San Francisco’s Sketchfest, which is currently celebrating its 16th year, is truly one of the great comedy events of the year. It offers two full weeks of the best comedians in a barrage of different scenarios, from regular stand-up shows to workshops to panels to random special events such as one that happened Saturday called, “Soundtracks Live: Scenes and Songs from 80s Movies,” featuring some of my favorite people. Those familiar with my love of music on film will understand why it still hurts that I missed that one.
Beyond all the live and often theatrical comedy on display this month, there are rich events aplenty for us screen-fiends to salivate over. So many, in fact, that the FOMO is absolutely breaking my heart. At a glance, here are some past events that made me feel like I was on GLEEmonex and, more importantly for those in the vicinity, here are several unmissable upcoming highlights to demonstrate that the best is absolutely yet to come.
Check out the incredible schedule and grab tickets here!
Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy Live Staged Reading
When I discovered the lineup for this incredible festival, I immediately incorporated it into my Sundance travels, considering the proximity. I flew in Saturday and went straight to one of the last great one-screen movie houses in North America, The Castro Theater, where my hometown boys, The Kids in the Hall would be reenacting one of the best comedies of the 90s; the criminally underseen, Brain Candy.
Though I was far from home, it did not feel like it with all the Toronto love permeating the building. When the Q&A began after the show, a person who asked about the Gord Downie-penned track, Butts Wigglin, which repeats the Brain Candy line, “In my opinion the drug is ready” like a mantra, may have been the first time I heard the words, “The Tragically Hip” uttered in America and it was a strange feeling. The question, which has been on my mind for 20 years, was finally answered: the track, which appears off of their Trouble at the Henhouse record, was in fact, intended for the Brain Candy soundtrack.
The film itself is brilliant. In an age (1995) when antidepressants were just beginning to be unleashed upon the world, The Kids, some of whom battled with depression, wrote a story about a new pill called GLEEmonex that locks you into your happiest memory and keeps you in its state of mind. Under tremendous pressure from the pharmaceutical fat cats upstairs, the scientists expedite their testing phase and prematurely unleash the happy pill onto the world.
It isn’t enough for the company that their new pill has topped the charts, gloriously beating penicillin, the greedy execs, unsatisfied with profits from the grosses from their prescription drug, fight to make the pill available to everyone who’s ever felt sad, over the counter. This, of course, proves detrimental, especially considering the surfacing of coma-inducing side effects that trap the patient into their memories for good.
On top of being hilarious, watching the (far from) KIds perform and improv off of their screenplay offered some revelatory tidbits about the film’s production and disastrous release. For example, I did not know that they had Cancer Boy, played by Bruce McCulloch, to thank for Paramount squelching their marketing budget, resulting in the downgrading of Brain Candy’s intended 2000 screens to a mere 400.
My personal highlight of the reenactment was every time Bruce took to the mic (backed by guitar) to sing downer songs at a bar called the Suicide Club. The evening also featured guest star Bobcat Goldthwait to help with some of the minor characters. I wonder if Bobcat regretted saying yes, considering he mostly acted as the butt of a solid ten Police Academy jokes.
But in a night of pricelessly tickling moments, maybe the most fascinating turn came in the form of the more tumultuous than necessary Q&A, which actually contained a fair bit of animosity. There was the Trump supporter, who used the platform to vent his opinions on the state of the pharmaceutical landscape, but far more fascinating was the woman who said she was a huge Kids in the Hall fan before Brain Candy broke her heart with its condescendingly satirical look at antidepressants.
The film, however, is far from an indictment on very real mental health issues, the Kids (many of whom shared their histories of depression) explained, rather the film is actually a criticism of the idea of quick fixes. There’s depression and then there’s ordinary human sadness and it’s very dangerous to confuse the two.
The night ended with a rare glimpse of the film’s alternate ending, which apparently depressed test screening audiences, but not in a good way. As for Saturday night at the Castro, the faces leaving the theater were plastered with smiles.