SF Sketchfest Review: Picture This! on 2/8/2014

by OJ Patterson on February 8, 2014

Mike Lawrence by Sam Varela

Mike Lawrence by Sam Varela

Picture This!, the amicable marriage of sight, sound and more sight just made it’s San Francisco debut hours ago at the Dark Room Theater. Concocted in Los Angeles by comedian Brandie Posey and animator Sam Varela, the show paired stand-up comedians with illustrators, each performing their due diligence to visualize this crazy thing called funny.

Afternoon comedy is always weird. You leave and return to daylight like a strip club patron who wanted to see tits before the graveyard shift. You could drink, but do you really want to try maintaining a buzz until the rest of society catches up? Parking meters are still threatening to narc on you. A rainy day and early start demanded dedication, and the full house at the Dark Room obliged the oddity.

Dragons imagined with loving embrace. Angry men metamorphosed into angry birds. A precession of casual coolness, savory and silly, rumbled with gall. Sentient scribbles ghostwritten with stylistic minimalism. Picture This! amassed a hodgepodge of talent: some emergent fresh faces (Clare O’Kane, George Chen), some repute local luminaries (Sean Keane, Caitlin Gill), offshore sluggers (Mike Lawrence, Jake Fogelnest), and a sextet of professional illustrators. Comedians took the lead; their performance, whether well rehearsed or off the cuff, catalyzed the animators, armed with a tablet, a stylus and a projector, to sketch by the seat of their pants.

An inherent irony existed in the disparity between two disciplines identified by the term “comic”. Drawings have intrinsic value; they’re the life-blood of industry, the visual womb from advertisement to zine. Stand-up comedy is often compensated in nachos. Comedians wish they could draw. Illustrators wish they were funny. The truly talented are proficient at both. Everybody is credited as “artist”. Hurray!

Storytellers, like Keane and Chen, benefited from layers, their graphics built up piece-by-piece through a steady theme (giving artists a chance to give up). Self-deprecators, like Lawrence and O’Kane, co-opted visual clues, chiding their illustrator for their accuracy (or lack thereof). Riffers, like Gill and Posey, opened a dialog with their storyboarder, interacting with the shadows on the wall, augmenting reality with clever irreverence. Some caricatures took creative liberties to antagonize the wordsmiths. Other illustrations, premature or glorious, were whisked away to compliment the comedian’s erratic flight of fancy. Most of the spectacle devolved into an excuse to draw boobs—SO MANY BOOBS!

It goes to show that drawing, from the Paleolithic horses in French caves, to scarred bathroom stalls across the world is as integral to the human existence as oral tradition. And, unlike the painters I’ve seen at nightclubs, standing next to the DJ in weird, dual disjoint, the collaborative acumen of Picture This! made a greater, fresher, more novel sum than its amazing, amazing parts.

Random Notes:

  • Angry eyebrows were lifesavers for the illustrators. If there was a sudden shift in tone, two diagonal lines recontextualized the entire piece.
  • Clare O’Kane has a joke about having RBF (Resting Bitch Face) wherein people prejudge her aloofness. Her illustrator, Chris Lam, took the liberty to depict Clare as an anthropomorphized dog, just when you thought you couldn’t want to be her friend more.
  • The Bay Area game development industry has a lot of hip, comedy-loving artists in their midst: Sean Keeton, Chris Lam, Brian Kistler. We also have great non-gaming artists: Marty Cooper, Jon Magram, Timothy Tang.
  • A speed round of unlisted comedians closed out the show. Some of the featured comedians took turns drawing. Then the professional artists came back, showing, quite quickly, why they get paid to compose lines and shapes.
  • Brandie Posey, a hero and badass, explained 49ing is 69ing in a chair.
  • A lot of jokes, visual or spoken, were anecdotal. You’ll have to see Picture This! live to appreciate its magic.

OJ Patterson

OJ Patterson is a Bay Area Native, who grew up on a diet of scathing satire and absurd surrealism. He is a comedy writer, performer and promoter. He has the best laugh in the room and loves you very much. Serving Size = 1.

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