By Olivia Popp
Now in its 18th year, SF Sketchfest ended this weekend and featured a wide variety of performers in comedy all around the U.S. One of San Francisco’s biggest comedy festivals, Sketchfest has over two weeks of performances, shows, talkbacks and more. At the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco on Friday evening, SF Sketchfest offered the Uptown Showdown Debate featuring six comics. Taking the format of a high school debate, Team Past (consisting of Andrea Savage, Tom Lenk and Michael Ian Black) faced Team Future (Kevin Allison, Greg Behrendt and Aparna Nancherla) in a 90-minute-long debate.
The open-endedness of the topics allowed each comic to shape their arguments to their own comedic style. As part of Team Future, Allison chose to focus on the possibility of future, joking that the greatest thing that we know will happen in the future are the deaths of Trump’s staff — and Trump himself. Savage made a strong second case, taking her time to argue that the past has good times and the only thing that we can look forward into the future is dystopia.
Later comics, Nancherla and Black, focused on responding to the arguments of other comics in a traditional stand-up style, although Black didn’t have as much prepared as Nancherla. Lenk and Nancherla both used Powerpoint to accentuate their argument, taking on the personas of high school students, both to great success. Lenk went for a basic approach, talking about how he loves his dogs and how the future will only contain robot dogs. Nancherla argued for many humorous (and somewhat absurdist) benefits of the future versus the past, including fonts, verb tenses (“I farted” — not fun! “I will fart” — what a nice heads up!) and the over-romanticization of nostalgia (talking about high school, going to high school reunions, museums people visited in Barcelona and the Sunny-D commercial).
Savage, Nancherla and Allison were the strongest performers of the group, coming to the show with more traditional stand-up sets. Black appeared to be focusing on making the audience laugh in the moment by fumbling through a series of circuitous arguments, while Behrendt’s approach was to deny every argument that Team Past made for comedic effect. However, together, the members of Team Past and Team Future made formidable teams, arguing for their respective sides and bringing an all-new element to stand-up comedy in a group performance setting.
The performers also responded to questions from the audience, answering amusing questions about the future versus the past. The Uptown Showdown Debate was an intriguing comedy format that combined the talents of comics of many different styles, backgrounds and areas of experience, giving time for those who prefer to prepare their sets to shine while those who tend to bounce the audience the chance to spontaneously respond. Ultimately, Team Future was named the winner of the debate, prompting strong applause from the audience.
Uptown Showdown exemplified excellent comedy in the City, giving audiences a taste of the comedic stylings of top comics including Nancherla, Savage and Allison. SF Sketchfest is an event not to miss at the beginning of each year, bringing high-profile actors and comedians to the Bay for a festival and performances for everyone.