SF Sketchfest, the annual summit that delivers a stunning array of comedic performers to the most die-hard fans, has developed a reputation for its cool reunions, inspired casting and comedic mash-ups.

How many comedy festivals can boast having enlisted Jon Hamm of "Mad Men" for a live 2009 knockoff of the '70s TV game show "Match Game," or "Wet Hot American Summer" cast members Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Christopher Meloni for last year's staged reading of the film's script? And the diverse, 18-day festival, which kicks off at various Bay Area venuesJan. 24, has also emerged as something of a springboard for new projects by the participating performers.

The sketch comedy group of Burning Love will be part of this year’s SF Sketchfest.Courtesy of SF Sketchfest
The sketch comedy group of Burning Love will be part of this year's SF Sketchfest. Courtesy of SF Sketchfest (Courtesy of SF Sketchfest)

When Sketchfest was cutting its teeth in 2004, the gathering featured an evening of music and comedy with a lineup that included David Koechner (Champ in "Anchorman"), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe in "24") and then "Saturday Night Live" cast member Fred Armisen. Having recently met singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein of the rock trio Sleater-Kinney, Armisen invited her to check out the performance.

"Fred was like a giddy little schoolkid, because Carrie was there and he's a big Sleater-Kinney fan," said Cole Stratton, who with Janet Varney and David Owen directs the festival.

Brownstein and Armisen ended up forging a friendship that led to a performance partnership, which begat "Portlandia." Today, that show is a buzzed-about comedy phenomenon on television and the Internet -- as well as shorthand for the very particular ways that so many people in Portland and beyond obsess over culture, food, authenticity and all things hip.

Sketchfest will pay tribute to "Portlandia" -- which recently kicked off its third season on IFC -- on Jan. 30 in a conversation with Brownstein, Armisen, and Jonathan Krisel, the show's three co-creators and writers. "So in a way," Brownstein says, "we'll kind of be celebrating an anniversary there at Sketchfest."

The "Portlandia" tribute, among the Sketchfest shows that sold out quickly, is not the only celebratory offering in the mix. An evening with "Animal House" director John Landis; a reunion of the cast from the classic Nickelodeon kids show "The Adventures of Pete and Pete"; "Futurama" live; a reunion of the "Party Down" cast, featuring Adam Scott; and a show with Princess, the Prince musical cover band led by Maya Rudolph, are part of the typically idiosyncratic programming dotting the Sketchfest lineup.

Comedian Reggie Watts will be part of SF Sketchfest 2013.Courtesy of SF Sketchfest
Comedian Reggie Watts will be part of SF Sketchfest 2013. Courtesy of SF Sketchfest ( Noah Kalina )

In fact, fans have been so hot for many of the shows that numerous events -- in addition to "Portlandia" -- are already sold out. But the festival, which takes place in 26 venues over 18 days, still features all kinds of opportunities for fans to get their comedic ya-yas out.

Sketchfest continues to annually enlist festival greenhorns, from cutting-edge upstarts playing more modest venues in San Francisco's Mission District to icons making their Sketchfest debut. And each year, those new to Sketchfest suddenly find themselves charmed by the happenings, which Armisen described during his 2006 appearance as "totally like summer camp" because of the fraternizing, collaborating and fun had by the performers. The inclusion of "Portlandia," which also had an event last year, speaks to the deep connections that Sketchfest has continued to forge with performers since day one.

As word of the festival has spread and performers became more aware of Stratton, Varney and Owen's collective passion for celebrating comedy, Sketchfest has established a roster of regulars who have become synonymous with the event. Paul F. Tompkins, Chris Hardwick, Jimmy Pardo, Reggie Watts, Andy Richter and the Upright Citizens Brigade, who this year perform with Lucy Davis of the British version of "The Office," are Sketchfest fixtures.

"It's just the way that this is curated," Armisen says. "They take good care of it. They celebrate the things in comedy that they are fans of, so it's obvious that they really love what they put on."

Yet the Sketchfest trio is doing more than busting out the faves they grew up loving. Yes, they have comedian Patton Oswalt interviewing actor Bruce Campbell at a screening of the slapstick horror film "Army of Darkness," but two of their tributes are for TV series ("Portlandia" and "Childrens Hospital") that not only are still airing but are in their creative prime.

Early on, Varney, Owen and Stratton, who created Sketchfest in part to open up performance opportunities for themselves, used to nervously knot up at the prospect of having to invite even a semi-famous performer whom they admired. Now, artists are coming to the Sketchfest creators with the ideas for they want to stage next year.

"It's so hard to believe that we're at this place," Varney says. "We feel so lucky to now have that kind of relationship with people who are our heroes."

SF sketchfest

When: Jan. 24 through
Feb. 10
Where: Eureka Theatre,
Castro Theatre, Marines Memorial Theatre and other venues throughout San
Francisco and Oakland.
Tickets: $10-$50;
www.sfsketchfest.com