KNOCK KNOCK. (WHO'S THERE?) COMEDY! performing at LAUGH SABBATH , Sunday (December 2) as part of Let?s Get Hot w/ hosts Chris Locke and Aaron Eves; and headlining December 9 as part of TALENT SHOW! hosted by Deb Robinson & Darryl Dinn. Both nights 8:30 pm (doors). At the Rivoli (332 Queen West). $5. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
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Interview excerpts with Knock Knock. (Who's There?) Comedy !
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It's an ordinary weekday afternoon in the strip-malled heart of Etobicoke, and I'm sitting in a bowling alley playing hooky with the future of Canadian sketch comedy.
Knock Knock. (Who's There?) Comedy! and I are in the noisy bowels of Bowlerama West, cool retro bowling shoes and all. No one puns about strikes, gutter balls or even The Big Lebowski. The place is thick with irony as it is. Above the clinking balls and pins, a Curves gym for women practically sits in the lap of a Dairy Queen.
"We found this a while ago when we wanted to go bowling at 3 in the morning," says member Adam Brodie. "It turned out to be cosmic bowling, which I think as a troupe we're completely against."
"Let's face it," says Dave Derewlany, "rave culture really has no place in the bowling alley."
"And besides," sighs Brodie, "they wouldn't tell us where the after-party was."
This is how KK(WT?)C! talk. They overlap punchlines, try to one-up each other just for the helluvit. But there's nothing mean-spirited about their banter. When someone delivers a really good line, the others join in a group laugh, as if admitting comic defeat.
In a year that's seen ordinary dudes like Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and the kids from Superbad become superstars, the time could be right for KK(WT?)C!
Come to think of it, the gangly foursome would be right at home in Apatow's Revenge Of The Nerds fantasias.
"Comedy is always funny when it comes from an underdog position," says Derewlany, who like the other three has made the transition from high school geek to Queen West indie comedy and music scenester pretty smoothly. The wardrobe's similar anyway.
"We'd root for a Zack Galifianakis over a Dane Cook any day," says Brodie. "Dane Cook was the kind of guy who made fun of us in high school."
All four of them look down at their bowling shoes and sigh in agreement. Or maybe it's a mock sigh. It's hard to tell with them.
"Yeah," says Aaron Eves. "He'd dip a french fry in ketchup and drop it down our ass cracks."
To describe KK(WT?)C! as a sketch troupe that does comedy about comedy suggests their material is full of in jokes and isn't, in the end, funny. That's not true. Their stage work - and you can see them in two consecutive Sunday shows at the Rivoli - assumes a knowledge of comic conventions, but always tweaks it in surprising ways, just as their video work plays with the viewer's expertise in knowing how to decode digital imagery.
Brodie is half-joking when he compares their live shows to concept albums. One of the first times I saw them, back in 2004, they brilliantly sent up the cliché of the group that splits up and then stages a reunion, complete with mock press conference and backstage drama.
"We're more like performing audience members," says Eves. "We go up there and do what the audience wants to see, what the audience finds good or bad about sketch."
In their first few shows, performed in rooms like the Oasis and Clinton's, they tried the traditional route, coming up with sketches like The Fruit Doctor. In a later video, they eviscerate that particular sketch and use it as a corporate instruction manual on how to write sketch comedy.
"It's like we take a premise or script, put it into Babel Fish, the AltaVista program, translate it into another language, then translate it back into English," says Derewlany. "Then we perform that."
It's no surprise they use cyber language to describe their work. If anything, they're the perfect troupe for the YouTube generation - except they're not just interested in remixing or being copycats.
"Take a look at the Michael Richards incident last year," says Eves. "We wouldn't parody that. But we would parody the guy who fell down the stairs, you know? The stuff that's more under-the-radar but funny. We're trying to get at stuff people have seen, but that's in their subconscious."
One of their more brilliant trademarks involves having their work "sponsored" by an ominous corporation called Dallas Technologies, symbolized by a tacky logo in the shape of George Dubya's home state.
"They've given us a lot of opportunities I don't think we would have had otherwise if it had been just us," deadpans Katie Crown, the sole woman in the troupe. "They've given us funding, places to stay, shirts."
"They've hooked us up with a franchise opportunity so there are subsidiary KK(WT?)C! troupes across the globe," adds Eves. "We sell our scripts to Dallas, and they sell them to these other troupes."
And how much profit do they see from the mother corp?
"We get 0.3 per cent of the compounded adjusted gross," says Derewlany, not missing a beat. "A lot of troupes are short-sighted in not doing that. Oh, and for our four-year anniversary they also sent us Creative brand MP3 players and $25 gift certificates for Our Compliments products."
Creating a backstory like this - they also have one about their parents' involvement in an old-time sketch troupe called Happy Caps - propels the work of KK(WT?)C! from mere sketch comedy to something resembling satiric performance art. But again, think performance art that's actually funny.
You could say their fresh take on the scene comes from their behind-the-scenes backgrounds.
Derewlany and Brodie, better known as Adam and Dave, met in film school at Ryerson. Most profs didn't like their stuff, but the pair have amassed a devoted following for their hilarious shorts, many of which premiered at the Film Festival and star Crown, who was studying radio and TV at Ryerson, and Eves, who was studying hospitality.
Only Eves, who took a year-long course at Second City, has any sort of formal sketch comedy training.
"That's why I'm always saying, "Guys, let's just wing this one,'" he jokes, referring to the comedy institution's method of creating shows by improvisation.
They're currently shopping around a demo for a TV series that savagely satirizes news stories - the pilot concerns the misconceptions around global warming. TV is where the troupe needs to end up if they're going to make a dent in the cultural zeitgeist. Any broadcaster who wants to remain relevant in the 21st century would be stupid to pass on them and their so-called "alternative" brand of comedy.
"Everything goes in cycles," says Derewlany. "What was once considered alternative becomes the mainstream."
"We don't want the tackiness of the mainstream, but we wouldn't mind the recognition," says Crown.
There's anger lurking beneath their work - at evil conglomerates, at the stupid comics who have come before them, at the assholes who put french fries down their ass cracks. But like all great comedy, it's sublimated and redirected outward.
"It's not anger," says Brodie, "It's just rage. White. Hot. Rage."
"It's violent frustration," adds Derewlany.
"No," says Eves. "It's passionate negativity."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On how and when they got their name
On the online connection to their work
Video Clips from Knock Knock. (Who's There?) Comedy !
The Wrong Number
Styrofoam: A Gift That Lasts Forever