Unckey Darryl's House of Sketchola written and performed by Sarah Buski , Jan Caruana , Darryl Dinn , Rica Eckersley , Jason Gemmill and Greg Komorowski . Presented by Bad Dog Theatre (138 Danforth). Tonight (Thursday January 27) at 8 pm. $8. 416-491-3115.
Sass & The City written and performed by Lauren Ash , Sarah Buski , Jan Caruana and Rica Eckersley . Presented by Fox Force Five at Bad Dog Theatre. February 4 to 25, Fridays at 10 pm. $10. 416-491-3115.
Jan Caruana is totally fetch. If you watched last year's clever teen-queen comedy Mean Girls, you'll get that expression. Caruana played Emma Lynn Gerber, a secret eater, blissfully occupying a pretty low rung on the social ladder.
But while Lindsay Lohan and her posse of A-list friends got most of the attention - and lines - if you put them on a comedy stage Caruana would blow their anorexic asses away.
Not that she'd do that in real life. Improv comedy is all about teamwork. You're only as good as your weakest performer.
"I'm so used to being one link in a really strong chain, so it feels a bit weird now not having four other people around me to bounce stuff off," begins Caruana over coffee.
She should get used to the attention. Poll anyone leaving, say, Bad Dog Theatre, where she co-hosts their Wednesday night Midweek Mayhem comedy night, guests on their Mainstage weekend shows and appears tonight in the monthly Unckey Darryl's House Of Sketchola, and I guarantee everyone would remember her.
A key to her appeal, in a way, can be found in her last name, pronounced Car-wanna, emphasis on the wanna.
She proudly shows her wants and needs onstage, a quality that always raises a scene's stakes. Nothing beats seeing her bite into a scene, mischievous glint in her eyes, coyly offering a premise or line and then seeing who takes it up. When her partner is another terrific improvisor, like Slap Happy's Dave Pearce or Kerry Griffin, you're in for some twisted fun.
"Improv rocks because you can be anyone and do anything," she says. "Listen, I'm never going to get cast in a movie as a 13-year-old cheerleader, but give me a three minute improv scene and I'm there."
Recent memorable Caruana on-the-spot creations have included a Wal-Mart happy face, a drunk bridesmaid in a mint green dress and - in a spoof on A Christmas Carol - a neurotic Ghost of Christmas Present who desperately wants to get pregnant.
As with a lot of performers, comic or otherwise, Caruana - who studied drama at U of T/Sheridan and worked professionally with Vinetta Strombergs in one of her first professional gigs - enjoys hiding behind characters. She'll frequently throw in an accent, don a wig or garish outfit to retreat even further.
"Sure, one of the joys of doing this is you get to say things you can't in everyday life," she laughs. "It accesses that naughty part of you. You can play someone that not everyone will like. The idea, then, is that I'm not saying these things, I'm crying because my character is crying, not because I'm sad. It's not me doing this, because I'm saying it in an Irish brogue."
Still, Caruana has enormous empathy with her characters. It's one of the qualities that emerges from Joey Poon, the character-based improv duo she forms with Sarah Buski. Their characters range from plaid-skirted foul-mouthed Catholic school girls Brittany and Brandy to perpetually drunk bridesmaids Joanie and Mercedes to bespectacled small-town ladies Ruth and Betty.
"We sometimes like to think of them as these different stages in a person's life," says Caruana. "You start out as these randy teens who are exploring things about the world and themselves, then you become these hammered women in their 20s, and finally you end up old but hopefully still have the same friend you started out with."
Take a close look and beneath the confident clown you see onstage, that shy Etobicoke grade 10 student is in there somewhere. So it's not surprising that in Sass And The City, the upcoming Bad Dog improvised take on the HBO TV series, she's playing the prim Charlotte York-type character.
"I'm playing the wholesome girl who's a little bit uptight," she says, "which has nothing to do with what I'm really like." She pauses here. "Um, please feel free to write down, 'Tiger in the sack. '"
The fact that she's physically bigger than the other three women (Buski, Lauren Ash and Rica Eckersley) in the show initially made her pause.
"I wondered, 'Are people going to buy me in this role?' And then I thought, 'Fuck it. I'm going to work it. '"
In her three and a half years of doing improv, she's never made her weight an issue, onstage or off.
"That's another great thing about improv and theatre. There's room for all different types of people. I've never made fun of myself for any reason. You need self-respect to do what we do. How can you have that if you're out there saying, 'Hey, my ass is huge, isn't that hilarious?' Any performer has to be able to say, 'Listen up, people. What I have to say is worth hearing.'
"Whether it's a dumb joke or being Nora in A Doll's House, you've got to present it clearly and loudly. Otherwise, nobody's going to care."
Improv and sketch are group sports, and Jan Caruana regularly rubs shoulders with some of the best players in the city. Here are four up-and-coming comics wholl be scoring laughs with her this week.
SARAH BUSKI (Unckey Darryl's House Of Sketchola; Sass & The City) - In the improv character comedy duo Joey Poon , Buski is the yin to Caruana's yang (or, gee, maybe it's the other way around). They scored big laughs as the Drunk Bridesmaids at last summer's Improv Fest, so it's not such a big step - even in Manolo knockoffs - to the cocktail-swilling Sass & The City quartet.
LAUREN ASH (Sass & The City) - One of the brightest lights in the Second City Tourco (can the Mainstage cast be far away?), Ash impressed last year with her work in the sketch show Cory! In it, she and partner Leslie Seiler proved that women can be as raunchy and outrageous as men. Good prep for a Samantha Jones-style character?
RICA ECKERSLEY (Sass & The City) - Eckersley's name shows up so often at Bad Dog Theatre, she might as well be a resident performer. She's a regular in the sold-out Hairy Patter improv shows, where she gets to use her great pipes to sing one kick-ass song medley weekly.
DARRYL DINN (Unckey Darryl's House Of Sketchola) - I first saw Dinn with Caruana spoofing Broadway shows in the now defunct musical improv troupe the Lamb Chops . Now he's wickedly funny, top-hat-wearing Unckey Darryl in the monthly sketch show, showing off his performance style that often drips with camp. Best of all, Dinn always seems to be having a good time, which rubs off on the audience.