The Adjective Nouns, Grade 8 Dance, and Good Game
Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival
November 2 @ Comedy Bar
By Meagan Snyder
It’s hard to write about sketch comedy in Toronto without addressing its legacy, so let’s get that done right off the top: remember Kids in the Hall and SCTV? Good, right? Okay, there’s that done.
When discussing comedy, people tend to refer to the past. My belief is that the comedy that we think of most affectionately is associated in our minds with newness. Comedy depends on the element of surprise, and it’s in the reaction to that surprise that comedy becomes so freeing: inherent in the ability to respond to the surprise is a presence of mind—you’re completely in the moment, truly on the same wavelength as the person communicating with you. Of course it makes sense that people glorify the most significant moments of surprise in their comedic histories.
Some may say the golden days of sketch comedy in Toronto have come and gone, but I’d venture to say they’re not looking in the right places. November 2 marked the beginning of the 6th Annual Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, taking place until November 7 at Comedy Bar, Second City, and Lower Ossington Theatre. I was amazed and delighted to see the sheer quantity of sketch troupes from Toronto performing throughout the six days—34, to be exact. What a great indication of how many people are still engaged in sketch comedy in these parts.
Kayla Lorette, a very funny and charming improviser, hosted the opening show at Comedy Bar. First up were The Adjective Nouns, who would prove to have the most fleshed-out and interesting sketches of the show. Most of their sketches depended on exposing a ridiculous universe to the audience or to a straight-laced character, such as an acting student who is the only one in the class not to buy into the superhuman power of mime, or a teenage boy who is being put up for adoption by his parents in exchange for a more appealing son (“His name is Billy too?” “In my books he’s Billy 1”). While this structure is classic, it was used with funny premises that were elevated to unexpected places. They also managed, over the course of four brief sketches, to use a variety of types of humour—there were funny characters, there were plot twists, there was satire, there was absurdity. I would, however, advise them to be careful not to depend on shock value or swearing—the writing’s there; they don’t need it.
Grade 8 Dance quickly established their fast and furious style—they got in and got out of their 10 very brief sketches smoothly, helped by their cohesive and complementary group dynamic. Three of the sketches were chapters of ‘Robert DeNiro’s Kids’ Corner,’ which featured an enjoyable DeNiro character (essence over accuracy, always a good thing) answering questions from kids—a simple, funny premise they had the good sense to deal with briefly. Some of the sketches in the second half of their set could have done with the same brevity. Sketches about a ‘Ginger News Network’ and a South Boston spelling bee depended too heavily on single-joke premises without elevating them, and both suffered from what I consider a fatal flaw—not enough characters buying into their own crazy, self-contained universe.
If the majority of The Adjective Nouns and Grade 8 Dance’s humour derived from straight-laced characters’ reactions to funny premises, Good Game’s premises depended on their wacky characters. From an over-the-top Mariachi band leader to a disturbed fire safety educator, the sketches’ characters were funny and original, but played a little too big for this stage. I think the characters would read better on film, but I also think that the writing was good enough for Good Game to trust the funny to come out even (and especially) if the characters played it straight. Good Game changed things up by including a clever (AND musically appealing) song in lieu of a traditional sketch, and their final sketch was a highlight involving Jay-Z as a child, rapping about elementary school-level knowledge. While I don’t think it needed the Jay-Z frame, the rap itself was very well-written and performed.
To be sure, tonight was a good night for sketch comedy in Toronto. To learn more about these troupes, check out their material on Bite.ca.