Cast departures on the Second City mainstage are inevitable but a little sad, especially when those leaving are as talented as Nigel Downer and Jason DeRosse, two of my favourite clowns.
Downer is the master physical comic, able to get laughs even without speaking, as in his baseball sketch from Dreams Really Do Come True! (And Other Lies). He's always in the moment for his improvised bits - like his classic kindergarten teacher at a spoken word open mic bit from We've Totally (Probably) Got This. DeRosse is one of the most naturally gifted sketch and improv comics in the city, fully inhabiting his characters and willing to do almost anything for a laugh, like let it all hang out for his classic sketch in Live Wrong And Prosper, where he thinks he's going to get some hot sex and ends up thrown out into the audience.
Tonight (Tuesday, June 18), after their final performance of The Meme-ing Of Life, the pair will be joined at 9:55 pm by past and present cast members to reprise some of their favourite sketches.
Before leaving, I decided to ask them some exit questions.
All-time favourite sketch (and why)?
Downer: Ass Camp. Alastair Forbes and I found a really physical scene out of improv one night. It's exactly how it sounds. Asses and camping. I don't know why it didn't make it into the show. Asses. Camping. Right?! Whatever.
DeRosse: What I loved about my fave scenes was that they would make me and whoever I was doing it with either say something (Affair), genuinely laugh (Vietnam, Weight), truly cry beneath the laughter (Cemetery, Old Dad) or have just dumb fun (Horse Cops, Grass Is Greener).
What will you miss most about Second City?
DeRosse: The family of people I worked with - and the pay cheque. They paid me to be with this family. Or "shit in shit" drinks (ask whoever's bartending).
Downer: The undying and nonjudgmental support for your stupid jokes and backstage antics by your cast members.
What won't you miss?
DeRosse: The Ghost of Melfort. He's a legendary naked ghost that haunts the Second City theatre. Okay, I lied. I'll miss him, too.
Downer: Seeing Jason's naked body. But we're good friends outside of Second City, so I'm sure I haven't seen that last of that yet. Damn.
If the bar could name a drink after you, what would be in it?
DeRosse: It already exists: The JDR. Lager and Clamato. It's absurd, so kind of fitting.
Downer: They already have. It's called a "Hollywood" (beer, vodka and lemonade). I have no plans to go to Hollywood.
Reaction to recently getting a Dora Award nomination?
DeRosse: Amazed. Being in comedic theatre, it's a world that we don't always get exposed to. So it is more than flattering and extremely appreciated. Plus we get to go to the awards and get drunk.
Downer: Stoked. I get to say I'm a Dora Award nominee! This is great for my American visa application. Can't wait to get to Hollywood.
If you could come up with a witty Second City-style title for your time there, what would it be?
DeRosse: Anything's Impossible! Or anything about jetpacks or hobos, because I pitched these names a lot, mainly to get in scenes that featured jetpacks and/or hobos. It never worked. Jetpacked Hobos would be a wicked scene, though.
Downer: Facial Physicality or Blood, Sweat and Online Gears of War.
Advice to new mainstage members?
DeRosse: My advice to new mainstage members is: "Don't give new members advice, it makes you look like a dick." Make sure you have at least 30 premises on Day One. Oh, and enjoy it, it's the best time you'll have, if you let it.
Downer: The reason why you were hired is the reason you're there. Do that, and then become greater.
SC performers have a long history of appearing in TV commercials after leaving mainstage. What product would you like to sell - and what would your character be?
DeRosse: Are there commercials for jetpacks yet?
Downer: Face cream to keep your youth and elasticity. I'd sell it as me, because I seem to have gotten really good at facial expressions. It doesn't translate to this medium, but I'm making a face right now.
Favourite surprise guest?
DeRosse: My fave was when the Candy family came to watch the show two nights in a row. The worst was when the audience pimped me into playing Martin Short on stage and I went off and had for about 2 or 3 minutes, only to find out he was in the audience. He was a tremendous class act when he came backstage.
Downer: Jack McBrayer. He's EXACTLY like Kenneth on 30 Rock.
Most awkward audience-participation moment?
DeRosse: In the Vietnam sketch we got tons of awkward funny moments because we asked the audience member to reveal an embarrassing experience from real life. The best was when a guy named Ace revealed that when he lost his virginity the girl never felt it.
Downer: In The Meme-ing of Life, we open with a church like sermon singling out a couple audience members to say "hello" to someone sitting beside them. I say, "Ma'am (or sir) can you please say hello to the woman (or man) sitting beside you?" One night, I pointed at an audience member who looked pretty androgynous. Within seconds I shifted my point and my comment to another audience member who I could tell what sex they were, and asked them to say "hello" to someone else. I thought I was in the clear. But the audience member could tell that I bailed on my decision.
Downer: More commercials! I'll take the plunge and jump into the TV and film world, too. I'm not scared. And more comic book store visits. Love me some comics!
DeRosse: Sleep. Or wake up from this beautiful drea-... Nope, sleep. Definitely sleep.