SF Sketchfest co-founder David Owen advises us on comedy in San Francisco, and more.

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January 3, 2019

How I See San Francisco: SF Sketchfest's David Owen

David Owen co-founded SF Sketchfest in 2001, with colleagues Cole Stratton and Janet Varney, as a way to showcase local Bay Area comedy groups. Today, the annual event is a nationally-recognized festival, attracting major headliners and sketch professionals, local favorites, and up-and-coming performers. A longtime resident of San Francisco, David shares some thoughts on Sketchfest, comedy in San Francisco, and more fun around the city.

What is SF Sketchfest?

SF Sketchfest is an independent and eclectic comedy festival in its 18th year that features all forms of comedy – standup, sketch, improv, film, music and conversation – in multiple venues around San Francisco every January. This year's festival, featuring Carol Burnett, Margaret Cho, W. Kamau Bell, Julie Klausner, a “Best in Show” reunion, The Kids in the Hall, David Cross, and many more, runs Jan. 10-27, 2019.

How does Sketchfest fit into the nightlife scene of San Francisco?

It’s a great night out and there’s a little something for everyone; from comedy legends like Carol Burnett and Michael McKean to cutting edge comics like Nick Kroll and Margaret Cho to shows for families like the Groundlings Kids Show and Gustafer Yellowgold. It can be a great date night or hangout for a group of friends, and in some cases a night out for the whole family.

What are you looking forward to in this year’s Sketchfest?

I’m looking forward to the diverse variety of different shows and performers we’re bringing to the festival. It’s exciting to get to see a dance show with Wajatta’s Reggie Watts and John Tejada on one night and then see animator Bill Plympton and then comedian Janeane Garofalo the next night. It scratches all the itches. 

What's your take on the comedy scene in The City beyond Sketchfest?

San Francisco is a great city for comedy and there are always amazing comedians living and working here. They kind of come in waves; living here for a few years and developing their voice, and then in many cases, moving to Los Angeles or New York to take things to the next level. There are those who decide to stay in the Bay Area and reach the next level on their home turf, like one of our honorees this year, the great W. Kamau Bell.

When you're not working on Sketchfest, where can we find you around San Francisco?

When I’m relaxing, I’m mostly checking out live music at venues like SFJAZZ, the Fox Theatre, The Fillmore, and The Chapel. There is no shortage of great music venues around the Bay Area.

Any favorite dining out suggestions for folks visiting for Sketchfest?

Since SF Sketchfest happens in about 16 venues all around the city, it's a great opportunity for festival-goers to explore restaurants in different neighborhoods. If you’re going to the Castro or the Swedish American Hall, hit Starbelly or Woodhouse Fish Company. If you’re in the Mission, go to Pizza Hacker. If you’re in North Beach or Chinatown before one of our shows at Speakeasy or Cobb’s, go to China Live.

Sketchfest aside, what's your favorite annual or seasonal event in the city?

Too many to pick just one favorite! I like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Noise Pop, Mill Valley Film Festival, Stanford Jazz Festival, Silent Film Festival, Outside Lands, Stern Grove Festival, Comedy Day. I miss the Eddie Moore Jazz Festival they used to do at Yoshi’s.

What's one to-do item you still have on your San Francisco bucket list?

I’d like to engage in a high-speed car chase like the one in “Bullitt” or maybe the one in “What’s Up, Doc?” 

Do you have a favorite day trip excursion beyond the bridge to recommend?

I like to start a Sunday by going to the restaurant Fish in Sausalito right when they open, having their Saigon Salmon banh mi sandwich, and then hiking around the woods in Mill Valley.

Any go-to recommendations in San Francisco for visitors with children?

Take the kids to Alcatraz so they can see what happens if they choose a life of crime. Bonus: you get a nice boat ride


Any last advice for visitors to San Francisco?

There are still a lot of local and independent businesses and artists in San Francisco. Seek them out.


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