It is with great sadness that I write about the end of Monkey Toast, David Shore’s hilariously inventive, quirkily brilliant improvised talk show. Monkey Toast is coming to an end on May 1st, 2010 after a seven year run because Shore is relocating to the United Kingdom with his family. There are six more opportunities for you to catch this show at the Comedy Bar (March 13th and 27th, April 10th and 24th and May 1st at both 8pm and 10pm) before it is wrapped up tight and tossed headlong into the Walt Disney vault. The show has been heralded, “The best comedy deal in town!” by NOW Magazine and boasts of a cast of some of the funniest improvisers our country has to offer. I attended the show in October, 2009 and absolutely fell in love with the premise, so upon hearing that these Toasts were numbered, I quickly made my way to Comedy Bar on February 27th for an evening guaranteed to be bananas. I was not mistaken.
Monkey Toast is essentially a talk show. It is divided into three main segments and in each segment David Shore interviews a notable or distinguished figure, often at least one guest will be an actor and typically the first guest is a comedian, but the middle guest can be anyone creating a buzz in our community, be that in politics, business, sports or another avenue of public life. What sets Monkey Toast apart from conventional talk shows are the Monkey Toast Players, a group of improvisers who are called in every fifteen minutes or so to do an improvised set based (loosely and hysterically) on the topics of conversation between Shore and his guest. It is a brilliant concept that always inspires kooky characters, strange locations and accents and a plethora of fruitful ideas.
The February 27th edition of Monkey Toast was kicked off by an Olympic stand up comedy set by Trevor Boris, most well known from Much Music’s Video on Trial as well as performing his stand up at Universities and Comedy Clubs across the country. Boris had just returned from Vancouver and so he was not only decked out head to toe in official Canadian Olympic gear, but he was also teaming with tales from the heart of the games. Trevor Boris is one of the most charming stand up comedians I have ever seen perform. He has a face that I’m sure could get away with murder, and a playful delivery that helps all his jokes hit their proper mark. Next, Kim Parlee from Business News Network prepared us all for the Federal Budget and alleviated some of our national fears for the future by telling us that some financial analysts are predicting that the United States will go bankrupt within the next two years. And lastly, the very engaging Zaib Shaikh came by to chat about his very popular Canadian television show Little Mosque on the Prairie. It was so inspiring to listen to Shaikh speak about his experience with this program and how grateful he was to have a project that has allowed him to explore his Muslim culture and to talk about it in a post-9-1-1 world. He has traveled across the country and has seen the effect this show has had on Muslim Canadians and how it has helped to weave their particular experience into the fabric of the country. He told a particularly heart-warming story about a young boy named Amaar (the name of his character on the show) who connected to him so ardently because he had never heard his name on television before. At the same time, Little Mosque has reached out to Canadians of all cultures and Shaikh expressed a characteristically Canadian, modest- almost sheepish- sense of pride that a show that has been so constructive in presenting a positive portrayal of the Islamic faith and its people has come from Canada.
The Improvisation that inter-spliced these interviews cannot be recaptured in mere words, but truly needs to be experienced to be believed. The Monkey Toast Players (Colin Mochrie, Lisa Merchant, Paul Bates, Naomi Snieckus, Matt Baram and Jan Caruana) were led valiantly this particular evening by Matt Baram. Highlights from the Improv included: Baram’s over emotional, wide-eyed, Olympically weepy schmuck, the singing of the Belgium National Anthem by Bates and Mochrie, discussions of the Backward Luge Schwallob and Schbatchaball vs. Bingo, a waffle mountain that you won’t see at the Winter Olympics 2014, Colin Mochrie stealing an odd (but wildly entertaining) pen-paling-through-time-travel scene with the line, “Dear Donna. I am a bear” and then going on to steal another scene, one centering on Jan Caruana’s brilliant character, Gus 8, Not Cool, a 15 year old boy from Glengarry Glen Ross High School. Mochrie stole this scene while sitting at the back of the room on his chair. You can tell a great improviser when he doesn’t even have to get up to make the audience fall down laughing. Caruana and Mochrie also did this incredible scene in which he was a wood-nymph and she was a Native Canadian named Little Bear, and throughout all the characters spoke in impressive heightened poetic type verse, although Baram won “Best Line of the Evening” for saying (while speaking as one of two TimBits), “Put us balls inside your mouth.” The best of Matt Baram, however, was undoubtedly his impromptu Les Misèrables moment as he sang an improvised duet with Jan Caruana (a belting diva of the Improvised stage). For all of you who thought Ron Pederson was the only song and dance man in The National Theatre of the World, it seems as though both Pederson and Baram can break out the Broadway if you let the monkey out of the cage.
I am really sad that Monkey Toast will end on May 1st because it really is such a unique venture, and it is certainly one of the most vibrant opportunities that theatre and comedy artists have to be interviewed and to plug their various projects in Toronto, especially in a venue embedded so richly within the comedy community. I say this honestly, not as a girl fishing for opportunities, but genuinely without any ulterior motive, that when I first heard about Monkey Toast it became an aspiration of mine to want to gain enough “popularity” or “celebrity” or success to someday be able to be a guest on the show. It was so inspiring to just have something so special and so Canadian to be able to aspire towards since we don’t have a Canadian Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres, or Rosie O’Donnell or Johnny Carson or David Letterman. They all seemed to pale in comparison anyway, because Monkey Toast is far funnier, far more fun, and ours.
However, rejoice Toronto, for you haven’t missed what Trevor Boris calls, “The best show in the city!” for there are still six more shows left before the barrel of monkeys take their final bows. You’re going to want to catch all six.