Archive | March, 2014

Sketch Fest Picks: Part 2

17 Mar

The second half of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival provided yet another smorgasbord of memorable performances. Here is round two of our festival roundup, with a couple of honourable mentions!

Sadly, Sketch Fest wrapped up last night, but there’s always a chance you’ll be able to catch some of these troupes in the ‘Best of the Fest’ show coming up this spring (details and participants TBA).

marquee-winter-beach-show-637x329The Winter Beach Show

Comprised of players from other notable sketch troupes like Peter ‘n Chris, Sex T-Rex, and Picnicface, the Winter Beach Show is akin to the Traveling Wilburys of Canadian sketch. This concentrated blend of talent puts on a great show, with simple but expertly executed sketches like one in which an obnoxious actor/soldier pleads to his commander for time off from the Vietnam war so he can be in a community stage production of Tartuffe. Other highlights include a tender love scene between two astronauts via radio chatter, and a frantic sketch with more layers than Inception about an inept time traveler attempting to save the world.

marquee-2-man-no-show-637x3292-Man No-Show

2-Man No-Show was almost literally a no-show when two days before their scheduled performance, Isaac Kessler (who is one half of the troupe – the other half being Ken Hall), accidentally skewered his foot with a sewing needle. Despite being dependent on crutches and under the influence of Tylenol 3s, Kessler nevertheless took to the stage where he and Hall delivered a truly memorable improv set. Admittedly, it was just as much the “will he or won’t he?” factor that comes with watching an otherwise adept physical performer battle through pain and adversity as it was the content or narrative of the set that made it memorable. Hall upped the ante – and the entertainment value – by challenging Kessler with gentle touches of Schadenfreude; moving much-needed chairs out of Kessler’s reach and goading him on with lines like “I’m off to the squash court. Care to join me?”. Kudos to you gentlemen for making some delicious proverbial lemonade.

marquee-national-theatre-of-the-world-637x329The National Theatre of the World

Real life couple Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus charm with a self-effacing and chemistry-laden set. This class-act duo focus base much of their material on relationship issues, with many of their quiet scenes having a vaguely Woody Allen-eqsue quality to them. With two static microphones allowing them to banter at intimate vocal levels and giving their hysterical overlapping dialogue the spotlight, their performance is admirably bereft of the limb flailing or purposeless yelling that lesser troupes resort to. Their interplay, which is simultaneously caring and adversarial, is a perfect example of art imitating life (or vice versa).

vest-of-friendsVest of Friends

This young troupe get better every year and thankfully are starting to get the notice they deserve. Their material is as strong as any troupe at the festival, but what sets them apart is their casual but high-energy style. Nary a moment of their set goes by without one of the four members chiming in with an off-hand comment or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke. They have a true knack for making their prepared dialogue feel like seemingly spontaneous back and forth, and their wacky but tactful vocalizations give life to their characters.

Honourable Mentions:

The Connie Chungs delivered a decent set, but their closing sketch about H.P. Lovecraft hitting the club and attempting to woo women using cliche pickup lines with macabre twists was too good not to give special mention to here.

Death Ray Cabaret showcased the quirky writing talent of solo artist Kevin Matviw (who enlisted the help of an ensemble of performers to bring his sketches to life for his festival slot). A multi-part sketch about peer pressure was probably the best example of call-back humour in the festival, and a song sung by an innocent snowflake was ironic existentialism at its best.

Hot Thespian Action, the veteran and audience pleasing troupe from Winnipeg delivered a solid set – the highlight of which was a fantastical tale of a woman transported into her own neglected purse. This reviewer will never again be able to look at an abandoned tampon the same way again.

Parker and Seville have abandoned their vaudeville schtick in favour of a brand of sketch that lies somewhere between comedy and performance art. While some of their bits elicit more head scratching than laughs, others (especially those employing their oft used “heard but not seen” approach to characters) are riotously funny. If only real football press conferences were as wonderful and surreal as the one that they enacted.

 

Sketch Fest Picks: Part 1

10 Mar

The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is not even half over, but has already offered up some spectacular performances. Here are some of the many highlights of the festival so far (and take note, many of these troupes have a second performance you can still catch)!

marquee-cupid-players-637x329 The Cupid Players

This boisterous gang from Chicago are effectively the answer to the riddle: What do you get when you cross a Broadway musical with sketch comedy? Polished numbers and catchy tunes reminiscent of Grease and The Rocky Horror Show act as counterpoint to delightfully un-polite lyrics and a seemingly endless parade of nearly-nude male performers.

marquee-fratwurst-637x329Fratwurst

This trio impress with intelligent sketches that range from the literary to pure absurdity, and the fact that each of the three members fits a different archetype gives their stage presence a sense of triangular equilibrium. Their opener, a sketch that pokes holes in the poetic logic of Shakespeare’s famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech from Julius Caesar, proved to be a highlight, as did their closer, a wordless tragedy about a bald man and a balloon.

FalconPowder_CMYK1-637x360Falconpowder

These Sketch Fest vets are back again with another strong offering. With a style that hints at their Second City backgrounds, they manage to explore a theme – in this case the bonds of friendship among men – with both one-off sketches and a trisected story about a band of storm chasers. Their material is often high-concept (such as a sketch about a camera that takes photos of the near future) and their performance is rife with cinematic flair, but it is the thematic unity of their set that sets them apart from other troupes who often present less cohesive “best of” compilations.

receptionThe Reception

The Reception may be relative newcomers to Sketch Fest, but boy did they leave an impression. With a combination of sharp writing (put to use in a sketch about the planning of a parade described in rapid fire dialogue that could have been lifted from His Girl Friday), great concepts (such as a scene about an endless series of voicemails that paints a hysterical mental picture of a man’s doppelganger), highly polished performances (as demonstrated in a well rehearsed scene about a cop speaking to his clone in perfect unison), delightfully manic segues between scenes, and a little touch of that that elusive je-ne-sais-quois, this reviewer is already looking forward to more from them.

marquee-ned-and-dave-637x329Ned and Dave

This two-man troupe is more l0w-key than many, but not at the expense of laughs. With chemistry and subtlety often working in their favour, Ned and Dave opt to push their scenes well past their natural conclusions and into the territory of the absurd. One memorable highlight is a sketch in which they read an excerpt from an erotic sci-fi novella that devolves into an overly-detailed lesson in martian sexual anatomy.

CROPPeter-and-Chris-3-Program-Photo--637x360Peter ‘n Chris

Former Sketch Fest Audience Choice Award-Winners Peter ‘n Chris return with yet another hysterical long-form yarn – this time using the classic western as their departure point. With their usual melange of of mime, dance sequences, terrible puns, seamless ad-libs, over-the-top characters, and a very translucent fourth wall further cementing their reputation as one of the best sketch acts in the country, it is no surprise that an extra show had to be added to the festival lineup to accommodate audience demand.

marquee-templeton-philharmonic-637x329The Templeton Philharmonic

Yet another duo worth mentioning, The Templeton Philharmonic prove that women are indeed just as funny as men (not that it’s ever been a question in this reviewer’s mind, but sadly the question does still get posed on occasion), and do so with flair. The two are obviously highly skilled performers and sharp wits, bringing a real sense of bizarre finesse to their characters (whether they be Edwardian ladies pardodying the recent Oscars, or former classmates crossing paths at a school reunion) and imbuing them with emotional realism.

 

Sketch Fest Preview Questionnaire: 2-Man No-Show

6 Mar

marquee-2-man-no-show-637x329What’s your name and what is the name of your sketch troupe?

Isaac Kessler & Ken Hall ……….. 2-MAN NO-SHOW!

If you had to pitch your act to a Hollywood producer as though it were a movie, your logline would be:

Ken: 2-MAN NO-SHOW – The absurd and unpredictable tale of two underdogs lost in the demands of modern day life but finding salvation and sanctuary in movies, music and friendship.

Isaac: 2-MAN NO-SHOW – Two Men, Two Dreams … One Reality. Take the ride of your life as these two heroes battle surmountable odds and dragons. Also, there will be nudity.

What other troupes or workshops are you looking forward to seeing / attending this festival?

Falcon Powder, David Dineen-Porter, Last Call Cleveland, Peter ‘n Chris

The most common misconception about sketch comedy is:

That it’s easy and anyone can do it. Being funny can be hard work – it’s not as easy as it looks.

You are commissioned to write a sketch about Rob Ford and Justin Bieber trapped on a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What happens?

Justin is terrified of the humongous Ford, because Rob ate Usher and Scooter Braun. Justin keeps him at bay with a large stick. Justin builds a floatation raft and retreats to it, but when he is unable to catch fish, he journeys back to the lifeboat and conditions Rob to take a submissive role by using pie and pussy as a positive reinforcer. Two hundred and twenty-seven days later, they somehow end up on a Mexican beach. Rob Ford disappears into the crack-filled jungle without a glance back. In the hospital, two officials question Justin and he responds by saying “”We’re just friends,” what are you saying. Said “there’s another,” and looked right in my eyes. My first love broke my heart for the first time.” The officials stare blankly at him.

SLOW FADE OUT

 

Sketch Fest Preview Questionnaire: Parker and Seville

6 Mar

parker-sevilleWhat’s your name and what is the name of your sketch troupe?

My name is Dave Barclay, and with Matt Kowall we are Parker & Seville, Toronto’s tallest sketch duo.

If you had to pitch your act to a Hollywood producer as though it were a movie, your logline would be:

Two men run a scam on a Riverboat floating down the Mighty Mississippi, this fall on NBC’s Riverboat Rusedays.

What other troupes or workshops are you looking forward to seeing / attending this festival?

The Riverboat Gamblers, Des Moines’ sexiest Mark Twain impersonators. Also the Kids in the Hall do a live reading of SHOWBOAT! Is SHOWBOAT the one with OL’ MAN RIVER? Because I hope they give that one to Kevin McDonald!

The most common misconception about sketch comedy is:

It’s only performed on riverboats. NOT ANYMORE! GET WITH IT, AMERICA!

You are commissioned to write a sketch about Rob Ford and Justin Bieber trapped on a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What happens?

One of them gets caught in the big paddlewheel, but not the one you’d think! Oh, it says lifeboat.

 

Sketch Fest Preview Questionnaire: Falcon Powder

6 Mar

FalconPowder_CMYK1-637x360What’s your name and what is the name of your sketch troupe?

Jim Annan, Falcon Powder

If you had to pitch your act to a Hollywood producer as though it were a movie, your logline would be:

Everything explodes!

What other troupes or workshops are you looking forward to seeing / attending this festival?

This year is stacked and I don’t know if I’ll get to see all of these but I would love to check out The Templeton Philharmonic, Peter ‘N Chris, NTOW, The Weaker Vessels, Ladystache and The Kids In The Hall reading Brain Candy.

The most common misconception about sketch comedy is:

That it is comprised of short scenes, usually 1 to 7 minutes in length, performed by comedic actors for the stage or screen.

You are commissioned to write a sketch about Rob Ford and Justin Bieber trapped on a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What happens?

Everything explodes!

 

Sketch Fest Preview Questionnaire: Ned and Dave

4 Mar

marquee-ned-and-dave-637x329What’s your name and what is the name of your sketch troupe?

My name is Ned Petrie. I’m a member of Ned & Dave (I’m the Ned half). I also host The Panel Show, a comedy game show featured at TOSketchfest.

If you had to pitch your act to a Hollywood producer as though it were a movie, your logline would be:

All the anarchistic joy of Fried Green Tomatoes combined with the rich pathos of Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde.

Think Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein meets KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park meets Meet The Fockers meets Meat Loaf: Live At The Palladium.

What other troupes or workshops are you looking forward to seeing / attending this festival?

There are a lot of great troupes in this festival, but I’m most excited to see Last Call Cleveland again. Their work is the Platonic Ideal of what sketch comedy should be – a perfect mix of joy, absurdity, anger, and effort. We’re lucky enough to be sharing the stage with Last Call Cleveland on both their headlining shows and with LCC’s Mike Polk Jr on The Panel Show.

The most common misconception about sketch comedy is:

Since great sketches can feel so spontaneous, many in the audience don’t realize how complex they are. If the pace, rhythm, specificity, or nuance in the staging and performance is off even the slightest amount, it changes the entire tenor. But obviously, if the audience is too aware of the nuts and bolts then it can kill a sketch just as easily. A perfect sketch will feel like nothing is happening even though everything is happening.

I’m a big football fan, and I think there are a lot of parallels between the two in terms of execution. An average fan will look at a great football play and look only at where the ball is, but the players know that the whole play actually hinged on the Left Tackle planting his right foot at the correct angle or the Tight End faking out the Linebacker before the snap. Likewise, a well executed sketch is all about keeping the audiences focus on the ‘ball’ without giving away the hidden engineering behind it. The ball was is ‘the funny’ in this strained analogy, in case that wasn’t clear.

You are commissioned to write a sketch about Rob Ford and Justin Bieber trapped on a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What happens?

The scene takes place at the Coast Guard Rescue Centre, where they argue the merits of doing their duty and saving them versus just letting them drift.

Oh, and one of the Coast Guard guys has a funny voice or something.

 

Sketch Fest Preview Questionnaire: Fratwurst

4 Mar

marquee-fratwurst-637x329What are your names and what is the name of your sketch troupe?

Eric Miinch, Evan Arppe and Josh Murray. Our sketch troupe is Fratwurst.

If you had to pitch your act to a Hollywood producer as though it were a movie, your logline would be:

Everyone’s second favourite sketch troupe is about to make it big, but not big enough that they make any money. We’re like 3 Willy Lomans, but without the suicide.

What other troupes or workshops are you looking forward to seeing / attending this festival?

We’re definitely going to see the Kids in the Hall read Brain Candy, Irrelevant Show and The Slings and Arrows Panel. Charles, Cupid Players, Ladystache, Ned and Dave, She Said What, The Reception, Tony Ho. Too many to list.

The most common misconception about sketch comedy is:

That it is stand up comedy.

That it’s just adults playing make believe.

That it is a profitable venture.

You are commissioned to write a sketch about Rob Ford and Justin Bieber trapped on a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What happens?

Doug saves them before Rob eats Justin. Then Doug and Rob both eat Justin. They blame the lifeboat.

 

Sketch Fest Preview Questionnaire: Jape

3 Mar

jape-637x360What’s your name and what is the name of your sketch troupe?

Eric Turk: Vice-President in charge of dick jokes for Jape

If you had to pitch your act to a Hollywood producer as though it were a movie, your logline would be:

Three Scots-Irishmen and a Jew send up pop culture, the routines of daily life, and obscure early 20th century literature in this marriage of high reference and low brow.

What other troupes or workshops are you looking forward to seeing / attending this festival?

I love Falcon Powder so I’ll be sure to catch their show! Other favourites include Fratwurst, Ladystache, Rulers of the Universe, Templeton Philharmonic, Vest of Friends, the Reception, and this year’s wild card troupe: Bitches Leave. I’m also a big fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft so if he’s doing a set, I’ll be there.

The most common misconception about sketch comedy is:

There are three.

1. That they are called “skits”. (They are “sketches” or “scenes”)
2. That your great idea for a sketch is actually a great idea for a sketch. (It’s not, dad)
3. It was the cause of the Punic Wars. (It was in fact both the cause of and solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis)

You are commissioned to write a sketch about Rob Ford and Justin Bieber trapped on a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What happens?

Bieber eats Ford.

You unilaterally decide to include your own self-composed question for a survey about sketch comedy without being asked to do so by the website editor. What is that question?

See above.