Tim Meadows, Friends and Our Man Rideout

tim meadows and gary rideout jr.
As I stood squished against the wall at Tim Meadows and Friends on Saturday night I heard someone in the crowd characterize the experience as “The Comedy Bar on crack,” which I think is a fairly accurate depiction of the evening. Indeed, I have never seen the Comedy Bar so packed with people (nor have I seen the INCREDIBLE bar staff there work so swiftly, like magic on crack), and what better way for Gary Rideout jr. and James Elksnitis to celebrate the first anniversary of [arguably] the greatest comedy venue in Toronto!?
It was fitting that the evening should begin with Rideout’s own sketch troupe, The Sketchersons, who perform their own show every Sunday at the Comedy Bar entitled Sunday Night Live in which they perform brand new sketches every week in a show hosted by a lauded member of the Comedy Community. This evening they performed a series of sketches as an Opening Act for former Saturday Night Live performer (1991-2000) Tim Meadows. The Sketchersons are an incredibly gifted group of comedians who create sketches that parody such things as commercials for lame games with instruction manual voiceovers, ads for divorce lawyers who speak in ridiculous Boston accents, and the way emo teenagers, with names like Summer and Chase, break up with one another on television shows such as One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek. There was also a great sketch which celebrated the versatility of peanut butter. The best thing about the Sketchersons is that they write and create sketches each week so their show is continually fresh and in constant flux, and since they are continually bringing in new hosts, there is always a slightly different dynamic each Sunday as well. It is a great reason to make Sunday Night Live a part of your weekly comedy routine.
After a brief intermission, Tim Meadows took the Comedy Bar stage and did a brief stand-up set before launching into some Improv with his friends Joe Canale and Molly Erdman from Chicago’s Second City. It seems redundant to tell you that Tim Meadows is a funny guy, but even as he conversed about the most humdrum things such as Yonge Street and Sham-Wows, he had the audience laughing with every single clever quip. He was then joined by Joe Canale and Molly Erdman and they asked for a single word to begin their improvised set. They were given the word “glasses” and the three of them launched into a continuous series of improvised scenes, each one ricocheting off each other and at one point Meadows even made reference to the game “roll roll move” which had been featured in the Sketcherson’s set earlier in the show. Meadows, Canale and Erdman are all skilled improvisers and they treated their audience to some charming and entertaining scenes, from an interview on AM Detroit with two actors promoting a show that tells the entire history of Detroit, including the massacre of the “Indians,” with scarves (or scarfs, depending on your pronunciation) to an anal retentive miniature golf player, and a bachelor party that ended with the death of a stripper named Candy, it was all funny stuff. While I found that these scenes had all the polish and fresh sense of discovery that the Improv I am used to here has, I did find myself remarking that it was interesting that Meadows, Canale and Erdman simply used their suggestion from the audience as a launching pad for their initial scene rather than allowing it to grow into a larger uniting theme that could provide some unity to the whole, as in the case with Ghost Jail Theatre which begins each show with a sentence which provides them with the context upon which they build magical variations on this theme. I did witness some wonderful moments where Meadows, Canale and Erdman took their time and allowed the story to unfold, such as in their second set in a scene between a football player and the coach’s son at the coach’s funeral. There was also a great moment where Meadows, in an awful attempt at a British accent, asked for a lift and Canale retorted to Erdman, “He wants you to give him an elevator.” I found Tim Meadows and Friends to be consistent with most of the improvised theatre that I see here in Toronto, two very solid sets filled with laughter and that pure, energetic joy that radiates from the stage when performers are passionate about what they are doing and are having fun with one another. It was too bad that the sets had to be so divided between the Opening Canadian Act and the Featured American Act because it would have been much more fun for the audience members and the improvisers if they had all gotten a chance to play together. We need to keep mixing things up because we’re all contemporaries of the theatre and there shouldn’t be any divisions between us, regardless of what country we come from.
As a brief ode to The National Theatre of the World’s The Carnegie Hall Show, we were all treated to a song by Emma Banigan (accompanied by Waylen Miki) who can belt out a tune like nobody’s business! She has an incredibly lovely voice and I think you would be wise to write down her name, for I think Toronto will be seeing much, much more of her in the very near future.
The Live Improvised Talk Show Monkey Toast then took over the stage with David Shore interviewing none other than the man of the weekend himself, Mr. Gary Rideout Jr. Rideout provided the Monkey Toast Players with some divine inspiration for their Improv including apathetic crack heads, the wickedest stripper in Windsor (Ontario), and a catchy little song called “Raped By a Fat Woman” recorded by a band full of deaf musicians. However, it was the interview with Rideout that I found to be incredibly fascinating and utterly inspiring. He spoke about how he had spent years prior to founding the Comedy Bar having meetings with owners of various venues teeming with ideas on how to “make this place good,” but all his enthusiasm continued to fall on deaf ears. Now, despite the fact that the Comedy Bar cost $350,000 to renovate, it has grown into *THE* comedy venue in Toronto, booking an average of ten unique comedy shows every week and helping to incubate and develop new Torontonian comedy. In a rare serious moment, “for real,” Rideout said, “We have comedians working here who are as good as anyone else in the business and they should all be on TV. They shouldn’t have to leave the country in order to make a career for themselves. And I’m gonna do it, I’m going to figure it out. Maybe I’ll just buy a network or something.”
I truly believe that Gary Rideout Jr. and his Comedy Bar will insure that Toronto’s comedy scene continues to thrive and that with his encouragement and the fostering of artists and their projects, dozens of Torontonian comedians, improvisers and sketch artists will rise to a higher level of consciousness, respect and esteem in Canadian society. Rideout is right, these artists should have a network of their own on television. They should be given all the same privileges as their contemporaries in the United States. I am so grateful that Toronto has Gary Rideout Jr. and the Comedy Bar. I appreciate all his tireless efforts and his constant ambition and the unwavering faith he has in Torontonian talent. I expect that great, wonderful, incredible things will come from him and The Comedy Bar. Afterall, so many impressive ventures already have.
Happy Birthday, Comedy Bar! Have another beer on TWISI!

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