ALT.comedy LOUNGE with Shaun Majumder, Kristeen von Hagen, Laurie Elliott, Jo-Anna Downey, Dave Martin, Perry Perlmutar, Winston Spear's shorts, Jennifer Robertson, Rodney Pentland and MC Pete Zedlacher, Monday (January 29) at 9 pm. Pwyc. The Rivoli (332 Queen West). 416-596-1908.
lorne perlmutar is afraid to
leave town. Seems like whenever the producer of the Rivoli's ALTdotCOMedy Lounge leaves the city, someone famous shows up to play the room or check out the action."I go to Edinburgh to a Fringe festival and Janeane Garofalo shows up," says Perlmutar. "I go to Los Angeles and Ellen De Generes drops by. Harland Williams, SNL's Will Ferrell, you name 'em... they come, I'm not here."
"So you gotta keep leaving," quips Winston Spear, one of the ALTdot regulars who's appearing in the showcase's fourth-anniversary show this Monday (January 29).
We're picking away at fries and dissecting the show's success at a way-too-crowded diner table a few buildings from the Riv -- you know the one. Ensconsed in the booth are Perlmutar, Spear, co-producer Zoë Randall and comics Laurie Elliott and Kristeen von Hagen, both also on the night's bill.
Everyone has a cellphone, and they all seem to go off simultaneously.
Actually, what's lured the Hollywood types hasn't been Perlmutar's absence. He's an engaging guy with a squeaky voice and 1,000-watt energy. In the four years since the show debuted with an audience of six -- it was early January, OK? -- word has spread throughout the comedy community that this is the place to check out cutting-edge work.
Just as it was years before, when the Kids in the Hall used to take over the Riv on Monday nights.
"There's an attitude among comics that if you have a new bit you think is weird, try it out at the ALTdot first," says von Hagen, whose Comedy NOW special airs soon.
Modelled after alternative comedy nights in Los Angeles and New York, the ALTdot isn't the place to find set-up punch jokes. There's a different rhythm here, more like theatrical cabaret, with sketch, monologues, video and stand-up.
Maybe the night's more cerebral. Maybe it's more sophisticated -- although, hey, Tom Green's played here (see sidebar). At any rate, the Comedy Network-sponsored show must be doing something right. It's already spawned a couple of imitators.
"The audience appreciates whatever twisty-turny edginess you have," says Elliott, the comic and member of sketch duo Kevlor 2000 who's graduated from newbie to stand-up to host within a couple of years. She just won the Tim Sims Encouragement Award for most promising young comic.
You want twisted? Elliott's first solo appearance, just over a year ago, featured a character named Texas Horned Lizzie.
"I was a cross between a Texas horned lizard that bleeds out of its eyes when threatened, and murderer Lizzie Borden," she explains. "I had this axe and hideous teeth, blood all around my eyes and this horn coming out of my head."
Spear, a headliner at more mainstream comedy clubs, remembers having trouble during a replacement-host gig understanding the club's vibe.
"It took me three or four times onstage to understand that the audience didn't like mainstream," he says.
Co-producer Randall says the show is easier to put together now. She and Perlmutar have learned what comedy styles work together, who works well with whom. Vulgar acts contrast well with clean ones, and sketch troupes work better in the first half, when the audience is more willing to go with something and, frankly, less drunk.
Still, there's always room for surprises, like when a T-shirt vendor walked onstage during a Sean Cullen set. The two sang together, the guy asked everyone if they wanted to buy shirts, and then left.
Heading into its fifth year, ALTdot is looking to expand its mandate slightly. They've recently begun holding the occasional all-new-material night, with comics given a topic two weeks before the show to deliver a few new minutes.
More and more, it seems the night's become a showcase for comedy fests like Aspen and Just For Laughs, or for movies and TV shows like SNL, all searching for new talent. A couple of months ago, someone from Adam Sandler's Web site was looking for acts.
Sandler didn't show up, but Perlmutar, known for running backstage after a comic has delivered a killer set, isn't in it for the fame. Or for the money. (Note the show's pay-what-you-can admission fee.) He gets turned on by discovering new talent, seeing a comic turn a corner in his or her work or try out something new.
"The comics are the ones who've taken the risk by choosing what they've been doing. We just provide a forum."
Now, if only Janeane Garofalo would come back.
Just before he hits it big, Tom Green stops by to do a set. Outside, 600 people are lined up. Backstage, fellow comic Jason Rouse downs two pitchers of diluted pea soup before the show so when Green puts his fingers down Rouse's throat he can puke on the front row easily.
Dave Foley shows up without warning, reluctantly goes onstage to do something "he wasn't allowed to do on Kids In The Hall" and, five minutes into his impromptu set, can't remember the ending. The audience doesn't care. They laugh so hard they cry.Ellen De Generes calls the ALT.COMedy office one Monday and asks if they can round up some performers she's heard about. The lucky comics? Gavin Crawford, Jennifer Irwin and Shaun Majumder.Janeane Garofalo is in town and announces on a local radio station that she's going to drop by the Lounge. The bill includes Kristeen von Hagen and Jessica Holmes. Von Hagen stumbles with the mike, to which Garofalo says, "Nice mike technique." And Holmes, when she gets a compliment from Garofalo, says, "You know, I think you and I are going to be the next Shelley Long-Bette Midler duo." GS
Dave Foley shows up without warning, reluctantly goes onstage to do something "he wasn't allowed to do on Kids In The Hall" and, five minutes into his impromptu set, can't remember the ending. The audience doesn't care. They laugh so hard they cry.