Posts tagged Comedy Bar

A bunch of really cool, really funny people met through improv. We asked some of our favourite couples how they hooked up.

Photo © Kenway Yu

Photo © Kenway Yu

P&C: How and when did you meet?

Laura: Josh and I first met in a weekend musical improv workshop. I recognized him from Impatient Theatre Company, but he was a later generation than me, and I wasn’t really in that segment of the scene anymore.

Josh: Laura wrote an article for my blog after the improv workshop. I remember seeing her sing and being like – Whoa! Who is this person I’ve never met before? What a voice! I could tell she was captivated by me, but I played it cool.

P&C: When did you first know you liked the other person?

Laura: When we first met at the workshop, he was dating someone else, and I was aiming to seduce the instructor. We didn’t really think much of each other until the Comedy Bar Halloween party of 2011. He was dressed as Gazpacho the genie, and I was a slutty sandwich board for Occupy Sesame Street.

When I kissed him that night, and his breath stunk of garlic from all the gazpacho he’d been eating, I really didn’t think it was going anywhere. We’re getting married next year.

Josh: Laura was instantly taken by my confidence and sex appeal at the Comedy Bar Halloween party. It was clear she was smitten, and I decided to give her a chance. The next few months were a whirlwind romance.

P&C: What’s it like performing together?

Laura: We first performed together as a duo called Lil Zazzers. He wanted to name our child that, so I used the name for our improv duo to ensure that name was used for something else.

We also performed together on a team called Crazy Horse at SoCap. Josh and I often improvise scenes, songs, and characters privately to each other, so performing together is really just being our private selves in front of people. Our sense of play generally focuses on finding creative ways to annoy each other. Like my clown: Cramps, the menstruating clown.

Josh: When we have twins, they will both be named “Lil Zazzers” and will be a Vaudevillian comedy duo. Think gold lamé, canes, a top hat, pencil moustaches, etc.

P&C: How has improv helped your relationship?

Laura: We always listen to each other, say yes to each other’s ideas, and generally avoid judging each other, so that is wonderful. I think that listening all the way to the end of the other person’s sentence before formulating a response is a great skill for relationships and life in general, and one that I still work on.

And then of course there are the endless bits, voices, etc. Also, if one of us has a bad set, it’s great that the other can offer constructive feedback and not just be totally embarrassed. Josh has also coached me, and he is a fantastic coach!

Josh: What Laura said.

P&C: In what way has improv influenced your career?

Laura: I work now as a music teacher, and I’ll be teaching a class on performance skills for musicians this year to kids. It’s all improv based, because improv is a great way to help any type of performer come out of his or her shell.

Josh : I work at the University of Guelph. I use improv in my training and coaching to build rapport with my staff and help them get comfortable with their work.

P&C: What’s the best, worst, or most memorable show you’ve done together?

Laura: My favourite show was a jam at Unit 102 a few years ago with some other people. The suggestion we got was “bigotry,” which is pretty heavy for a random jam. We were with a great group of people, and we really threw it to the wall.

Scenes included the Museum of Racism featuring Star Trek, a billionaire Chinese businessman becoming a soap opera director, Aunt Jemima taking questions at her Ted Talk, and 100-year-old Rosa Parks demanding a seat on a crowded bus. I don’t know if we moved mountains that day, but we certainly threw the audience’s shitty suggestion back in their face. I was proud of us!

(Hot tip: Comedy Bar‘s Halloween party is just around the corner.)

There’s nothing quite like the high you get coming off of a great set. But while improvisers get to bask in the spotlight, some of their funniest moments wouldn’t exist without the skill and support of a very special person: the Tech Guy (or Gal).

To the audience they’re invisible, but make no mistake: he or she can make or break your show.

“Pulling the lights on an improv scene is hard,” says Rob Norman. “You have to have a supreme confidence to know when it’s over. To find the biggest laugh of the scene. Sometimes 30 seconds in. Sometimes waiting for 17 minutes.

But also there’s an egolessness about it. It’s not about adding sound effects. Or playing ‘funny’ songs from the booth. You are highlighting success and distracting from failure.

When tech is done right, no one sees your invisible hand. But you have to be completely confident in your job. So egoless that no one knows you’re adding essential elements to what’s happening onstage.”

It’s not easy to sit in a dark, cramped booth, changing lights and cueing songs at a second’s notice. But what about when tech goes wrong? We’ve all seen shows that suffered from poor technical choices. Things like…

• playing, shall we say, idiosyncratic music before a show (emo, nu-metal), instead of stuff that will pump up the crowd

* pulling lights way too early (like, 10 minutes in to a 25-minute Harold)

• not pulling lights, long after a show has died a slow, awkward, squirm-inducing (did we mention slow?) death

Learning how to tech a show takes time, and the only way to learn is on the job.

On the flip side, there are some are very talented light and sound technicians. In Toronto we’re fortunate to have folks like Darryl Pring, Gord Oxley, and Josh Murray toiling behind the scenes to make performers look good. And perhaps no one is more respected, even revered, than Mark Andrada.

Photo © David Leyes

Photo © David Leyes

Like Robocop or Steve Austin, Mark operates on an almost other-worldly level. To find out how he does it, we asked the community. If you want to know what qualities make a great technician, read on.

“[Mark] is a very skilled clown and improviser, so he gets it. He gets the timing of a joke or blowline, he gets where a scene starts and therefore where it should end. He can anticipate what’s about to happen and lend to it with a lighting change or music or even over the microphone. And if you don’t want him involved you can ask him to stay out and he’s not offended, unless he decides to jump in and fuck with you anyway.” – Gary Rideout Jr

“He is often the best improviser in the room – and that’s behind the tech booth. I’ve seen his tech choices save scenes and make them better, and I’ve been there when his choices are the scene. He is insanely quick with improvised tech cues, and they are always on point.” – Matt Folliott

“The shows Mark techs are alive. There’s this feeling of security when he’s in the booth. I trust him immensely. But also there’s this feeling of danger which I love, because he’s good enough to fuck with you and heighten what’s going on, so again, it’s like there’s an all-seeing, omnipotent being watching over the show and pushing you to play better. Oh, and he also appreciates and respects good theatre. So he knows how to push the boundaries of what’s possible.” – Isaac Kessler

“Mark Andrada puts a huge amount of effort into making sure Mantown is the best [show] it can be every month. We throw a lot at him and he’s never complained, been frustrated or unreliable.

Just this last Mantown, we had a pre-recorded insult that was supposed to show up in our second audience interaction game. We assumed the audience was going to have a hard time reading a joke we had written down and we could play the recorded “T-T-Today junior” from Billy Madison. However, Rob Baker got a little confused while explaining a game in the first half of the show and instantly Mark Andrada played the insult and it was perfectly timed and unexpected. The audience blew up with laughter and Rob Baker blushed, as he does.” – Adam Cawley

And there you have it. A great tech person listens, watches, pushes, and plays, shaping and heightening what’s happening, and lifting the performers, the audience, and the show.

It’s a demanding and often thankless task, so let’s show them some appreciation. For all those who do it, week after week, in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, LA, London, and beyond, this one’s for you…

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Three-time Canadian Comedy Award winners, Slap Happy

Toronto comics are some of the best on the planet. But unless you’re already part of the scene, you might never know the comedy goldmine in our midst.

StreamFest aims to put an end to that.

In partnership with the Canadian Comedy Awards, StreamFest live-streams the city’s top comedians to the world, Sunday evenings at Comedy Bar.

As fans of live comedy ourselves, there’s nothing quite like being there. But for those who can’t (or don’t want to) visit our chilly part of the globe, StreamFest brings Toronto’s best to a whole new audience of fans

The carefully-curated mix of stand-up, sketch, and improv adds up to a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes of laughs. Established acts like Colin Mochrie, Ron Sparks, and National Theatre of the World share the stage with newer names like fab sketch duo British Teeth, stand-up Rhiannon Archer, and improv favourites RN and Cawls.

The show is produced by Brian Smith and Kyra Williams. Smith, who co-created the freakishly funny Live From The CenTre, knows how to build an online following. And judging from the live audience’s reaction this past Sunday evening, that shouldn’t be difficult.

StreamFest runs every Sunday at 7 pm till May 19 at Comedy Bar. This week’s line-up includes Lady Business, Jordan Foisy, and Clifford Myers.

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The frightfully amusing British Teeth


Today marks the launch of Toronto’s new independent improv fest, Big City Improv Festival. We asked Gary Rideout Jr of Comedy Bar for the 411.

P&C: This is the first annual Big City Improv Festival. What’s different about it from festivals Toronto has seen in the past?

GRJ: I think the thing I’m most excited about is the production team. There are a lot of passionate improv people involved, and everyone’s not afraid to share the workload so that everything gets done with plenty of time and attention. As someone who’s been an Associate Producer with Toronto Sketchfest since day one, I know it takes great leadership and a solid support team to build a great festival.

Julie Dumais produced the Combustion festival for a few years and she did a great job. I think it took something like that to prove we could put on a world class improv festival here in the city of Toronto. Something that would help our reputation in other markets, and something that would show the international acts that we have great audiences who do support good improv.

P&C. Comedy Bar has become a hub for improv, attracting some of the best local and out-of-town talent. What kind of acts can people expect on both the main stage and side stage at this year’s festival?

GRJ: I can tell you that with the production team involved, cultivating submissions from the best local, national and international acts won’t be a problem.

That said, coming up with a great festival schedule is like coming up with a good running order for a sketch show, or composing a great piece of music. There’s ebb and flow, and there will be both massive highlights and hidden gems. There’ll be party shows and thought-provoking shows, all with the onus being on what is funny and now, and what, with this great opportunity, can we present to the public to get them coming out to see improv, not just every night of the festival, but year round.

Festivals are a great place to showcase local favourites or have a local show become a new local favourite. The lingering effects of a great performance here can translate into continued success for that act.

P&C: Are there any special guests planned?

GRJ: We’re tinkering with the idea of some special guests. Bringing in someone famous helps get press for the festival as a whole, and gives a bunch of improvisers the opportunity they might not have otherwise to perform with someone cool. That said, with this being our first year it’s also important to focus on all the already-great local acts that exist in this city, and help expose them to the general public and let them know they can see those acts year round.

P&C: There’s been an explosion of interest in improv in the last few years. What do you think accounts for this?

GRJ: It’s crazy. I’ve always had a theory that the interest in styles of comedy goes in waves. For awhile, everyone’s doing stand-up, then sketch gets big for awhile, right now we’re in an improv boom.

The Second City Training Centre expanded and always seems to be full, and everytime I see a Bad Dog class in the cabaret at Comedy Bar, it’s full. It’s a great time.

I think before Comedy Bar, there were opportunities to perform improv but you really had to be pro-active in terms of finding a space where you could produce an “improv show.”  In some ways improv was being looked at as an exercise you do just to get better at improv. So you go on stage for 25 minutes and then sit around and get told by someone else what they would have said or done in that situation.

With Comedy Bar, it’s kind of paint by numbers; you pitch a “show concept,” then you produce and perform that show for an audience. Bad Dog and National Theatre of the World have strived to put a focus on the value of improv as the presented artform, not just the vehicle to get to the content. Other acts see that and are doing the same thing in their own way. Improv is the show.

One of the first things I did with Catch23 when we brought it to Comedy Bar was move it from Mondays to Fridays. I wanted more people to see the show and the stories that come out of it, not just in the scenes but in the fake competition and relationships between judge, audience and players. It’s always packed, and almost always a great show. (I said “almost” there on purpose, I can’t help being a little bit critical.)

P&C. What’s the vision for the future of Big City Improv Festival?

GRJ: Big City Improv Festival has an opportunity to be the improv festival that properly represents the city, and all the great performers that call Toronto home. It’s something we’ve desperately needed for a very long time, and something that could go a long way to help Toronto’s reputation internationally

The festival runs October 15-20 at Comedy Bar.

Image © Big City Improv Festival

Imagine a place where beer flows like water, fearlessness is a way of life, and shirtlessness is always an option.

Welcome to Mantown, an improvised frat party featuring Adam Cawley, Bob Banks, Jason DeRosse and Rob Norman.

What began as a side project has turned into one of Toronto’s longest-running comedy shows. They perform to packed houses the first Friday of each month at Comedy Bar, from 10:30 p.m. till the last person is wheeled out from an overdose of awesomeness.

We caught up with them to talk about improvising, childhood heroes, and vuvuzelas for the inaugural All In interview…