If it’s January, then it must be time for the SF Sketchfest. The San Francisco Comedy Festival celebrates its 12th anniversary from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1o with more comedians for more laughs.
SF Sketchfest was started by 1994 Davis High graduate Cole Stratton and three of his college friends — Janet Varney, Dave Owen and Gabriel Diani. The quartet, along with five other groups, performed in one venue for the first SF Sketchfest in 2001. Now, there are dozens of performers — include A-list comedians — performing at multiple venues.
Stratton, who worked for The Enterprise while he was at Davis High School, took time to shed light on the past, present and future of SF Sketchfest.
Enterprise: Congrats on the eve of another SF Sketchfest. Do you find yourself just as excited/nervous as the first ones?
Cole Stratton: Every year is equally exciting and nerve-wracking! The lineups always change and the festival grows more and more every time we do it — we never know how it’s going to shake out and putting it together is a lot like trying to do a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture. It always does come together, and we’re always thrilled with what we’re able to present to the awesome audiences in the Bay Area.
E: Sketchfest has grown a great deal since its inception in 2001. What have been some milestones for you?
CS: There’s been a bunch of them. The second year we managed to get Upright Citizens Brigade and Fred Willard to come. I picked up Fred from the airport in my old Dodge Neon — it was pretty surreal! That year we realized what we had could be something one day, and each year brought more and more milestones.
Landing the Kids in the Hall was a huge deal for us, especially since we all started in a sketch group together and we’re hugely influenced by them. We had Bruce McCulloch first who did a solo show one year. Then Dave Foley came. Then Scott Thompson, and then a few years later the full group.
Being able to honor Conan O’Brien was also such a huge feat for us, as well as reuniting all 11 members of The State.
Last year we produced a reunion and radio play reading of “Wet Hot American Summer” with nearly all of the cast — and for those who couldn’t make it, we used surprise celebrity guest understudies. It was a huge mass of comedy talent all in one place at the same time, and we couldn’t believe that it came together!
E: Is there still an artist or group that eludes you that you’d like to see join the festivities?
CS: We have a huge wish list that we go back to every year, and each year we’re thankfully able to check a few names off of it. I don’t want to jinx anything by putting them out there, but there are tons of artists we’d still love to have. Well, I’ll put Monty Python out there since that would be amazing but logistically probably impractical. Though we did have Terry Jones one year, so that’s a start!
E: For this year, if a person can only make a limited number of show, which are some of the performances that you feel are “can’t miss”?
CS: So much great stuff! Our opening night show, “Rifftrax Presents Night of the Shorts IV: Riffizens on Patrol,” features Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett from Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing some of the worst old PSAs, science and educational videos from yesteryear, along with some great guest riffers — Kevin McDonald (The Kids in the Hall), Adam Savage (“Mythbusters”), Kristen Schaal (“30 Rock”), Paul F. Tompkins (“Best Week Ever”) and, well, myself and Janet Varney! It’s always a lot of fun and amazing to do and see live. That’s on Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. at the Castro Theatre.
We’re also do a night honoring B-Movie icon Bruce Campbell with a screening of “Army of Darkness,” moderated by Patton Oswalt, also at the Castro Theater, on Feb. 9 at 8:30 p.m.
There’s also a great show we’ve done a few times now called Celebrity Autobiography where celebs read from the autobiographies of other celebs on stage — its super funny! This year’s cast features Roger Bart (“Desperate Housewives”), Jennifer Coolidge (“Best in Show”), Rachel Dratch (“SNL”), Janeane Garafalo (“Reality Bites”), Laraine Newman (“SNL”), Maya Rudolph (“SNL”) and Fred Willard (“Waiting for Guffman”). It’s on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. at Marines’ Memorial Theatre.
And if people wanna see Davis represented more, I’ve got a couple more shows myself — my popular podcast “Pop My Culture” is done live on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 1 p.m. at the Eureka Theater, and the night before, my improv group, Theme Park, does a show at the Eureka Theatre at 10:30 p.m. — it features Rachel Dratch, Michael Hitchcock (“Best in Show”), Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”), Ian Brennan (co-creator of “Glee”) and few more.
E: Any new performers for this year?
CS: Yes, lots! Jeff Garlin, Billy Eichner, Julie Klausner, Priscilla Presley, reunions for the shows “Party Down” and “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” “30 Rock’s” Judah Friedlander, Stephen Tobolowsky, Lucy Davis, The Improvised Shakespeare Company and tons more.
E: For someone coming to Sketchfest for the first time, is there a good and better way to take in the performances?
CS: We offer quite an eclectic array of programming, so I’d say to just peruse the schedule and see what jumps out at you. There are lots of shows going on every night, particularly Friday through Sunday, so you could buy tickets to a bunch of shows over a weekend and make a trip out of it.
E: What do you see for the future of Sketchfest? Do you have plans to expand to other cities?
CS: For now, we’re content to keep bringing San Francisco the best comedy we can find — though we do hope to take things on the road at some point. We’ll continue to do more special events throughout the year as well.
For information and tickets, visit www.sfsketchfest.com.