This is a definitively non-definitive guide to the three weeks of Sketchfest. Problematically, on most nights, there are too many events — too many events with the potential to be good, funny, and one-of-a-kind — to recommend one over another. With that in mind, here are some vague guidelines for those of you who find yourself entirely overwhelmed at this all-you-can-eat 24/7 Vegas-style buffet of comedy. For more info, go to sfsketchfest.com.
You: You've never listened to a comedy podcast, but you're a pretty open-minded person, and your ears work pretty good, and you noticed there are a lot of podcast recordings on the Sketchfest schedule, so you're like: maybe.
What you should know: A live podcast recording will basically be a comedy show in the form of a conversation. Hosts and guests will be seated, possibly standing, perhaps lying prone. The show will be recorded, meaning you'll be able to download it later and listen in the background for the sound of your own laughter, you disgusting egomaniac.
What should you see? The Superego podcast (Jan. 25) has been bringing the absurdity via its improv-with-clever-editing format for years, and the Dead Authors podcast (Jan. 24), hosted by Paul F. Tompkins as H.G. Wells, features twisted impersonations of your favorite literary figures and hypothetical conversations you only wish you'd gotten to hear in real life. Fans of Community won't want to miss Harmontown with creator Dan Harmon and Jeff F. Davis (Feb. 6). Also try Improv4Humans, another improvised character-driven podcast from Upright Citizens Brigade founder Matt Besser, featuring a roster of guests (Feb. 9).
You: You prefer music with a comedic approach, or perhaps an old-fashioned music-plus-comedy variety show, a modern-day Vaudevillian romp.
What you should know: There is a lot to choose from at this year's Sketchfest; many of these comedians have more than one talent.
What should you see? Megan Mullally's band Nancy and Beth does original songs and is old-timey sexy (Jan. 31). Princess featuring SNL's Maya Rudolph is also sexy and is also a Prince cover band (Feb. 9); check them out on the YouTubes before you buy tickets if you need to convince yourself to go. Heidecker & Wood (Jan. 24) features Tim Heidecker and is soft-rock for comedy geeks, which is an overly specific-sounding intersection of people's interests that actually exists. Rhett Miller of the Old 97s is hosting an old-fashioned variety show, Wheels Off, at Yoshi's that features comedy and music and sounds very cool and is a great Monday night social opportunity (Jan. 27). Thrilling Adventure Hour is a live riff on radio shows of yore, featuring stories, sketch comedy, and music (Jan. 25).
You: You are not sure but you think you like this "anti-comedy" you've heard people talking about, this kind of comedy that doesn't go for easy beats and instead leans heavily on randomness, absurdity, being intentionally off-putting or vulgar, and generally giving in to chaos whenever possible.
What you should know: You might not, actually.
What should you see? Try anything featuring Tim Heidecker, perhaps him with Neil Hamburger (Jan. 25). Or try the Gelmania podcast with Brett Gelman (Jan. 24). Some of Eric Andre's performances fall into this category as well, perhaps.
You: You don't just want jokes, you want stories. You want exposition, rising action, climax, denouement, thankyouverymuch.
What you should know: There is a fair amount of overlap between stand-up comedy and storytelling series. See any stand-up show, and if it's worth its salt, you will certainly hear some well-crafted stories.
What should you see? RISK! with Kevin Allison from The State (Jan. 31). Also Mortified, wherein people tell their most shameful tales of youth (Jan. 28); Porchlight, with an emphasis on the literary (Jan. 26); or Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, which God help you should be self-explanatory (Jan. 31)
You: Not to brag but you listen to a lot of public radio.
What you should know: That's cool but you don't have to be such a snob about it.
What should you see? Wits with John Moe, a funny (as opposed to simply humorous) public-radio variety show (Jan. 24), or NPR's Ask Me Another game show (Feb. 5)
You: You were of a certain age during the 1990s and as a result you have a weird kind of emotional attachment to cast members from either The State or Kids in the Hall.
What you should know: No one is judging you for that.
What should you see? For your State fix, there's Stella & Friends with Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain (Jan. 31); Topics, with Black and Showalter (Feb. 1); Wainy Days Live, featuring all three of the above (Feb. 1); and the aforementioned RISK! with Kevin Allison. For fans of KITH, there's a Kevin McDonald Improv and Sketch Workshop (Jan. 25); plus Dave Foley and McDonald perform together (Jan. 24).
You: You're curious about how small your favorite television personalities actually look in person.
What you should know: They're probably mostly smaller than you thought.
What should you see? Adam Scott (from Parks and Recreation, Party Down, and more) has a variety show, The Greatest Event in Festival History, based on his television special (Feb. 1). Comedians who have performances galore include Jenny Slate (read her interview, who you may know from TV's House of Lies, Kroll Show, or Parks and Recreation, and Veep's Matt Walsh. Thrilling Adventure Hour features Paget Brewster, former Bay Arean and current star of Criminal Minds. See Conan O'Brien's friend Andy Richter at the Slipnutz reunion show (Feb. 1) and at Team Coco Live! (Feb. 1). Becoming 'Enlightened' features the entire cast of HBO's gone-too-soon drama; that means Laura Dern, Luke Wilson, Sarah Burns, Jason Mantzoukas, and creator Mike White (Feb. 2). And if you want more than one canceled HBO show cast reunion, there's Bored to Death with creator Jonathan Ames and stars Ted Danson, Zach Galifianakis, and Jason Schwartzman (Feb. 1)
You: You are a cult movie fanatic.
What you should know: It's a little weird that you just like cult movies as a general category, usually people just have maybe one, two, a few, to which they're particularly attached. But again, no judgment.
What should you see? Alan Arkin is coming as part of the celebration of the anniversary of The In-Laws, in which he gave what some consider the greatest comedic movie performance ever (Feb. 6). The cast of Napoleon Dynamite is doing a thing on opening night (Jan. 23), along with Tenacious D (read the interview). Cult-movie cast reunions abound this year, including but not limited to: Top Secret! (Feb. 8), Cabin Boy (Feb. 7), Super Troopers (Feb. 1), and Revenge of the Nerds (Feb. 8, read more).
You: You enjoy cartoons the most.
What you should know: Cartoons are not just for children and emotionally-stunted men-children; they are also for emotionally stunted women-children, and also for everyone else.
What should you see? There's the Farewell Futurama! panel featuring Billy West, the voice of Fry, Zoidberg, and more (Jan. 25). There's an Afternoon with [brilliant yet underwatched] The Venture Bros (Jan. 26). And, there's Talkin' Toons, a podcast by Rob Paulsen, famous voice actor behind characters Pinky and the Brain, Arthur from The Tick, Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more (Jan. 26).
You: Comedy isn't really nerdy enough for you, but if there's some way comedy could be combined with your other interests like science, sound effects, or Mystery Science Theater 3000, now you're listening!
What you should know: You're in luck, nerd!
What should you see? StarTalk Live with Bill Nye (the science guy) and Eugene Mirman (Jan. 24), SF Sketchfest Comedy NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences (Jan. 30), Michael Winslow & Rhys Darby's Sound Effects Summit (Jan. 31), Joel Hodgson (of MST3K)'s stand-up special, Riffing Myself (Feb. 7), and Fancy Meeting You Here, a roving comedy show during which you'll be taken on a hilarious tour of the Contemporary Jewish Museum (Feb. 8).
You: "I just want someone to tell me what to do!"
What you should know: We're not your mom.
What should you see? Guaranteed laughs will emanate from the Stand-Up Spotlight featuring spot-on impersonator James Adomian (look up his Jesse Ventura or his Paul Giamatti) and extremely funny Baron Vaughn, who's graced many a late-night show with his insightful observations (Jan. 26). There's also A Tribute to Key & Peele, in which you can spend time with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of the Comedy Central sketch show now heading into its fourth season (Jan. 25). The Slipnutz variety show will feature quirky sketch comedy from original Slipnutz (as seen on Conan) Jon Glaser, Brian Stack, and Andy Blitz with guests Ron Funches, Maria Thayer, Jackie Kashian, and Andy Richter (Feb. 1).