Everything's cyclical. A few years ago, improv was hot. Then sketch. Then "alt" sketch. Now stand-up's making a big return, Michael Richards's idiotic ravings notwithstanding. Maybe in these uncertain political times, the sound of one authoritative voice making sense of the world is what we need.
1 ALEX NUSSBAUM (Yuk Yuk's Downtown, January 20, early show)
Nussbaum, blessed with bug eyes and an elastic ectomorphic body, has always been a nimble physical comic. But as he demonstrated at this late set, he's also capable of finding the funny in seemingly incongruous things: A Clockwork Orange and politics; priests and vegans. We'll miss his lateral-thinking humour when he heads off to L.A. Come back soon and often, okay?
2 KNOCK KNOCK. WHO'S THERE? COMEDY!/SCOTT THOMPSON (Rivoli, December 10)
Thompson blew the lid off the Michael Richards N-word rant with a gut-bustingly funny parody. But best was KKWTC's multimedia responses to their "Christmas letters," including webcams of Santa and Mrs. Claus that added new meaning to the phrase "milk and cookies." The clever and confident troupe - proof yet again that nerds rule - send up comedy conventions better than anyone else around.
3 GIRL'S SCHOOL (Diesel Playhouse, October 27)
Elvira Kurt , Dawn Whitwell and a dozen or so of the best female comics in the country (plus a few American guests) sold out the Diesel in a show that kept on giving - literally. The thing lasted hours. Host Kurt's ongoing routine about audience members was spot on, ditto her physical bit about skipping out on her partner and new child. As for the finale, two words: gem sweater.
4 WINSTON SPEAR (Laugh Resort, September 22, early show)
Here's an alt comic so original, you can't imagine his words being delivered by anyone else. His opening dance number shouldn't have worked but did; same for his Bollywood routine. But it's those surreal quick hits, delivered like an AM radio DJ who's just about to crack, that endear him to you.
5 JON DORE (Yuk Yuk's Downtown, December 1, late show)
Dore's angry, full-of-himself stage presence is a few notes away from totally obnoxious. But his gags, often about misdirection, kill nearly every time, and if they fail he'll blame you for not getting them. At this beautifully paced show, the Can Idol sidekick drew the audience in with his faux sincerity and then unleashed a series of zingers, some quick and dirty, others drawn out like mini-sketches.
6 THE NELLIE OLESONS (We're Funny That Way Festival, Buddies in Bad Times, May 25)
Host Maggie Cassella said it all when she admitted that this queer Manhattan trio (two gay guys and a token straight woman) made her uncomfortable, a good quality for cutting-edge comedy. Their satiric targets were fresh and nastily delivered: Ann Coulter, gay parenting and - way out in left field - a reworking of The Miracle Worker with Norma Desmond. Twisted.
7 RUSSELL PETERS (Toronto Centre for the Arts, February 17, early show)
Brampton's Great Brown Hope, now in L.A. and coming soon to a sitcom near you, is so popular, he can sell out enormous halls like this. There's a loss of intimacy, sure, but during the first of two sold-out shows, Peters proved he can riff on any cultural stereotype. Worth it, if only to see his delivery of his since-retired Somebody joke and the note-perfect opening set (loved the creamer line) by Debra DiGiovanni .
8 MONKEY TOAST (Drake Underground, November 12)
David Shore 's biweekly improv show remains the most eclectic - and informative - comedy night around. You learn and you laugh. This year's high-profile interview guests included NOW editor/publisher Michael Hollett , who planted the seeds for some bizarro scenes; Kerry Griffin as a doomsayer butterfly; Lisa Merchant as a child-killing non-recycler; Naomi Snieckus as a one-eyed alien - all insane yet grounded in authentic details.
9 YUK YUK'S GREAT CANADIAN LAUGH-OFF (Yuk Yuk's Downtown, February 12)
Jeff McEnery , Acton's second-most-famous export, claimed this $25,000 prize with his disarmingly candid observations about his rural background and current sad single state. Runner-up was another original act, perkily gay ex-farmer Trevor Boris . Two comics you'll be hearing a lot from in years to come.
10 KEILLY & ROETERS (Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, November 18)
This L.A. duo fashioned their Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival set as a series of nine boxing rounds, each one chronicling some aspect of single-woman rivalry. They punched up even the most familiar scenarios - girls talking on the phone about guys, bridesmaid woes. And their final bit, a nod to a notorious YouTube clip, cleverly sent up their own attempts at self-exploitation.
Nathan Fielder; Holly Pratzoff; Jeffrey Yu; Dana Alexander
BEST PLACE TO SEE LOCAL COMICS BITCH ABOUT POP CULTURE
MuchMusic's Video On Trial
BEST COMEDY TREND
I have no problem with the Diesel Playhouse taking over the former Second City building. But did that mean the Tim Sims Playhouse had to disappear?
STAN'S NOT THE MAN
Watching middle-aged comics like Stan Thompson try to sell tired old unfunny material to a group of teenagers at Yuk Yuk's (July 21) was an unintentional horror show.
GET A WATCH, PEOPLE
Everyone knows they don't have to be there when the doors open. But shows that begin 30 minutes to an hour after start time are just plain rude. At least throw in an opening act.