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)!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.