Glenn Sumi’s Top 10 Comedy Shows

Our crack-smoking mayor made us the butt of jokes around the world, but there was lots of intentional humour happening in theatres and comedy clubs all year round. Here are 10 of the best.


1. GAVIN CRAWFORD: SH**TING RAINBOWS

Buddies in Bad Times, June 21

Crawford would have been high on this list simply for his savage celeb impressions, like Hugh Jackman singing I’m Not Gay (to the melody of Les Mis’s Bring Him Home) or Rufus Wainwright pimping his husband, Jörn Weisbrodt’s, festival with the song Luminato (sung to Hallelujah). But his social satire (Kyle Tingley was co-writer and director on the show), theatricality and sharp takes on politicians Kathleen Wynne and Rob Ford (as a guilt-ridden Gollum, no less) made this show legendary.


2. JEN KIRKMAN

Empire Comedy Live, Comedy Bar, June 8 (late show)

After entering by modelling a kick-ass cape she found in the Comedy Bar green room and introducing her invisible sidekick named “Billy” (a reference to a recent Liza Minnelli show), the scratchy-voiced Kirkman breezed through an intimate and conversational set that touched on weave-wearing airport security guards, annoying married friends and being happily childless. No wonder her addictive podcast is called I Seem Fun. She definitely was.


3. WE CAN BE HEROES

Second City, August 27

In their best revue in years, Second City hilariously took on blind lifeguards, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video and the politics of the Sochi Olympics, to name just a few topics. Under Kerry Griffin’s solid direction, Craig Brown channelled his inner Chaplin, new mainstage member Connor Thompson showed he could become great, and the already-great Jan Caruana (who’s leaving the cast in early January) earned both laughs and tears as a bullied girl who befriends a Morgan Freemanesque character (Kevin Vidal). This cast will always be my Heroes.


4. CORY!

Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, Comedy Bar, March 14

Second City alums Leslie Seiler and Lauren Ash (a few months before she left town to tape ABC’s Super Fun Night) resurrected their sketch duo and demonstrated that comics get better with age. They earned laughs contrasting men’s and women’s feelings about body image, how singlehood and coupledom are different and had the last laugh on the subject of cougars. Best was their closer skewering the ubiquitous bathtub scenes in Lena Dunham’s Girls. These girls got balls.


5. AZIZ ANSARI

JFL42, Sony Centre, September 27 (early show)

Unlike previous shows, Ansari’s JFL42 set stuck mostly to a single theme: sex, love and the single comic. But his wit, likeability and audience interaction are so strong – one trusting soul even handed over his phone for Ansari to read texts – that it didn’t matter. I’ve been quoting his “…it’ll be a year in August” joke for months. He was equally good the night before at Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show, which featured a killer set by John Mulaney.


6. ALEX PAVONE

Yuk Yuk’s Downtown, January 19 (late show)

Of the many talented youngish comics making their way up the scene (John Hastings, Dom Pare, Dylan Mandlsohn, John Ki, Nick Beaton and Rob Pue, many of whom could’ve been on this list), no one has surprised me quite like Pavone, whose cocky, high-energy act is shot through with honesty and heart. He demonstrated that in this knockout set in which he discussed a nightmarish late-night McD’s run, working construction and being ejected by a bouncer at a club. He’s the real deal.


7. MARK AND KYLE

Big City Improv Festival, Comedy Bar, October 18

Founding Picnicface members Mark Little and Kyle Dooley had a great year, wowing JFL42 audiences and helming weekly sketch shows at the Comedy Bar in April and November. They also killed the night I saw them at the Big City Improv Fest, using their verbal dexterity, wide range of references and innate sense of space and structure to have as much fun as the doubled-over crowd.


8. DEANNE SMITH

Absolute Comedy, January 25

The conservative uptowners didn’t quite know what to make of Smith’s Harry-Potter-meets-grad-school-vegan-dyke look or bold jokes about abortion and Hitler, but she quickly won them over making fun of overly confident male comics, a disastrous waxing session and her surefire closer, a ukulele song about death. She’s one of the freshest performers around.


9. THE SKLAR BROTHERS

Empire Comedy Live, Comedy Bar, April 25 (late show and podcast)

Identical twin comics and sportscasters Jason and Randy Sklar presided over the Comedy Bar for a series of sold-out shows, entertaining with their beautifully paced routines – rhythms like jazz! – about unironic mullets, fairy tale sequels and hipster hotel service. And even though I’m not a sports fan, their Sklarbro Country podcast with guests Paul Osbal diston and Jay Onrait had me howling. Quite a feat.


10. BRITISH TEETH

Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, Comedy Bar, March 8

The Tim Sims Award-winning team of Filip Jeremic and Allana Reoch proved they’re equally skilled at writing and performing, with a clearly defined sensibility and point of view. At this hilarious show the absurdist comic chameleons – who don wigs and accents with equal abandon – took on bickering newscasters, a woman named Faart and a scene in a hospital featuring a black candy striper, an old lady and fisting porn with total fearlessness. They’ve got bite.


Best last laugh

After being uninvited from a Niagara Falls comedy club for not responding to hecklers (who asked her to show them her, er, chest), Christina Walkinshaw chronicled the experience in a blog, generating international publicity.

Comedy mensch

Ian Atlas, producer of Empire Comedy Live and one of the nicest guys in the business, brought at least a dozen first-rate acts to the city (two of whom are on the Top 10 list).

Healthiest trend

Losing weight, staying funny. Comics Mike “Nug” Nahrgang, Jan Caruana, Jason DeRosse and Darryl Pring all dropped pounds without losing their sense of humour.

Unfunny

After bombing during a short set, Martha Chaves interrupted other comics’ acts to ask me not to write about it.

Also unfunny

The lack of improv, character or sketch comedy at JFL42.

glenns@nowtoronto.com | @glennsumi

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