SF Sketchfest: Cruises, comedy, music and the busy ‘state’ of Jonathan Coulton

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Jonathan Coulton, Solid State

These days, Jonathan Coulton is a busy man.

When we spoke to the New York-based singer-songwriter, he was on a cruise ship docked in Cabo San Lucas on what is ostensibly a business trip to prepare for the JoCo Cruise, then soon he’ll be in San Francisco for SF Sketchfest, and from there he’ll be continuing to tour for his latest album, Solid State.

Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm and Friends
7:30 p.m., Sunday
Swedish American Hall
Tickets: $44.

“I’m really only home for about six days this month, I’m doing so much traveling,” he told us. “I’m skipping the entire awful part of winter in New York. Looks like I planned it very well. … Apologies to my family.”

Let’s start with Sketchfest. He’ll be performing Sunday with his friends and frequent collaborators, Paul and Storm, plus some special guests, including comedian Cameron Esposito and John Roderick from The Long Winters.

“It should be a fun evening of music, and funny music, and sad music and various onstage comedy hijinx.”

In addition, he’ll be doing a Fake TED Talk on Friday.

Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton Performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco May 12, 2017. Photo: Gary Chancer.

“I did one last year; it was a lot of fun,” he explained. “A bunch of people each put together a five-minute fake TED Talk presentation. I love it because, while I’ve never been to TED, I’ve been to a few things like it and I’ve certainly watched enough TED Talks online that I can channel the tone and voice of a semi-smug sciency intellectual. Nothing against it; I think it’s fantastic, but there’s definitely a sound and a look, a character people tend to slip into. I take great delight in putting together a version of that about something ridiculous.”

You’ll have to go see to find out what that something is; he had not picked a topic yet. But first he’s in Cabo.

He’s on a site visit of the ship that will host the eighth annual JoCo Cruise, a seven-day event he describes as, “nerd convention meets music festival meets comedy festival, but without the terrible things,” departing from San Diego on Feb. 18.

“We arrange a schedule of performances and events over the week,” he says. “But the people who come are nerds. You know, they’re big fans of things; they’re boosters of the things they enjoy. So in addition, the attendees organize their own events: Ballroom dancing lessons, knitting circles, ad-hoc a cappella groups. It’s a pretty remarkable thing.

“And the whole thing happens on a cruise ship, which is not a terrible thing.”

Finally, there’s that album. It’s a bit different than his normal fare. As he describes it, it’s “a concept album about how the Internet is terrible now.”

Despite coming out in April 2017, and having been written prior to the 2016 election, it’s extremely timely. (“It ended up being weirdly relevant but in a much sadder way than I thought it was going to be.”) A story about Internet culture and its lack of empathy, told in both the album and its companion graphic novel, resonates in the current climate

“The interesting thing is that I feel like I wrote my protest album ahead of time without knowing that I was going to need it. I worked on Solid State for many years before Trump was even a thing. I remember thinking in the early days, right after Trump had won, that Internet Troll culture is in the White House.

“The challenge of connecting with and understanding each other; it’s obviously become so difficult for us to do that we accidentally elected this monster.”

Because of that, though, his next album will be less about saying something and more about finding joy.

“Self-care is an important thing for us to do,” he says, and he hopes to help us with that.

But first, he’ll finally return home. Hopefully the weather will have cleared up.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData

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