Wet Hot American Summer, The Groundlings and More at SF Sketchfest
This is embarrassing to say but: before this year, I had never been to the SF Sketchfest. I think what happens, after you become an old-timer in the city (I've lived here for almost 6 years, which might as well be forever) is that you forget that YOU LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO. And that San Francisco is a pretty freaking amazing place with a lot of insanely cool things happening inside of it. And this week and next week, one of those things is SF Sketchfest.
Case in point: on Saturday night I sat 4 rows back at Wet Hot American Summer: The Live Radio Play and watched Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black, David Cross, Busy Philipps and about a million other famous and hilarious people, along with a live sound effects guy, a keyboardist and 2 singers, reenact one of my all-time favorite movies right before my eyes.
The entire cast of Wet Hot American Summer: The Live Radio Play
Does that sound like hyperbole? Well it isn't. If you haven't seen Wet Hot American Summer, 2 things: 1. go watch it now and 2. it isn't as dirty as it sounds but it is dirty so maybe actually wait until the kids go to sleep.
In a nutshell, it's a cult classic by Michael Showalter and David Wain from 2001 about a Jewish summer camp on the East Coast in 1981 and it is the most hilarious, disturbing and spot-on camp movie around (I know because I used to watch it at camp, when I myself was a camp counselor). Here's a little preview to wet your whistle:
On Saturday night the Marines Memorial Theatre (a great little theater inside a hotel downtown) was basically a revival hall, filled to capacity with the Wet Hot American Summer faithful. I doubt anyone in that theater had seen the movie less than 3 times, and the only people possibly more enthusiastic than the audience were the cast members, who were lined up at the back of the stage and would come up in groups to read from their scripts into the microphones lined up at the front. All of the important points were represented: Ken Marino, the lovelorn counselor on a mission to get back from guiding a rafting trip so he can go all the way with Abby Bernstein, wore his signature cutoffs, flip flops and perm (this time, a wig) and Paul Rudd and Marguerite Moreau, the coolest, hottest counselor couple, sucked on each other's faces as often as possible. Christopher Meloni, the Vietnam vet and cook, wore his signature bandana around his head and, after an inspirational message from a can of vegetables (played by Bobcat Goldthwait), he did hump a fridge (mini fridge -- it would have been difficult to get a full-sized version on the stage). When Amy Poehler asked campers to audition for the talent show, it didn't matter that she is 10 years older and 10 years less likely to be a camp counselor, the whole audience lost it completely.
There were so many highlights for me, this piece could be 10 pages long, but here are just a few more:
Michael Ian Black getting halfway undressed and wrestling with Bradley Cooper's stand-in, Marc Evan Jackson's, belt buckle as half the famous people on stage took pictures on their iPhones and the other half fell over from laughing so hard during the iconic equipment shed love scene (so NSFW I am not even going to link to it).
David Cross and John Hodgman do physics while Busy Philipps, the camp director, looks on.
John Hodgman, his jacket tied around his neck as a cape, as the Dungeons and Dragons kid, convincing even with a mustache.
Gillian Jacobs from Community in the Elizabeth Banks roll, covering her face in something like barbeque sauce and also maniacally making out with Paul Rudd.
Joe Lo Truglio, who looks basically exactly the same as he did in 2001, going completely bananas. He always plays small-ish roles but on-stage he might have been the funniest guy in the group.
The mini-fridge: Christopher Meloni, Ken Marino, Colin Hanks and Michael Ian Black.
Busy Philipps and David Cross as the camp director and the astrophysicist in love. Celebrity hero swoon.
I could go on, clearly, but Wet Hot American Summer: The Live Radio Play isn't the only awesome thing happening at SF Sketchfest. On Saturday night another KQED Arts reporter, Joanne Elgart Jennings, went to see The Groundlings at The Eureka Theatre and brought back this report:
We knew we were in for something different as soon as we entered the theatre's lobby. Members of the Los Angeles Groundlings troupe were in full character; schlocky 3rd rate actors passing around their faux resumes, along with Oreos, Ding-dongs and potato chips to members of the audience who were treated as though we were elite Hollywood agents and casting directors.
The Groundlings are known for catapulting the careers of comic stars from film and television such as Will Ferrell and Kathy Griffin. Several Groundlings members and alumni also hold writing positions on many of Hollywood's top television and film projects. The premise of this show, Beverly Winwood Presents The Actors Showcase, conceived and directed by Tony Sepulveda, a Groundling alum, was that the legendary acting teacher Beverly Winwood (played by Susan Yeagley) was presenting her "talented stars of tomorrow" as they interpreted classic scenes from stage and film. The irony of course was that a vast array of real top-notch actors played a group of terrible actors doing the worst monologues and scenes, making for often hilarious results.
Jennifer Coolidge, photo: Jakub Mosur.
One of the most hysterical sketches featured Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show), donning a Dolly Parton-style hairdo and wardrobe, playing the mother of one of the acting students. In a another scene, from Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, she portrayed Laura, the disabled girl who collects glass figurines, and ends up cursing out her fellow actor.
Brian Palermo and Karen Maruyama, photo: Jakub Mosur.
Another one of my favorites featured a hot-tempered UCLA law professor played by Brian Palermo (The Social Network) who suffers through "Who's on First?" with a Chinese-American from Alameda, played by Karen Maruyama (The Simpsons) who can't grasp the intonations of the sketch.
The humor was not appreciated by all in our group. Some people were unimpressed with the stereotyping, particularly of African-Americans as portrayed in a spoof scene of Death of a Salesman. The characters were an ex-con, played by Phil Lamarr (Pulp Fiction), and a young hoodlum, played by Jordan Black (Community).
This is Lizzy again! So are you sad to be missing all this high-level hilarity? Don't be! The SF Sketchfest is just beginning. Here are a few of the shows I think you should probably go to:
NightLife at Cal Academy, January26, 6pm at the California Academy of Sciences. If you are over 21 in the Bay Area, you already know that the only time to visit the California Academy of Sciences is on Thursday nights when the kids aren't invited and cocktails are available for purchase. Add a whole slew of local and national comics, including Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, known for, among other things, creating and starring on Reno 911!, and it's pretty much guaranteed to be a fun night with Claude the albino alligator. FYI: If someone asked me on a date to this, I would basically have to say yes.
The Nerdist Podcast, January 28, 8pm at The Regency Ballroom. Okay, here's the deal. This show is almost sold out. Get tickets now. So, I know a lot of people like Chris Hardwick's podcast, and I am sure it's awesome though I've never heard it. Why I would drop everything and change my plans is the memory of Chris Hardwick on MTV's Singled Out, circa 1995. Fingers crossed he hasn't cut his hair.
Killing My Lobster, January 28, 8pm and February 1, 8pm, at The Eureka Theatre. While a lot of the comedy at SF Sketchfest is by super famous people who you will know from their national television appearances, Killing My Lobster is about as local as you can get, from right here in San Francisco, which makes them no less funny. In September of 2011 they had a viral video hit that you might remember, Twilight Zone San Francisco: "Why Is Everybody Here?" which put them on the map beyond the Bay. If you want to represent for the home team, go check out either of their hilarious sketch shows.
W. Kamau Bell with Laughter Against the Machine, February 2, 8pm at The Eureka Theatre . W. Kamau Bell is a Bay Area comic who's national claim to fame was telling the first ever Barack Obama joke on Comedy Central back in 2005. I first heard of Bell in December of 2010, when he did a great hour on KQED's own Forum. Can you think of a better way to round out your "I can't believe I live here" experience than with some world-class comedy from a local guy? I can't.
SF Sketchfest runs from now through February 4, 2012 at various locations throughout the city. For more information and to buy tickets, visit SF Sketchfest's website.
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