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Posted 9:54 pm
February 3, 2012
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SF State alums take their funny business to SF Sketchfest

Audiences attend a SF Sketchfest event at Eureka Theater. The annual comedy festival was organized by SF State alumni Cole Stratton, Janet Varney and David Owen. Photo by Hang Cheng

SF Sketchfest added a few more years to the life the hundreds who attended, if laughter truly is the best medicine.

Three directors, Cole Stratton, Janet Varney and David Owen, who all attended SF State, are responsible for the healthy audience.

The event mixes famous and up-and-coming comedians from around the world for three weeks of improv, stand-up, films, tributes and panel discussions. Dan Aykroyd, Dana Carvey, Margaret Cho, Zach Galifianakis, Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler, Robin Williams, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, to name a few, have participated in the three-week long event.

“I used to perform improv over in the Cantina at Mary Ward or Mary Park Hall, don’t remember which. It was really fun doing short form games in front of a bunch of my peers,” said Stratton, who has also participated in MTV’s Yo Momma.

But this rise to comedic success didn’t happen overnight. Varney remembers her origins in an Art of Comedy class with professor Larry Eilenberg, who continues to teach at SF State.

“One writing assignment was to draft a specific script of an existing television show. I didn’t write comedy at all at that point, and it was a really great exercise. I wrote a ‘Seinfeld’ script. It was horrible,” Varney said. “One of the plots involved George yelling, ‘I had the right of way!’ over and over while trying – and failing – to utilize crosswalks. Like I said, horrible.”

While some aim to attend college for four or five years, one of the directors laughed at taking a little longer.

“I was at SF State from 1994 to 2000, when I finally graduated with a degree in cinema with an emphasis on directing. I was there long enough to be a doctor, so I may just try operating on someone out of principle. I did enjoy my classes, but I was also spending a lot of time working on being an actor and comedian in SF, so my course load was minimal a lot of semesters,” Stratton said.

David Owen, a third director, attended SF State from 1994 to 1999.

Another student who attended SF State, Greg Proops, performed on the ninth day of SF Sketchfest. Proops was the third comedian to take the stage at the Friday night show. The 10:30 p.m. lineup also included Matt Braunger, Jon Dore, Rick Overton, Eddie Pepitone, Chelsea Peretti, Brendon Walsh, and Steve Agree. After leaving his home in San Carlos, Proops enrolled in improvisation and acting in the late ’70s.

“I could not wait to move to SF and leave my little town for two and a half years. Annette Bening was in my class,” Proops said.

The crowd went wild when Proops was announced on stage. Well after his set was over, the audience was still talking about him.

“Awe man, I love Greg Proops, the set he did was just way too short. I watched him on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?and he’s my favorite,” audience member Phil Monhan said.

SF Sketchfest returns to the Bay Area annually.

“Every year, we seem to get bigger and bigger, and more and more people come out to see the shows. This year is a particularly strong year for us creatively, and the audiences have been enthusiastic and packed,” Stratton said. “San Francisco is truly an amazing place to put on shows, and our performers love coming here year after year.”