue.
In 2005, the fourth annual festival featured a tribute to Dana Carvey; a panel discussion with writers and editors from The Onion moderated by author Dave Eggers and performances by Bruce McCulloch from The Kids in the Hall; comedian Demetri Martin; Bizarro creator Dan Piraro; Hard 'n Phirm; Olde English; Elephant Larry and many more.
To celebrate its fifth annual festival in 2006, even more venues were added with the inclusion of The Punch Line, The Purple Onion and 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. The festival featured a tribute to Bob Odenkirk and David Cross from Mr. Show; a lecture by Michael Showalter and David Wain, formerly of MTV's The State and Comedy Central's Stella; and performances by Dave Foley from The Kids in the Hall; Tinkle, featuring David Cross, Todd Barry and H. Jon Benjamin with guests Bob Odenkirk, Brian Posehn, Paul F. Tompkins, Eugene Mirman and musical act Rogue Wave; The Paul F. Tompkins Show with guests Paget Brewster, Paul Gilmartin, Samm Levine and Colin Hay; The Upright Citizens Brigade: A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. featuring Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz with guest monologist Will Arnett; Naked Babies featuring Rob Corddry from The Daily Show; Doug Stanhope, Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players; Fred Armisen; Aziz Ansari; Will Franken and a surprise appearance by Dana Carvey.
In 2007, the SF Sketchfest tribute went to Paul Reubens. Performers included Stella, RiffTrax Live featuring Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett from Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Upright Citizens Brigade with Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, Sean Conroy, Andy Daly and guest monologist Bob Odenkirk, Comedy Death-Ray, Match Game Live, David Cross, Bruce McCulloch, Eugene Mirman, Naked Babies, Todd Barry, H. Jon Benjamin, Morgan Murphy, Doug Benson, Todd Glass, Hard 'n Phirm, A.D. Miles, Jimmy Pardo, Paul F. Tompkins, Maria Bamford, Dragon Boy Suede, Tony Hale and Will Durst.
In 2008, the Seventh Annual SF Sketchfest presented The Kids in the Hall, in performance and in conversation for the annual Tribute. Other performers included Aimee Mann, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Barry, Rhys Darby, Kristen Schaal, Naked Babies with Rob Corddry, The Sound of Young America Live with host Jesse Thorn and guests Danny Hoch, Merlin Mann, Morgan Murphy, Bucky Sinister and musical guest Zach Rogue; RiffTrax Live at the Castro Theatre with the film "Plan 9 From Outer Space;" Dr. Katz Professional Therapist Live with guest patients Bob Odenkirk, Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn, Robin Williams, H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Andy Kindler and B.J. Novak; Michael Showalter, John Vanderslice, Match Game Live, Comedy Death-Ray, a "Freaks and Geeks" reunion with Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps, Dave (Gruber) Allen, Steve Bannos and Paul Feig; Patton Oswalt, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bro'in Out with Seth Morris with special guest Adam McKay; Upright Citizens Brigade with Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, Rachel Dratch, Rob Riggle, Kevin Dorff and guest monologist Neil Patrick Harris; The Whitest Kids U Know, Tim and Eric and many more.
In 2009, the Eighth Annual SF Sketchfest featured a reunion of the MTV sketch comedy group The State, marking the first time in twelve years that all eleven original members (Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter and David Wain) were together onstage. They presented a brand-new hour-long sketch show at the intimate 200-seat Eureka Theatre, and also sat down with moderator Janeane Garofalo for the annual Tribute award at the Herbst Theatre. Related programming included a cast-introduced screening of Wet Hot American Summer, and Stella: The Classic Nightclub Show, with guests Thomas Lennon, Tig Notaro, Nick Kroll, Zak Orth, Eugene Mirman, Seth Herzog and Janeane Garofalo. The festival introduced their first Comedy Writing Award, presented to Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O'Brien scribe Robert Smigel, who was joined in conversation with Dana Carvey. Smigel also joined Dino Stamatopoulos, Doug Dale, the Anifriends and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog for a live stage version of the Comedy Central television show TV Funhouse. Other notable programming included A Salute to Bud Cort]], interviewed after a screening of Harold and Maude]] at The Castro Theatre]]; A Fernwood Reunion with Martin Mull and Fred Willard, who appeared in character as Barth Gimble and Jerry Hubbard; Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!; Savage Steve Holland and Diane Franklin with a screening of Better Off Dead; The Hills: A Staged Reading with Janeane Garofalo, Rachael Harris, Tom Kenny, Rob Huebel, Rob Riggle, Dannah Feinglass, Danielle Schneider and Mike Phirman; Comedy Death-Ray with Zach Galifianakis, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Kindler, Chris Hardwick, Paul F. Tompkins, Mary Lynn Rajskub]] and hosts The Fun Bunch (Scott Aukerman]] and BJ Porter]]); Game Show Explosion with Jimmy Pardo]]; Celebrity Autobiography with Michael McKean, Annette O'Toole, Scott Thompson, Rachel Dratch, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Laraine Newman and creators Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel; Sunday with Moral Orel with Dino Stamatopoulos and Scott Adsit; Upright Citizen Brigade ASSSSCAT Improv with Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Tim Meadows, Andrew Daly, Danielle Schneider and monologist Andy Richter; Totally Looped movie dubbing show with Laraine Newman, Maria Bamford, Oscar Nunez, Rick Overton, Joe Liss and Richard Kuhlman; Invite Them Up with Eugene Mirman and Bobby Tisdale and guests including Todd Barry and Paul Scheer; Facebook Improv with Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Seth Morris, Chad Carter and Owen Burke; Theme Park Improv with Scott Adsit, Oscar Nunez, Kate Flannery, Jessica Makinson, Janet Varney and Cole Stratton; Scott Thompson’s solo show Scottastrophe!; Cartoon Dump with Frank Conniff; Never Not Funny Live with Jimmy Pardo, Jon Hamm and Pat Francis; The Sound of Young America Live with Jesse Thorn, Sean Cullen, Jello Biafra and Kasper Hauser; Monsters of Podcasting with Jordan, Jesse, Go and You Like Nice Today; and stand-up sets from Doug Benson, Aziz Ansari and Will Durst.
In 2010, the Ninth Annual festival included Conan O'Brien, recipient of the annual Tribute Award, who was scheduled to appear on January 17, but had to be postponed due to the late night fiasco at NBC. The tribute was done later that summer on July 17 at the Herbst Theater, where O'Brien was joined by Andy Richter and moderator Patton Oswalt for a incredible, candid, three-hour conversation. The Comedy Writing Award was presented to author and humorist John Hodgman, who was joined in conversation with Dave Eggers. The festival presented their first Monty Python member in Terry Jones, who appeared in conversation with Carl Arnheiter at a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian at the Castro Theatre. Other film related programming included Cinematic Titanic (with Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl of Mystery Science Theater 3000); Waiting For Guffman with Fred Willard; The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy with Dave Foley; Animal Crackers with Bill Marx (son of Harpo) and Dick Cavett; and UHF with “Weird Al” Yankovic. Yankovic also joined Chris Hardwick for a conversation at Cobb’s Comedy Club. Other notable events and performers included Tim and Eric; an Evening with the Reno 911! Sheriff’s Department; The Greg Proops Chat Show with Robin Williams, Linda Cardellini and musical guest Michael Penn; The Dave Hill Explosion with Dick Cavett and The Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano; Celebrity Autobiography with Jason Segel, Rachel Dratch, Laura Kightlinger, Steve Schirripa, and Fred Willard; Upright Citizens Brigade ASSSSCAT with Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, David Koechner, Tim Meadows, Chad Carter and monologist Moon Zappa; The Paul F. Tompkins Show featuring Dave Foley, Illeana Douglas and musical guest Grant-Lee Phillips; Comedy Death-Ray with Michael Ian Black, Dana Gould, Doug Benson, Natasha Leggero, James Adomian, musical guest Aimee Mann and host Scott Aukerman; the return of Facebook Improv; Game Show Explosion with Jimmy Pardo; The Red Wine Boys with Todd Barry and H. Jon Benjamin and guests Larry Murphy, Brendon Small and musical guests Mates of State; Invite Them Up with Eugene Mirman and Bobby Tisdale; The Whitest Kids U’ Know; Greg Behrendt’s Bring the Rock featuring Matt Nathanson; The Jill and Julia Show with Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney; Ask A Ninja Live; The Big Gay Sketch Show; Theme Park Improv with Edie McClurg, Danny Pudi, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, Jessica Makinson, Janet Varney and Cole Stratton; Never Not Funny Live with Jimmy Pardo and guest Dave Foley; The Benson Interruption with Doug Benson, Steve Agee, Graham Elwood and more; Doug Loves Movies and Comedy Death Ray Radio Live; The Shit Show with Rob Huebel; Dr. God Improv with Matthew Lillard; My Monster with Bill Corbett from Mystery Science Theater 3000; Reggie Watts; Kasper Hauser; Killing My Lobster; and stand-up sets from Nick Kroll, Jon Dore, Brent Weinbach, Matt Braunger, Kyle Kinane, and Jamie Kilstein.
In 2011, the festival celebrated its 10th Anniversary, now regularly utilizing nearly a dozen venues, including The Castro Theatre, Yoshi’s San Francisco, The Purple Onion and Marines’ Memorial Theatre. The annual Tribute award was split into a new Great Collaborator Series, showcasing fantastic comedy teams. The first was a 25th Anniversary Tribute to “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”with Garry Shandling and Alan Zweibel appearing at the Castro Theatre with moderator Zach Braff; second was an Airplane! Tribute to Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, moderated by Chris Hardwick; and the third was a Tribute to Murphy Brown with Candice Bergen and Diane English. The third Comedy Writing Award was presented by James L. Brooks, who candidly chatted with Danny DeVito before a screening of Brooks’ classic Broadcast News. The festival teamed with local drag superstar Peaches Christ for an evening with Cloris Leachman and a screening of High Anxiety, and presented a 25th Anniversary screening of True Stories with Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne. Other great events included a Saturday Night Live: The Originals panel with Dan Aykroyd, ], Laraine Newman, Don Novello and moderator Carl Arnheiter; Brian Henson in conversation with Neil Patrick Harris featuring a live puppet demonstration; The Thrilling Adventure Hour with a star-studded cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Colin Hanks, Alison Brie, John DiMaggio, Donal Logue, Danny Pudi, James Urbaniak, Busy Philipps, Samm Levine, John Ennis and Paul F. Tompkins; a four show preview of Mike Birbiglia’s new solo show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend; Celebrity Autobiography with Will Forte, Rachael Harris, Joe Pantoliano, Jonathan Silverman and Linda Cardellini; Whose Live Anyway? improv show with Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Chip Esten and Jeff Davis; a Viva Variety Reunion show with Thomas Lennon, Michael Ian Black, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Robert Ben Garant; Gentlemen’s Club with Bob Odenkirk; The Paul F. Tompkins Show with Gillian Jacobs, Neil Patrick Harris and musical guest Tom Brosseau; The Dave Hill Explosion with Moby, Thao Nguyen and Will Franken; Delocated Witness Protection Program Variety Show with Jon Benjamin and guests Todd Barry, Andrew Daly, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, Larry Murphy, Will Forte and musical guest A.C. Newman; The Benson Interruption with Doug Benson and guests Zach Galifianakis and more; The Kevin Pollak Chat Show with guest Adam Savage; Greg Behrendt’s Maximum Volume with Matt Nathanson and Brendon Small; Music Night with Garfunkel and Oates, David Koechner, Chris Hardwick, Mike Phirman, Eli Braden and Zach Selwyn; Tig Has Friends with Tig Notaro; Billy The Mime; Charlyne Yi; Paul Brittain; Rich Fulcher; Killing My Lobster; Solo shows by Rob Delaney, Brett Gelman, Joe Sibb and Lauren Weedman; Storytelling shows Porchlight, This is Not Happening and Risk! with Kevin Allison and The Friday Forty with Dave Holmes. Podcasts also made up a major component of the festival, and included live tapings of WTF with Marc Maron and guests Bobcat Goldthwait, Will Franken, Maria Bamford, Baron Vaughn and W. Kamau Bell; Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo and guest David Koechner; Nerdist with Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Matt Mira with guest Zach Galifianakis; Pop My Culture Podcast with Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland and guest Bob Odenkirk; Sklarbro Country with the Sklar Brothers and guests Michael Ian Black, Har Mar Superstar and Bill Romanowski; Citizen Radio with Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny and guest Markos Moulitsas; The Sound of Young America with Jesse Thorn and guests John Vanderslice and Steve Dildarian; and Monsters of Podcasting. The festival also introduced a new program called The Dozen, spotlighting the next wave of stand-up comedy stars, featuring Dan Mintz, Dan Telfer, Chris Fairbanks, Chelsea Peretti, Matt Braunger, Jamie Kilstein, Jen Kirkman, Baron Vaughn, Mary Mack, Kumail Nanjiani, Deon Cole and Harris Wittels. There was also a reunion and performance from the original six groups from the first Sketchfest— The Fresh Robots, Kasper Hauser, The Meehan Brothers, Please Leave The Bronx, Totally False People and White Noise Radio Theatre.