Women rule. Just take a look at the number of women on this list -- not just in the top two spots but in more collaborative forms like sketch and improv. That's a pretty big deal, especially since guys still outnumber women in comedy clubs.
1 MARGARET CHO: ASSASSIN (Massey Hall, March 10) It's amazing how politics can fuel anger and comedy. Cho took her show's title seriously and assassinated the GOP and the religious right with smart, perfectly timed zingers. Taken mostly from her pre-election Swing States tour, the material was pointed and fresh, from her clever observations about Bush's fear of women's sexuality to her hilarious speculation about why Dick Cheney keeps his lesbian daughter out of the spotlight. The catty impersonations -- of Ziyi Zhang and Bjork -- were fun, too. Cho hasn't been this relaxed onstage in years.
2 NIKKI PAYNE (Yuk Yuk's Downtown, December 4) Payne's act shouldn't work. It's crude (she airfucks anything onstage) and, because of her slight speech impediment, a little hard to hear. When she first appeared on the stand-up scene, I was skeptical. But she's been on this list for three consecutive years. Her energetic headlining set at Yuk's showed off her strongest material -- trailer park background, speech therapy classes, bowel movement problems -- and gave us some new bits, too. Payne capitalized on a recent news item about the "sex insomniac" and showed off her improv skills with two front-row audience members. In a biz full of copycats, she's an original.
3 MONKEY TOAST (the Drake, December 11) David Shore 's biweekly show has been running for a couple of years now, and it's one of the smartest concepts around. Shore, or a fill-in, interviews a guest, and throughout the night a group of improvisers riffs on elements from the interview. The recent show about conspiracies featured guest Nelson Thall (of Cloakanddagger.ca), with an ace team of comics ( Peter Oldring , Lisa Merchant , Aurora Browne , Paul Constable , Jen Goodhue and Jack Mosshammer ) conjuring up material about mysterious cash boxes, world leaders as high school students and chemical trails on TTC streetcars. The pay-what-you-can show -- taped earlier this year for a CBC radio pilot -- is the best comedy deal in town.
4 WOMEN FULLY CLOTHED (the Winter Garden, May 27 and November 25) Although the target audience for this show was women over 30, the sketches were so well crafted and impeccably performed, anyone could, and did, relate to them. Whether we were watching the five writer/performers ( Robin Duke , Jayne Eastwood , Kathryn Greenwood , Debra McGrath and Teresa Pavlinek ) singing about braving their yearly mammogram with dignity or trying to fit into clothes that were too young for them, this was first-rate comedy based on character and situation. For anyone who saw the show during its two runs, some sketches have lodged in memory. I won't ever be able to think about annoying sales clerks, Susanna Moodie or extended calls with my mom in quite the same way again.
5 ROMAN DANYLO (the Laugh Resort, December 2, late show) The best stand-ups can work any room. Late one Friday in front of a small and not-too-enthusiastic crowd (except for the giggly guy who seemed to have ingested some chemical), Danylo proved he belongs with the country's best. He can do anything: clever observational stuff, impressions, physical bits and even improv. His comic comparisons are without equal.
6 SASS AND THE CITY (Bad Dog Theatre, February 4) Even non-fans of the HBO series laughed over this improvised take on the lives of four women navigating single-womanhood in T.O. The show was so polished and the performers so in-the-moment that I was convinced much of the show was scripted. My mistake -- these girls are quick. Lauren Ash , Sarah Buski , Jan Caruana and Rica Eckersley turned up the heat during the dead of winter, and made the single people in the audience dread the upcoming Valentine's Day a little bit less. Subsequent shows were way sold out.
7 JON DORE (Yuk Yuk's Downtown, December 9 late show) Unimpressed with Dore's sidekick antics on Canadian Idol, I was hugely impressed by his cocky, confident hosting duties in front of a rowdy crowd during Mike Wilmot 's feature night. Wilmot was as crude as ever, and Kenny Robinson delivered some of the best political comedy of the year. But Dore and his onstage persona -- best described as an insincere know-it-all -- ruled the night. His routine about forgetting his material was theatrical comedy at its very best.
8 RYAN BELLEVILLE (the Laugh Resort, January 8 late show) A Belleville feature set isn't a guaranteed thing. More than once I've seen him lose focus and stumble. But on this freezing night in January, helped by the solid hosting of Debra DiGiovanni and warm-up acts that included the always reliable Adam Growe , Belleville triumphed. Living in L.A. has sharpened his material about U.S./Canada differences. He can stretch out a joke with asides, visual flourishes and audience interaction like no one else. 9 JOHNNY LUNCHPAIL (Toronto Improv Festival, August 19) Clad in dark blue industrial shirts, this quartet from New Yawk have a working-class look to match their guy-on-the-street name. Yet their improv comedy is anything but common. They've got a terrific sense of structure and visual play, mapping out scenes physically so they come alive for an audience. At their standout set at the summer's Toronto Improv Festival, they took us on a rough boat trip, into a haunted condominium and introduced us to a forklift operator with a thing for crushing people. They capped it off with a song about a mechanic that was hilariously well-lubed.
10 MARK FORWARD (Yuk Yuk's Downtown, November 25, late show) Forward comes off as a nasty, half-crazed (maybe it's those dimples) 10-year-old who's getting back at the audience. Like Jason Rouse, he makes us laugh at our own middle-class hypocrisies. When the audience reacted strongly to a homeless joke, he yelled back, "Fuck you -- you were all at the soup kitchen, weren't ya?" Whether he was regaling us with stories about his post-Guinness-drinking bowel movements or his puerile rage at the supermarket, he got the biggest laughs of the night.
Last year's Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award winner, Katie Crown , made a terrific appearance at this year's Cream Of Comedy awards ceremony. When host Jon Dore asked her how she'd spent the $3,500 prize money, Crown - her chest filled out enormously - simply smiled and advised people to "Stay true to yourself" and "Respect yourself." Brilliant.