LAUGH SABBATH ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY SHOW with Rebecca Addelman, Michael Balazo, Brian Barlow, Adam Brodie, Katie Crown, Dave Derewlany, Aaron Eves, Nathan Fielder, Chris Locke, Levi MacDougall, Kathleen Phillips, Tim Polley, Paul Schuck, Graham Wagner and more. At the Rivoli (332 Queen West). Sunday (July 29), 9 pm (doors 8:30 pm). $5. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
There's something adorable about Chris Locke's laugh. It's the sort of suppressed giggle that you share with your closest friends or your favourite sibling/ally - especially when you've gotten away with something behind your teacher's, boss's or parent's back.
That silly sound totally sums up what Laugh Sabbath is all about. You'll hear it a lot when Locke and Aaron Eves co-host the weekly Sunday-night show's first anniversary at the Rivoli.
If you're a comedy fan, you likely already know about Laugh Sabbath, which features four different shows a month, including the Brian Barlow-hosted Loner Show of short monologues and The Talent Show, a mix of music and sketch (usually) by the Distractions and Knock Knock. (Who's There?) Comedy!
Distractions member and stand-up Levi MacDougall says the anniversary show will feature pretty much everyone who's ever been on a Laugh Sabbath stage.
"Except for Robin Williams," adds Locke, referring to Williams's impromptu appearance during a Loner Show.
A look at the night's lineup is impressive. Pretty much everyone's been nominated at one point or another for the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award; two, MacDougall and Katie Crown, have even won.
Just don't expect traditional sketch artists or stand-ups. There'll be no brick wall, stool and comic wearing jeans and a blazer talking about airplane food.
"We try out new stuff all the time, and we've developed an audience that wants to see something new," says Locke, who often performs with Barlow in the comedy duo the Gurg.
The Laugh Sabbath comics practise a style of comedy that's popular everywhere. In New York there's the Crash Test show that's part of the Upright Citizens Brigade. In L.A. there's the Comedy Death Ray show. In Britain, Steve Coogan's TV shows work that same silly, warped sense of humour.
"What we're missing in Toronto is a late-night talk show to use all the talent," says MacDougall. "Even Conan O'Brien does some silly and absurd stuff that could be called alternative."
Oops. There it is - the "A" word. At least I didn't say it first.
"It's a mixed blessing," says MacDougall. "It helps distinguish you from everything else out there. But it might also sound experimental or like performance theatre, which can be intimidating."
"The kind of comedy we do," elaborates Locke, "is similar to stuff out there in books, TV and movies. A mainstream Will Ferrell movie can be filled with surrealism. The comedy we like is when people say yes to their silly instincts."
For instance, Barlow hosts his monthly Loner Show as a different character each time out. Some of his personas have included Papa Propa and the Blow Job Mime.
"Papa Propa is Canada's oldest living prop comic," explains Barlow. "And the Blow Job Mime ends each scene with a mime blow job. He'll open up a window and then give a blow job to someone. Or he'll open up an invisible box and give a blow job to whatever's inside."
If there's another thing that defines these alt acts, it's an ability to have fun in the moment. Often, the funniest stuff happens when the comics run into surprises. During the recent Fringe Festival, Barlow encountered a tech problem as part of the Loner Show. A DVD didn't work, and those little bars went across the screen saying the disc was loading. Barlow was hosting as someone named Mr. Weird, a former Sony employee who had got divorced and decided to just be weird all the time.
"Someone shouted out that he thought Mr. Weird was supposed to be funny," says Barlow. "I said, 'This is fun! You can pretend the bars are food!' And I put my mouth near bars so they moved into my mouth."
If they hate the word so much, is there an "alternative" word for alternative?
"Maybe we'd prefer," says Locke, with that inimitable giggle, "to be called the 'new vanguard of modern comedy.'"
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Locke on getting comedy out on the Internet:
MacDougall and Locke on the explosion of comedy videos: