SAN FRANCISCO — The Speakeasy was crowded with comedians onstage and in your face Friday at SF Sketchfest presented by Audible.
Billed as an “Immersive Comedy Experience” the $125 per-person evening offered comedy and fun in all The Speakeasy’s many rooms and headlining performances by Bob Odenkirk, Bob Gould and Napa native Caitlin Gill on the main stage.
The club is a faux-prohibition-era interactive theater with flappers, gambling tables, live music and dancing. To enter, visitors have to lock their cell phones in bags for the night. For Sketchfest, The Speakeasy broke from tradition somewhat and let the comedians take over.
At one bar, Harmon Leon invited the audience to play a karaoke-style stand up game, Joke-E-Oke. In which the final round of the audience participation activity, competitors traded Don Rickles barbs like “If I would have wanted to hear from an asshole, I would have farted,” and “Look at you. Was anyone else hurt in the accident?”
From the initial bar, visitors slid a colorful bookshelf door to get into a casino with roulette, craps and blackjack. For an additional $10, they could get a stack of gambling chips worth $100, all fake gambling with fake money (except for that initial $10). House takes all. For $35, visitors could have their picture taken on a crescent moon inspired by Georges Méliès’s silent film “A Trip to the Moon.”
Moving narrow corridor by corridor, room by room, attendees got closer to the small main theater. The experience brought them face-to-face with artists engaging in conversation, joking around, asking for and giving advice. The German-accented Poubelle Twins offered face slaps alongside jokes in the Spank-O-Vision Room. If you didn’t want to get slapped, you could still peep on others through small windows and old-timey telephone receivers.
One of the best highlights of the night was how some fans went all-out, dressed to the nines in crisp suits, glittery dresses, scarves and feathered head dresses.
Through an antique armoire, people could enter the “Comedy Closet” that was small enough—and warm enough—to fit four audience members and one comedian. Blaine Capatch joked about his razor-thin frame, life in Los Angeles and his career as a comedian in his 10-minute show.
All these little details complemented a big show with two big names in comedy in Bob Odenkirk and Dana Gould. The main theater space was intimate enough to place the first three or four rows right into the comedians’ laps.
Odenkirk, star of “Better Call Saul,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mr. Show” and a veteran stand-up comic, opened with a riff on “Shen Yun” acrobats and kept on going about life before the internet, porn (and internet porn) the crisis at the border and the president to an audience that disagree with his views. At one point he suggested that Donald Trump be replaced by a Magic 8 Ball, suggesting that the country’s leadership, “will be more even-keeled. They will make better decisions.”
Gould, the producer of The Simpsons and creator of IFC’s Stan Against Evil, was loud and proud and hit on the sensitivity that has put a squeeze on stand-up comedy following the #MeToo movement. That didn’t stop him from riffing on religion, the KKK, and suggesting that if he could travel through time, he would grab a baby Hitler and use it to club a baby Charles Manson to death. When people would object to him murdering two babies, he said, he would simply explain that he was from the future and that everything would be all right.
The two bigger acts were preceded by extremely funny stand-up comic Caitlyn Gill. Gill joked about how she found her lesbian orientation in San Francisco and bought her partner a “lesbian wedding ring”–also known as a dog. Her stories of her Napa upbringing and family included her dad fighting with his new washing machine and helping his daughter break out of the closet by gifting her literal toolkits as she was growing up.