News From Around the Barrio

tantrum 620

photo credit: demandaj via photopin cc

Multi-talented and multi-hilarious Edmontonian actor/playwright/singer/director/improviser/producer Jocelyn Ahlf sets her four year old daughter’s tantrum to music and gives it the operatic relish it deserves on The Irrelevant Show! Listen here! The Irrelevant Show is in its fourth season on CBC Radio One and every week core performers Mark Meer, Donovan Workun, Jana O’Connor, Marianne Copithorne, Neil Grahn (head writer) and Leona Brausen bring hysterical sketches and songs to the nation’s airwaves and a live studio audience in Edmonton. Musical guests include Jocelyn Ahlf and Jan Randall and Sheldon Elter and Ryan Parker. Writers for the show include the gifted cast members as well as Chris Craddock and Dana Andersen. For more information, check this website out, and tune in weekly to The Irrelevant Show!

Dags and Laz

laz & dags

How do you sum up in a neat little package the combined wealth of creative prowess, comedy and theatricality of Adam Lazarus and Melissa D’Agostino? They act, they direct, they do clown and bouffon and on Saturday Evening in Toronto they are the hosts of Springtime For Dags and Laz, featuring a little music, comedy and debauchery. The lineup includes: Comedy and Mayhem with Sandra Battaglini, Beautiful absurdity with Phil Luzi, a new theatrical piece by Sean Dixon, another new piece by Elena Belyea, Sweet sweet music from Scott Maynard, Music extraordinaire from Waylen Miki and Ethel Rosenbaum and Deena Lieberman. The evening also includes 40 shots (40 of Toronto’s most fascinating  performers get one minute to perform something rad before the lights cut out on them). Check out this link for more info! PWYC. 8:30pm. Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement. (6 Noble Street, Toronto).

marcus

marcus nance

For four Sundays in April Toronto is being treated to two of my favourite things simultaneously: Cabaret and Brunch! The Jazz Bistro (251 Victoria Street) presents Divos and Divas with Marcus Nance. Offering a mixture of jazz, musical theatre, opera and cabaret Nance will be joined by a wide array of guests each week including many of the best singers from both Toronto and New York and accompanied by the incomparable Michael Barber on piano. April 7th musical guests include Jeremy Kushnier, Melissa O’Neil, Jenny Lee Stern and Gavin Tessier. Marcus has recently returned to Toronto from New York where he played Caiaphas in the Stratford/La Jolla/Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar and hosted the Cabaret Marcus Nance and Friends at the Metropolitan Room. Other credits include La Boheme (Broadway), Kismet, Of Thee I Sing (New York City Centre Encores!) Four Saints in Three Acts (Chicago Opera Theatre), Porgy and Bess (Toronto Symphony) and Cinderella (New York City Opera). Check out this link for more info. Doors open at 11:30am, show begins at 12:00pm. $15. The Jazz Bistro. Toronto.

bonfire

Rapid Fire Theatre, Edmonton’s Longest Running Improv Theatre, brings audiences Bonfire: a Festival celebrating Long Form Improv at the Citadel Theatre (9828 101A Avenue, Edmonton) April 9- 14! According to Artistic Director Amy Shostak, “A bonfire is a place where we share stories with loved ones, and the 2nd annual BONFIRE Festival will continue this nocturnal tradition, bringing people together to share ideas and laughs.” Rapid Fire Theatre is dedicated to innovation and collaboration in Improv and here are some of the great features of the 2013 Bonfire lineup: IMPROVISED VINYL CAFÉ: Stuart McLean’s Canadiana like you’ve never seen it before, The Underground Tap & Grill presents: RFT News and Slippery Sounds, ELECTRO ACOUSTIC SET: an avant garde collaboration with local musicians, LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP: an improv show over Skype, featuring Outside Joke from Winnipeg and The Mercer Tavern presents: An Epic Quest and Trubodour. Festival passes are only $30 and are available at Tix on the Square. For more information, visit this swanky site!

Toronto’s own funky soul disco pop princess Maylee Todd has dropped her second record, Escapology, which is available on ITunes, on CD AND ON VINYL. Check out her music video for the album’s first track “Baby’s Got It,” which is a beautiful mixture of the joyful, the beautiful, the absurd and the weird.

Season Two of Space Janitors premiered on April 2nd! “Space Janitors is a comedy/sci-fi web series created by Davin Lengyel and Geoff Lapaire. It chronicles the lives of two janitors, Mike Chet (Pat Thornton) and Darby Richards (Brendan Halloran) who serve aboard an evil iconic Space Station.” It also features the talents of Evany Rosen, Tess Degenstein and Scott Yamamura. Check it out!   

Can ya dig it?

Roller Town is an Excellent Source of Potassium

mark little & kayla lorette

According to this bittersweet interview with Andrew Bush and Mark Little from Toronto Standard, Roller Town, the multi award winning first feature length film from Halifax’s own Picnicface, may be the sketch troupe’s last project as a unified collective. I definitely recommend heading to your local movie theatres across the country and checking it out.

Roller Town, written by Bush, Little and Scott Vrooman and directed by Bush, is a pastiche of the roller disco films popularized in the late 1970s, including Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A, which have since achieved cult status with audiences in the nostalgia and uber-cheese department. The film centers on a young orphan named Leo, played by Little, The King of the Roller Disco, who falls in love with a classically trained skater named Julia (Kayla Lorette) and together they fight to save Disco from being murdered by a gang of powerfully connected thugs seeking to brainwash the young with video games.

Andrew Bush has captured much of the campiness and the trademark antics of the roller disco film in Roller Town, while shooting it in vivid, bright colors, which accentuate the characters’ amazing wardrobes of short shorts and tube socks, while the special effects and cutting together of most of the more stylized aspects of the film are intentionally rough, abrupt and often animated in classic 1970s two dimensions. This is also a familiar trademark of most of Picnicface’s Internet and television sketches. It is interesting that, within the pastiche context, many of the conventions the troupe has been using since 2006 fit here quite naturally and actually make more sense as a stylistic choice.

I don’t think that Roller Town is supposed to be a serious satirical commentary on the state of humanity and it certainly isn’t, but I do think that it revels in its own silliness in a very endearing and playful way, often reaching for the absurd but sometimes touching, albeit gently, on more solemn issues. The love story, for example, between Leo and Julia is allowed some genuinely touching moments so that the audience is led to root for their eventual triumph over her repressive parents and the gangsters poised to kill them both. Delving a little deeper, while Roller Town does poke fun at the heightened naivety and innocence of the Disco Age, it also plays on the same nostalgia that draws so many to films like Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A. At the very core of Roller Town there is a certain wistfulness for a simpler time. After all, the war in the film is ultimately waged between a social physical activity from the past and an isolating computer-generated sedentary experience that has become so much of the fiber of our present. Of course, whenever solemnity persists beyond a moment, as in The Muppets, someone quickly rectifies the situation with a swift kick of ridiculous. Keeping faithful to its Disco ForeDogFather’s, the balance between the solemn and the insane is always in check.

There are some great performances in Roller Town. Mark Little is delightful as Leo; he is just good hearted enough to win sympathy while still being a complete doofus. Kayla Lorette is adorable awkwardness at its very best as Julia, who largely reacts (or doesn’t react fast enough) to Leo being a doofus, while still managing to develop some chemistry and real affection for him. Brian MacQuarrie has some great bits as Julia’s belt-crazed Grampa. Scott Vooman’s straight superciliousness as classically trained King of the Preppies, Davis, while at the same time always managing to look seconds away from crying, is beautifully ridiculous. Andrew Bush has a wonderful cameo as a Forest Hobo who becomes the Yoda to Leo’s Luke. Pat Thornton is essentially Bobo the Bear from the Muppets humanized as the moronic villain sidekick Beef, but Thornton’s comic timing is excellent and, like Bobo, by the end you almost feel sorry for the guy. He just wants to read his book on How to Eat Jam in peace and he IS having a pretty crappy day.

While I thought the film was well cast, both using the strengths of the troupe and bringing in guest artists from both the Halifax and Toronto theatre and comedy scenes, I thought that the talents particularly of Bill Wood, Evany Rosen and Brian MacQuarrie were not used to their full comic potential. I think that the film could have benefited from either developing these three characters further or having Wood, Rosen and MacQuarrie play multiple secondary and cameo characters. I was sad to see that Wood’s brick throwing nymph was almost completely cut from this more streamlined version compared to the one screened at the Atlantic Film Festival a year ago and the cuts left the film with some strange loose ends and spurts of stark randomness.

The entirety of Roller Town exists in the same realm as the very last moment in Grease when Danny and Sandy’s car suddenly lifts off and they fly on into their future together, the realm where the crazier the premise, the more likely it is to materialize. It also remains quite faithful to the dynamic and the brand of comedy that Picnicface has developed on YouTube since its inception eight years ago. If this is truly the troupe’s last project together (and I hope that it will not be), it is a worthy place to end this adventure and, as for Roller Town, I think it is well on its way to becoming a cult classic in its own right. But, don’t wait for the videotape release, head to your local movie theatre and check it out today!

Roller Town is playing in movie theatres across Canada. Please check your local listings or visit this website.

What a GONG SHOW!

pat thornton and gary rideout jr.
photo by geoff lapaire
It’s always extra fun when someone comes up to me after a show and says, “Wow! You’re really going to review THAT!?” Part of what keeps TWISI unique and garden-veggies-fresh, I think, is my inability to resist a good old fashioned challenge. Such was the deal after the Toronto Sketchfest Edition of the wildly popular Gong the Show which I attended at Comedy Bar earlier this month.
In the late 1970s there was an amateur talent contest televised on NBC’s daytime schedule called The Gong Show, from which the contemporary Gong the Show has borrowed some of its particularly hilarious characteristics. In the televised edition amateur performers of, as Wikipedia states, often “dubious” talent competed in front of a panel of three celebrity judges for a winning prize of $516.32. If the act was particularly heinous the judges had the option of stopping them dead in their tracks by striking a large gong. The stage version, which plays at Comedy Bar the second last Friday of every month, has a similar structure. It is hosted by Brendan Halloran and, like in the television program, there are three judges of some renown; at the show I attended there was a regular punk teen, Jimmy Buffet, and a wealthy businessman who had retired to Jamaica (played by Scott Yamamura, Andy Hull and Glenn Macaulay respectively). A slew of comedy acts vie to be the strongest, or the funniest, or the most interesting, or, at the very least, the comedians that are kept onstage without being gonged for the longest length of time. There are usually three rounds of Gong the Show, but for the special Sketchfest Edition that I saw, there were only two. However, in the second and third rounds the comedy acts that have the highest time scores return and improvise a different routine or set battling each other again until, ultimately in round three, one winner remains. Jon Blair of The Sketchersons was the reining Gong the Show undefeated champion from May, 2010 to November, 2010.
I think that most of the time audiences attend comedy in Toronto because they appreciate how solid the sets coming from Canada’s most successful, beloved and acclaimed comedians can be. Sketches have been carefully honed, stand up routines have been slowly perfected until they run like well oiled laughter machines, and our city’s improvisers have reached a level of imagination and instinct so sharp that even that which is made up on the spot has an element of polish and refinement to it. Yet, sometimes I think we all crave a little chaos, and that is exactly what Gong the Show provides. Here we are given the opportunity to see some of Toronto’s best comedians scramble, to pull inspiration out of their hats, or not, and the result is that, while the evening is a different kind of funny than one is often treated to at Comedy Bar, it has the potential to be just as entertaining.
What I found most interesting about Gong the Show was that it’s obvious that the performers have realized that it is not necessarily a well rehearsed sketch that ensures victory within this show’s parameters. Therefore the show mostly becomes an array of different ploys, many clever, some desperate, some feeble, to employ trickery and cunning comedic perspicacity to entice the audience into being either immediately captivated (or immediately distracted) and wanting to see this particular something unfold, and thus keeping the gong at bay.
Let me give you a few examples. Jon Blair and Sarah Hillier came onstage, Hillier dressed up as Uncle Sam with giant red boxing gloves while Blair was clad in a leopard print dress, a long red wig, and read a soliloquy from Hamlet. Apart from being a wide array of strong choices that an audience might be interested in seeing finding some semblance of cohesion as a sketch progressed, Hillier also promised that she would punch Blair in the crotch upfront, which gave the audience something to look forward to, and likely postponed the gong. LadyStache, Allison Hogg and Stephanie Tolev, were the winners of the evening (they performed for a whopping thirty-one seconds before being gonged), chose to push their comedy into the explicit, the sexual, and, some may argue, vulgar, adorning their matching moustaches with, first plastic breasts, and then (in the second round) a phallus, which they plied with whipped cream, which was licked off, with equal parts seduction and perversion, by two puppets who looked like they had wandered off the set of Sesame Street, a mailman and whore Prairie Dawn.
It’s interesting however, that it could be argued that the strength of the repulsion factor can be pushed too far for the audience, as the troopers from Haircut exemplified when Patrick Smith ate some Chef Boyardee, while Allie Price squirted copious amounts of mustard into her mouth, and then Smith spit his mouthful of food, Mama Bird style, into Price’s mouth, which she then swallowed and washed down with more mustard. Despite the fact that I think they made the boldest choice of the evening, they were still gonged; perhaps because the audience was gagging.
Gary Rideout Jr. and Pat Thornton came out in camouflage with plastic guns and cowboy hats adorned with worry dolls and were actually given a second chance after being gonged because someone pointed out that they hadn’t made any mention of the most interesting aspect of their getup- the dolls. Yet, when Rideout’s ode to Haitian children failed to provide immediate gratification, they were gonged again. Stacey McGunnigle and Mark Andrada, as the New Classy Affair, played with this idea of anticipation, by taking an extreme opposite strategy than everyone else, and beginning slowly and silently, forcing the audience to wait for a point, which never actually came. Carly Heffernan of She Said What took the opposite approach by bursting out and immediately conducting a beer chugging contest between her and an audience member and then attempting to start a magic show, while Norm Sousa and Cole Osborne of Punch Drysdale essentially cheated by bringing out an adorable puppy, knowing that the audience wouldn’t want to gong something so cute, sleepy and sweet. Mark Andrada helped by playing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman to complete the Disneyification of the moment.
It’s obvious that the show each month will be wildly different, and I would assume that as this format progresses and evolves, that its participants will discover new strategies to ward off the gong, and that they will improve upon the ones they have already implemented. It’s essentially a gong show, but the complete wild abandon of it, the element of palpable danger in the knowledge that ANYTHING could happen (seriously), and the mixture of talent and wits and lunacy makes it another worthwhile night of frivolity at the Comedy Bar.

Live Blog #6: "I’ll Give You One Guess and Then I’ll Just Tell You"- Shitty the Riddler

shitty the riddler and pat thornton
I have no idea what time it is. We’re in the home stretch for sure. I’ve taken three of the high stool chairs and placed them side by side which has made a little bed for me. I’ve put my vest down as a pillow and I have laid down and closed my eyes… and woke up sometime later to the sound of Kayla Lorette’s laughter. What a lovely sound. What have I missed? What’s going on? Where am I? Kevin Sorbo?
Kevin Sorbo is still eating garbage. He is eating hair. He is living in the ocean with the bees in his head and his mouth. He is being hired for shitty jobs, he is being fired from the shitty jobs for being shitty. He is neglecting his children because raw sewage, garbage water, green bins and dumpsters filled with trash are just too alluring to be able to resist. He is trying to get invited to Tit Night to no avail. He is engaged in many complex plots to make people look up at the sky so that he might have the opportunity to lick their chins. He is celebrating Chinuary. He is obsessing over Jay Leno’s magnificent expansive chin and he’s still the King of the Woods.
Boston Pizza is in the woods. We still have a nine year old president, Rap Grimace makes the occasional come back- along with sporadic references to Mustard Andrew, Luba Goy and Marmalade. OH, and how can I forget the BRUTAL and INTENSE Little Mosque burns!! Yeeowch. We were also all introduced to Amelia Earfart- whose best line was: “Wow. Silent but deadly. I didn’t even hear that!” At TWENTY TWO hours Pat Thornton, who has done his stand up standing up since 6pm on Monday evening, finally continues his set sitting down. He has passed his goal of $10,000 with TWO HOURS still to go. This is the countdown. The Comedy Bar is filling up with people for the last push of the show, the writers are filling the stage with jokes so that Pat is able to finish the set continuously. I have to give up two of my chairs, which forces me awake, although I am still zoning in and out quite a bit. My stomach can’t handle anymore sugar… so I stay away from my Swedish Berries.
I start to wonder whether it is more or less difficult for someone to perform for 24 hours straight or for someone to watch someone else perform for 24 hours. I mean, surely the person performing has a task to accomplish, they have to hold the audience captive, they have to talk, they have to be at least some semblance of funny… I just have to sit in a chair and keep my eyes open. Yet… I wonder how much of Pat’s ability to trundle through is the adrenaline of performance that is keeping him going… something that I don’t have. I muse. I wonder. I listen. I zone out. I catch myself. I remember where I am. Didn’t Halle Balle have a bum ear at one point? … Oh yeah.
Shitty the Riddler comes back with vengeance. Shitty the Riddler jokes pour in and then morph… into shitty the everything jokes. An hour and a half of formulaic jokes- Shitty the Riddler, Shitty Superheroes. Shitty Nine Year old President. Shitty Novelists. Shitty movies. Shitty Children’s TV shows. Shitty Kevin Sorbo. Shitty Rob Ford- and every once and awhile, a Movember Rob Ford throw back, just because we all love the way that Pat yells, “ROB!!! YOU GROW A MOOOOOO-STACHE!” Really, who can blame us? He always musters the energy required to make that bit utterly worth it.
Shitty the Riddler is the star of the end of the show. Sorbo has still been the overall through line, the constant source of our glee and our burns, but Shitty the Riddler is dominating him right now. He’s called Batman on speaker phone, he’s bought a unitard all covered in exclamation points, he’s bought a unitard with a question mark over his crotch, he’s told terrible riddles, he’s forgotten his lines, he’s confused himself—quite frankly, if there was a shitty thing that The Riddler could possibly do, it’s most likely that he did it at Comedy Bar.
The room erupted into huge cheers at 6pm when Pat stopped immediately after having performed for 24 hours straight and raising OVER $11,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Mark Andrada turned on the tunes and those who were able started the last and most epic of the dance parties. I think I kind of bopped along. I mostly wanted to fall over. But, it was joyous. Triumphant. What an amazing feat for Pat Thornton, who has proven that he has incredible comedic fortitude and that Kevin Sorbo is undoubtedly poised for a huge comeback, and by “Comeback” I mean, it’s very possible that hosting Sunday Night Live is in his very near future.
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