Once again, San Francisco's annual Sketchfest comedy festival is upon us, and once again the options for mirth, merriment, and contented confusion are endless. Like arriving at a Cineplex with no earthly idea what film you want to see, trying to decide among the 200 shows taking place over the next three weeks can be a daunting proposition. Film and comedy have gone hand in hand since before the heyday of Buster Keaton (and continue to thrive together despite an onslaught of Paul Blart and Madea sequels), so let us stretch this metaphor as far as it will go in helping you find a suitable outlet for your laughter.
You like: Scripted dramas with dynamic dialogue and minimal action. (You possibly have a small shrine to Aaron Sorkin next to your bed.)
Sketchfest equivalent: Live podcast recordings. Sure, the episodes are almost always made available after the fact, but there is something intangibly captivating about watching a show as it is created. Plus, if — if! — audience interaction is encouraged, you can potentially go home and hear yourself later. Free keepsake!
What you should see: Spontaneanation (Jan. 8) is the latest venture from Paul F. Tompkins, who will converse with Mad Men's Jon Hamm before inviting fellow improvisers in for a scene based on their discussion. Improv4humans unites Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Besser with a slew of the best improvisers around for a free-form series of unscripted sketches that always delivers (Jan. 24). Jimmy Pardo brings his long-running chat podcast Never Not Funny back to town with regulars Pat Francis and Matt Belknap in tow, as well as Hamm — who, luckily for us, is apparently in need of work (Jan. 9).
You like: A-list movies with big stars and elaborate productions.
Sketchfest equivalent: Sketchfest tributes. These shows run the gamut, feting everything from actor royalty to classic films to legendary writers. Most often a conversation with another notable person will bookend a screening of the celebrated figure's work, but who cares? You're just there to breathe the same air as Jeff Goldblum.
What you should see: The SF Sketchfest Tribute to Jeff Goldblum (Jan. 9) will feature the man forever known as Dr. Ian Malcolm as he takes audience questions, screens clips from his career, and plays classic jazz with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. (How do you not already have tickets to this?!) Beloved humor writer Dave Barry will join actor Kevin Pollak in conversation as he receives the SF Sketchfest Comedy Writing Award (Jan. 9). Forest Gump's mom Sally Field will screen and speak about her new film Hello, My Name is Doris with director, co-writer, and Stella founding member Michael Showalter (Jan. 22), while Saturday Night Live royalty Billy Crystal and Alan Zweibel join forces at the SF Sketchfest Great Collaborators Tribute (Jan. 10).
You like: Watching TV instead.
Sketchfest equivalent: Television show tributes and live performances. The cast and crew from your favorite programs take the stage to discuss the series in question, as well as re-enact favorite scenes and take questions from the audience.
What you should see: Spotlight on Drunk History (Jan. 9) brings host Derek Waters together with past cast members Steve Berg, Eric Edelstein, and Kyle Kinane for an evening that will most likely involve a variety of alcoholic beverages. If you like cartoons, look no further than the SF Sketchfest Tribute to Bob's Burgers (Jan. 23), which features creator Loren Bouchard and voice talents like Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, and Kristen Schaal. There's also Futurama: Nothing New to Report, the annual gathering of actors from Matt Groening's other beloved, innovative cartoon show (Jan. 22), and Netflix's BoJack Horseman, which boasts a panel that includes Paul F. Tompkins (the voice of Mr. Peanutbutter) as well as creator Raphael Bob-Waskberg (Jan. 10).
Type of films you like: Documentaries. (You involuntarily go "mm-hmm" when someone makes a salient point.)
Sketchfest equivalent: Educational programming — don't worry, it's cool now! With the rising popularity of shows dedicated to teaching their listeners about an endless variety of topics, Sketchfest's schedule now incorporates some of the most popular names in the genre.
What you should see: One will be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining source of science info than Bill Nye the Science Guy, who presents his StarTalk Radio Show with comedian Eugene Mirman (Jan. 22). If the history of comedy is more your style, try Oakland native Moshe Kasher's Hound Tall podcast (Jan. 22), where guest comics Matt Besser, Dana Gould, and Alex Edelman will talk with expert Klip Nesteroff, better known as the "human encyclopedia of comedy." You're the Expert (Jan. 23) utilizes a game show format as host Chris Duffy helps James Adomian, Kristen Schaal, and Eugene Mirman guess what a given distinguished scientist does for a living. Rounding out the offerings are NPR's Ask Me Another (Jan. 21) and the Stuff You Should Know podcast (Jan. 15), two titans of the informational podcast game.
Type of films you like: Weird stuff. You go to midnight screenings of Tommy Wiseau's The Room and buy bootleg copies of the The Star Wars Holiday Special on eBay.
Sketchfest equivalent: Anti-comedy, a misleading catch-all term that essentially equates to the quirky, offbeat offerings of various comics across multiple mediums. There are many gems to be found in the darkest patches of earth.
What you should see: Local drag queen royalty Peaches Christ has worked her magic to bring three of the original cast members together for Teen Witch: The Peaches Christ Experience (Jan. 8). Comedy world champion and 30 Rock alum Judah Friedlander will pair a night of stand-up with a party celebrating the release of his new book, If the Raindrops United (Jan. 22). Master of the bizarre (and 2007 Andy Kaufman Award winner) Brent Weinbach presents the Spotlight on the 2015 Andy Kaufman Award (Jan. 14), featuring winner Brett Davis and select finalists, while Hot Tub Time Machine star Craig Robinson will get cozy behind his keyboard for some sexy jokes and raunchy jams (Jan. 16). And, of course, there's always the twisted enterprise that is Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction with Bryan Cook (Jan. 15).
Type of films you like: The tried-and-true classics. If a movie has been out for less than 10 years and not been the subject of in-depth AV Club analysis, you'll take a hard pass.
Sketchfest equivalent: Film tributes. Every year Sketchfest reunites the casts of memorable movies from years (and decades) past to wax nostalgic and celebrate their place in the pantheon of great comedic films.
What you should see: The town of Blaine, Mo., will once again take the spotlight at the SF Sketchfest Tribute to Waiting for Guffman (Jan. 9), featuring appearances from Corky St. Clair himself — a.k.a. director Christopher Guest — as well as stars Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, and Fred Willard in a conversation moderated by Kevin Pollak. Comedy titans Jim Abrahams and Alan Arkin will be center stage to remember and screen their respective films Hot Shots! (Jan. 9) and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (Jan. 10). And if Robin Williams' turn as Peter Pan still lives deep in your heart, join Lost Boys Rufio (Dante Basco) and Don't Ask (James Madio) for their Hook 25th Anniversary Screening (Jan. 9).
Type of films you like: Stand-up comedy specials.
Sketchfest equivalent: Stand-up comedy! For as long as there's been a Sketchfest, there have been incredible comics bringing their insights and punchlines to clubs around San Francisco.
What you should see: If you've never seen Maria Bamford (Jan. 21), you've missed one of the sharpest, most irreverent minds working today. Cameron Esposito will bring funny friends Todd Barry, Howard Kremer, and Scott Thompson together for a Sketchfest edition of her popular Put Your Hands Together stand-up showcase (Jan. 8), while Eugene Mirman and Bobby Tisdale return their Brooklyn-based Invite Them Up to San Francisco with guests James Adomian, Dana Gould, Natasha Leggero, and Aparna Nancherla (Jan. 23). If pre-planned material doesn't appeal to you, you'll find a home at the
Ultimate Crowd Work Show (Jan. 9), where Todd Barry and Big Jay Oakerson headline a roster of comics who will perform, you guessed it, nothing but crowd work.
Type of films you like: Big ensemble affairs.
Sketchfest equivalent: Special programming. While most of the Sketchfest lineup is certainly unique, these are the shows you won't see anywhere else, and in some cases, ever again. These offerings are one-night only and not to be missed.
What you should see: Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist Live (Jan. 23) finds Jonathan Katz welcoming names like Janeane Garofalo, Andy Kindler, Maria Bamford, The Sklar Brothers, and Chelsea Peretti to take a seat on the good doctor's couch and submit to live analysis. The Upright Citizens Brigade long-form improv show ASSSSCAT (Jan. 23) is a Sketchfest staple, but this year UCB co-founders Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and their fellow improvisers will have Oscar-winner Sally Field and Wet Hot American Summer's Michael Showalter taking on the monologist role that inspires the show's hysterical improvised scenes. Broke Ass Stuart may not have succeeded in his campaign for mayor, but he will be the focus of Roast SF's Comedy Roast of Broke Ass Stuart (Jan. 14), where eight comics will take turns skewering the long-time travel writer and TV host. Finally, there's Morzouksnick (Jan. 16), a show of characters and improv that combines the talents of Kroll Show's Nick Kroll, The League's Jason Mantzoukas, and beloved "Comedy Bang Bang" guest Seth Morris.