Fringe Preview: People Suck

PEOPLE SUCK by Megan Phillips and Peter Cavell, directed by Kerry Griffin, with Phillips, Ashley Comeau, Allison Price, Connor Thompson and Arthur Wright. Presented by Nutmeg Creations and the Fringe at the Randolph Theatre. July 4 and 8 at 10:30 pm, July 6 at 12:45 pm, July 7 at 6:45 pm, July 9 at 5:15 pm, July 11 at 11 pm. See listing.

Ashley Comeau and Connor Thompson have Second City to thank for their careers – and their relationship. Not that they ever got to perform together much at the birthplace of sketch comedy.

The couple, who met taking courses there, are – no question – two of the most talented recent alumni. She’s got an enthusiasm, optimism and sparkle that comes through even in the darkest, most cynical sketches – think a Canadian Kimmy Schmidt. He’s got a gruff, slightly bookish air that makes for some great befuddled straight men. Before joining Second City they were in a sketch duo called the Lusty Mannequins.

But because Comeau was on the Second City Mainstage while Thompson was in the touring company, and Comeau had left when Thompson was asked to join the cast, audiences rarely got to see them make funny together.

Until now. Both are part of the ensemble in People Suck, Megan Phillips and Peter Cavell’s Fringe Festival song cycle about rude behaviour.

“It deals with everything from bullies to shitty children to feeling incompetent as people, mothers, bridesmaids,” says Comeau.

“Some people are oblivious to their suckage,” adds Thompson. “They’re entitled and selfish enough to not have that self-awareness to understand that they’re obnoxious or rude. And there are also songs from the perspective of people who know they suck and can’t help it. Sort of, ‘I’m sorry, but this is how I am.’ That’s where some of the pathos comes in. It’s not all making fun of people who suck. It’s acknowledging that we all suck.”

The piece features solos, duets, trios and big group numbers, referencing everything from Avenue Q cuteness to gospel choirs, big Broadway-style songs and quieter tunes that recall the work of Jason Robert Brown.

“We skewer everyone,” says Comeau. “If you’re watching the first couple of numbers and think you’re being made fun of, just wait. Everyone gets their turn to suck.”

Right now Comeau and Thompson definitely do not suck.

Instead of meeting at some generic café for this interview, they’ve invited me to their home in Dovercourt Village. Comeau is currently working as a head writer on a new Food Network show called Chef In Your Ear, so she’s prepared a delicious chicken cacciatore and polenta, plus a Caprese salad, which we dig into as we discuss everything from gardening (they’re very excited about their heirloom tomatoes) to Facebook (Thompson is more private than Comeau about revealing his life to the world) to how Second City executive director Klaus Schuller told Comeau she got the mainstage job (a story that’s too long for this article, but was very funny and a little mean).

And they’ve got nothing but nice things to say about their People Suck colleagues, who include Second City pals Allison Price (in the cast) and Kerry Griffin (who directs). Along with co-writer Phillips, there’s also Arthur Wright, who Thompson jokes is the good male singer, not cast (like him) because he’s funny-looking.

They’ve definitely got that couple vibe going on. They don’t complete each other’s sentences, but they seem to balance each other out. Where Comeau rushes into something, Thompson takes his time. There’s a bit of Lucy and Desi about them, or the younger version of that couple from Pixar’s Up. Whatever it is, it’s working.

“I was dating someone else at the time, and in the Second City conservatory class I tried to avoid Connor, thinking, ‘Uh-oh… that unibrow guy is totally my type,'” says Comeau about how they first met. “He’s funny and smart, and cute, and he knows about the Civil War and listens to Stan Rogers.”

“Yes, I’m basically irresistible,” interjects Thompson with his typical dry delivery. “We had a lovely connection. But nothing improprietous went on while you were in that relationship. We just had a lovely friendship.”

Only a kick-ass polymath improviser like Thompson could get away with using a five-syllable word like “improprietous” and make it seem funny and completely natural.

These days, they both teach at Second City as well as the occasional course at Bad Dog Theatre. And they’re beginning to tour the world to teach improv: a few weeks ago they were in London, England, and this fall they’re heading to Barcelona.

Comeau has written and produced shows at YTV and hosted and written shows for Second City’s corporate offshoot, Second City Works. Thompson, who left the cast last January, was connected via the Second City to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to write new verses to Saint-Saëns’s Carnival Of The Animals to be performed by conductor Peter Oundjian.

He gives me a hilarious play-by-play of a super-awkward ovation moment with pianists Emanuel Ax and Jan Lisiecki.

“I love where you go after Second City,” says Comeau. “The mainstage is brilliant. But getting to teach, watching people get their first laugh, telling people to stop doing dick jokes, boosting people’s confidence is so satisfying.”

They’re also trying to sit down and develop their own material.

“I think our sensibilities are good together,” says Comeau.

“They better be,” adds Thompson. “Otherwise, what are we doing?”

Then Comeau tells me about the time, two years into their relationship, that they had to have The Talk.

“We had to discuss if our relationship went tits up, would we work on the relationship or the sketch troupe?”

“And,” laughs Thompson, “we both said the sketch troupe.”

We talk about other comedy couples who’ve survived the business: Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus Chris Earle and Shari Hollett Bob Martin and Janet van de Graaff Steve Morel and Jenny Parsons. All of them are Second City alums.

And as we polish off a bottle of wine, this gets us all thinking about why comedy and comedians seem to be in the zeitgeist again.

“It’s such a goddamn dark world – people need that outlet,” says Thompson. “They need to find a reprieve from the scary stuff that’s going on. And there’s something for everyone these days. If you’re a Jon Stewart type, you can watch him. If you prefer John Oliver or Stephen Colbert, you have them, too. And that’s just political commenters. Amy Schumer is probably the best satirist working today.”

“Comedy unifies us,” says Comeau. “I don’t know what it’s like to be you. But you probably fart in your sleep like I do. And it’s embarrassing. But we can all laugh about it.”

Comeau on getting a call from Second City’s Klaus Schuller: 

Comeau on her comedy career arc, Second City and Inessa Frantowski’s vagina:

Thompson’s indirect entry in comedy, including the MPP Crotch Hour: | @glennsumi

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