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Four local acts brought the funny to the first week of the comedy festival
The 15th annual Toronto SketchFest began this week and continues through March 15. The bulk of this year’s programming seems to be local troupes, which is fine. There are too few opportunities for indie sketch groups to get stage time in this city. And we’ve got some amazing talent.
Witness the four acts I saw last night (Friday, March 6).
First up was Cam Wyllie (rating: NNNN), who presented a faux retrospective show celebrating his “25th year in sketch comedy.”
As that quote illustrates, he’s a master of the silly and absurd. In one early sketch, he tweaks the lyrics of a Sam Cooke song not to show what a wonderful world it is but to explain his driving skills… in court. It’s a classic bit of misdirection, and Wyllie – who’s got the likeable, hapless presence of a Steve Carell – sells it convincingly.
There’s tight writing and clever staging (direction is by Wyllie and Second City alum Paul Bates) in his sketch in which he plays a cop who’s pulled over two women (Jennifer Ashleigh Lloyd and Susanna Kiernan) who have a swarm of bees in their trunk. And a scene in which he and Lloyd play actors recording radio ads for a medical supply company is deliciously demented.
Some sequences lack funny blackout lines, however, and there are some diction issues, particularly in a potentially funny sendup of a kids’ educational TV show.
Wyllie’s most brilliant sketch involves his plan to propose to a woman during the show. I can’t say more without spoiling the surprise.
I’ve seen Not Oasis (rating: NNN) several times, and they keep getting stronger. The seven-person troupe is particularly good at very, very short scenes: one inspired by Fight Club and one about a bratty kid are punchy and smart.
Their everyday premises are solid: a woman (Jennifer Ashley Lloyd again) trying to get over a breakup is consoled by girlfriends (Anne McMaster, Katherine Fogler and Shohana Sharmin) who only mouth inspirational quotes in another, a single woman (Sharmin) tired of Tinder finds another way to meet partners. But while the performers are committed to each scene (Lloyd, McMaster and King Chiu are particularly present and nuanced), the writing could be sharper, especially near the conclusions.
The funniest sketch involves an elderly woman (Lloyd) whose cellphone goes off in a car with her family (Chiu, Nico Rice and Chris O’Neill). Even with some tech slipups, the scene works because the humour is real, relatable… and oddly sweet.
The best sketch troupes have a mysterious chemistry that adds to their appeal. Hackett & Langdon (rating: NNNNN), starring Jonathan Langdon and Brandon Hackett, are prime examples. Hackett is tall, bespectacled, with a plummy, resonant voice Langdon is shorter, with a streetwise, no-bull vibe.
The two exploit these differences throughout their act, from the riotous opening sketch, in which the two are hyper-self-conscious as Black men walking towards each other on a street, to their charming sendup of a fictional R&B duo (the harmonizing is pretty amazing).
There’s real affection in a sketch in which Hackett jealously thinks partner Langdon was out partying at the MTV Movie Awards because of the latter’s resemblance to Alfonso Ribeiro in a magazine spread.
And the funniest sketch I saw all night was the one in which Langdon tried to teach Hackett about sketch comedy, using the expression D.I.D. (dumb it down) literally. Here, the writing and physicality and performances are all at the same hilarious level.
Fringe fave Sex T-Rex (rating: NNNNN) has apparently never done sketch before, but you’d never know that based on their show last night.
The troupe’s signature obsession with film genres and techniques helped add ambience and focus to sketches about aliens in spaceships, sexist superheros and people who are terrified of passing gas.
A repeated gag about chairs that are actually wolves kept paying off. Kaitlin Morrow‘s incredible puppetry skills took that spaceship scene to a whole other dimension. And a sequence in which the cast played presidents delivering improv rules as if they were famous speeches was both smart, absurd and hilarious. (Yes, Julian Frid was kind of born to play Lincoln.)
Waiting for the Dufferin bus won’t be the same after the troupe’s sketch about it and bravo to Conor Bradbury for a go-for-broke impression of Frank Sinatra singing songs about every city in the U.S.
The troupe performs the show again tonight (Saturday, March 7, at 10 pm). But let’s hope they take a cue from Bradbury’s bombastic, sexist Confidence Man and remount – and perhaps expand – it in the future.