Is it possible to overdose on comedy? San Francisco in January is the place to find out, since our much-heralded annual comedy festival, Sketchfest, is offering up over 200 shows this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve attended at least a couple of programs at every single fest—even if you have unlimited time and money, you have to pick and choose, since there are often five or six shows on at the same time—but for Year 15 of the event, I bought tickets for four shows in four days. All of them take place in San Francisco (would it kill them to add an East Bay venue or two?), which meant plenty of trips across the bay.
First up: “Rifftrax Live,” a performance at the Castro Theatre by the ever-popular Mystery Science Theater gang of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, presenting their live commentary over vintage films. I was a big fan of MST3K back in the day, but I particularly enjoyed it when they showed bizarre educational movies or shorts during an episode. Well, “Rifftrax” was an entire evening of shorts, including a truly odd Canadian film called “David and Hazel: A Study in Communication.” “If the popular AMC show were called Sad Men instead, this would be that show,” say the program notes, and indeed, this 30-minute drama about a dysfunctional early-60s relationship was a masterpiece of office cigarette-smoking, lonely housewives and stony silences. The groovy 1970s-era “Improve Your Pronunciation” was another gem. (Because I felt I should get some culture in before all of this comedy, I spent Thursday afternoon at the DeYoung Museum looking at art.)
On Friday, we went to a live taping of the Judge John Hodgman podcast. Joe & I are both huge fans of the weekly JJH program, in which Hodgman, best known for his regular appearances on the Jon Stewart-era “Daily Show” and iconic Mac Computer ads, resolves disputes. For weeks, Hodgman had been putting out a call for San Francisco-area litigants who would be willing to appear at the live show, and the Friday event featured several of them. First up was a drought-conscious guy whose girlfriend objected to his collecting water in empty “bulk yogurt containers” all over the house. The most hilarious part of this was that the defendant was one of Joe’s co-workers. Joe had no idea, and of course was shocked and delighted that someone he knew personally was part of the show. The second big case involved a father who taped odd and somewhat frightening images on his 15-year-old son’s bunk bed; this case was accompanied by a slide show of visual aids, including photos of naked mole rats and Herve Villechaize in green make-up. I don’t know if it will come through in the podcast, but this may have been the funniest two hours I have ever spent. I literally felt exhausted from laughing so hard at the end of the show.
Saturday, we attended “Jordan Jesse Go,” a podcast Joe really enjoys—I find its humor a little juvenile, but John Hodgman was the week’s guest, so how could I refuse? Unlike the family friendly JJH, JJG is definitely R-rated, which is why it was so surprising to see a dad and his 10-year-old son in the front row center. Who would take a 10-year-old to a taping of an adult podcast? There was an audience participation element, and Hodgman immediately lasered in on the kid and had him come up on stage to take a quiz about Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (which he loudly protested he knew nothing about). At this point I realized that anything could happen; the kid seemed precocious, and it ended well (I guess), though I was left with more questions than answers. If it turns out this is a child of divorce and the mom wants full custody, she could probably use the podcast as exhibit A to win it.
What kind of person goes to a stand-up comedy show at 11 AM? Lots of people, as it turns out; “Brunches with Funches,” featuring popular comedian Ron Funches and some of his pals, was sold out. I’m sure somebody came up with the name first and then built a show around it. The brunch buffet seemed overpriced so we just bought regular tickets, though we were seated on the upper level directly above the steam trays of eggs and bacon, so Joe was pretty ravenous by the time we left the club. Ron is one of the funniest new comics in the biz, and did a hilarious routine about how he’s finally started earning a decent living in the past six months (he expressed amazement that “mumbling jokes into a microphone” could be so lucrative). I hope his story about trying to buy marijuana during a trip to Canada winds up in a future comedy special, because it was great. (I’m generally not a big fan of weed humor, but I’ll make an exception for this one.)
Here’s some Ron Funches: