College Success Story… SF Sketchfest

I am so proud of my friends from college. They took what they love and decided to share it with the world. Upon graduating from San Francisco State University in 2001, Cole Stratton, David Owen and Janet Varney decided to collaborate creating SF Sketchfest as a way to showcase the work of six Bay Area sketch comedy groups: The Fresh Robots, Kasper Hauser, The Meehan Brothers, Please Leave the Bronx, Totally False People (their own sketch group, along with our friend, Gabriel Diani) and White Noise Radio Theatre.

In January of 2002, the first festival kicked off at the tiny 300 seat Shelton Theatre in downtown San Francisco with two weeks of sketch comedy sets. Rapidly the festival has grown into a nationally recognized comedy festival mixing national headliners, local favorites and the best up-and-coming groups from throughout North America for a month of sketch, improv, stand-up and alternative comedy. The festival has grown substantially to become a favorite among critics and fans for it’s artistic showcase that consistently delivers top quality comedic performances, tributes and panel discussions.

Recently featured in Paste Magazine, this year’s festival starts tonight and goes for three weeks. I’m bummed I am going to miss this year’s event since it features a Tribute to Conan O’Brien, Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Cinematic Titanic with the peeps from MST3K, Reno 911!, Comedy Death-Ray and more (click here for the full line up)!

In the past they have had acts such as performances from Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, Arrested Development, The Upright Citizens Brigade, The State, Strangers With Candy, The Simpsons, The Daily Show and more. I have been back for the festival twice: once in 2003 and once in 2008 and already have plans to be there next year for their 10th anniversary. It is an awesome experience similar to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. With multiple venues and several shows per night to chose from it is easy to hop from show-to-show to fulfill all of your comedy needs and desires. You NEED to go.

I love my friends and love to see that they are doing so well. On a side note, Cole Stratton also writes one of my favorite entertainment blogs, Riverbottom Nightmare Blog, named for the gang our favorite Christmas special, Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.

Everyone’s a Critic

Last night Roger and I had the chance to watch Heckler, a sort of documentary on heckling. This is a subject that is close to my heart for many reasons: 1) I used to work in a comedy club, 2) I dislike heckling but I find the behavior interesting, and 3) I love studying human behavior and it is part of the reason I enjoy writing.

Moreover, the movie covered much more than just hecklers, it also delved into critics as a whole including but not limited to film critics and bloggers. Basically analyzing and slightly degrading individuals who have opinions and choose to broadcast them in one way or another. Interesting perspective, at times, that allowed me to be a bit introspective; hopefully without becoming hypocritical.

I have an opinion just as everyone else in this world. As a blogger and a writer, I chose to express my opinions through my website, tweets, verbally to friends, and in personal writings that may or may not become public one day. I am a critic. I view the world in a subjective manner. Rarely does any critic take an objective view.

I am not a heckler… the difference (which was surprisingly not discussed in the film) is in the means of the critique, not the motive. A heckler voices their opinions during the performance whether it be a stand-up performance, live TV show, theater, or sports, thereby interrupting or interfering with the performance at hand. The motive, which was covered in the film, can range from verbalizing personal opinion (“This sucks”) to attention seeking to the belief that they are actually helping the performance to downright hatred.

The heckler is usually drunk, but always acting inappropriately. The heckler in my mind is an uncontrolled critic who doesn’t know or doesn’t accept the role in which he or she is placed. The one on stage, with the mic, is the one with ultimate power. They are the ones getting paid; while the heckler usually paid to watch, yes, watch not participate. Those are the rules, written or not.

I also believe that it is up to the club/venue to help control this behavior, not the performer. However, the performer should have some capacity to stand up to the heckler, but ultimately the venue should be responsible for saying, “This is not acceptable.”

I truly enjoy my role as a critic, but I have also set some ground rules for myself:
1. I am not out to offend.
2. I attempt to look at the work, not the individual.
3. My opinion is my own.
4. I will never claim to represent others.

That being said, the movie, Heckler is worth a watch. A subplot of the film shows Jamie Kennedy as he takes on the world of hecklers and critics who have adverse opinions of his work. The interviews of stand ups, musicians, club owners, film creators and celebrities are provocative and fascinating. The live shots of performers on stage being heckled was stirring, particularly watching comic legend Bill Hicks oust a chatty woman from the club. Big fans of Lewis Black will appreciate his insight to critics and hecklers. Thank you Michael Addis at your attempt to show the world that heckling is not ok.

If you do watch this movie, you need to check out the deleted scenes, particularly the phone call to Bob Saget. I was dying… Great footage that didn’t make the film since it didn’t really fit, but hilarious none the less.

Comedy weekend

I think I like to theme my weekends. I guess when I get in the mood for something, I really have to go all out. I love watching comedy. Unfortunately, as I have said to many, San Diego has a horrible comedy scene. I has to do with a number of factors including lack of good clubs, it’s proximity to LA and the audiences that really are not trained to watch comedy. So the fact that I watched two great shows this weekend, was awesome.

Friday Night
I hardly ever pay attention to the supposed deals that show up in my junk mailbox. They usually include 2 for 1 deals to HOB or a ladies night to some club I have never heard of (but the way, I HATE nightclubs). I was surprised and excited to see 4 free tickets to see Greg Behrendt listed on Thursday. I love Greg Behrendt’s style of performance… he is intelligent and honest. It feels sort of like your best friend is telling you about an embarrassing story from college; you feel like you were there and goddamn was it hilarious. The connection he makes with the audience is on that personal level. I know much of the audience was there because of his books, his TV show or the fact that he has some connection to Sex in the City (he wrote for the show). But everyone had a great time… and kept their cool.

Saturday Night
We had friends come in from out of town that day. They wanted to go to Comic Con but realized that they need to plan ahead a bit better (as many realized). Anyhow, big comedy fans themselves, they had bought tickets to the Riff Trax Live! show at the Balboa Theatre downtown. I figured since our choices were 1) Royal Crown Revue at HOB with the Derby Dolls, 2) game night with the Derby Doll refs in East county or 3) see Riff Trax Live! at the historic Balboa Theatre doing Plan 9 from Outer Space with friends from college… I went with the third option since I have never been to the Balboa Theatre since it was renovated, I wanted to hang out more with my college friends and I liked Mystery Science Theatre 3000, so this should be awesome live.

Watching Plan 9 (the color version), was hilarious in itself, but adding the subtext of the Riff Trax crew was gut busting. I had seen the movie before, of course making fun of parts (since it is the “worst movie of all time”). But I guess there were details of the movie that I hadn’t seen before… I was rolling. If you ever have a chance to see them live… (like perhaps at San Francisco’s Sketchfest), do it!

Flight of the Conchords with LA Derby Dolls

I could not resist posting this… I love the Flight of the Conchords and the LA Derby Dolls, so this is like heaven. I am so jealous!

Weird back story… when I lived in New Zealand in 2001, I hung out in the comedy scene there. While staying with Rhys Darby, he invited me along while he was filming part of the Flight of the Conchords pilot, all the while telling me they were going to be the next big thing (Yeah, I had heard that one before). So while sitting around for several hours watching them retake various scenes, they asked if I minded being an extra for a scene in a boardroom. I said sure (mainly because I was getting bored of just watching).

So somewhere out their is a pilot episode of the original Flight of the Conchords (in NZ) with me in it. Or maybe it just ended up on the cutting room floor.