Night of The Award Winners! Improv by David Shore, Janet Van De Graaff, Doug Morency, Lisa Merchant, guest monologist Ron Tite and more, Tuesday (June 15), 9 pm. $7.99. One-Man Harold performed by Shore, June 22, 9 pm. $10. Both at Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way). 416-343-0011. Rating: NNNNN
When Monkey Toast celebrates its first birthday, there will be no losers onstage. The city's Tuesday-night improv jam is marking 12 months of laughs with a show performed by a cast of bona fide award winners. "I wanted to do something special for the anniversary," explains host David Shore. "There's a total of 13 improvisors and among us, our awards include 22 Canadian Comedy Awards, a Dora and a Chalmers Award. One of us, Ron Tite, has even won an advertising award."
Shore brought the Monkey Toast format from L.A., where he learned it at the Improv Olympic West in L.A. It's better known in improv circles as the Armando, named after creator Armando Diaz.
In the two-act format, a guest monologist, in response to suggestions from the audience, tells stories from his or her life. After each story, a team of improvisors comes up with several scenes. Characters created in the first half can jump into scenes in the second half.
"The first time I saw it, I remember Rachel Dratch, now with Saturday Night Live, leaping onto the stage in the second act, and I had no idea what she was doing because I hadn't seen the first half," recalls Shore.
Because of the collaborative nature of the show, only the most skilled improvisors perform with each other. The lineup for the anniversary show reads like a who's who of the local improv community, and includes Janet Van De Graaff, Jane Luk, Doug Morency, Lisa Merchant, Dave Pearce, Kerry Griffin and Herbie Barnes.
"You can't let just anyone play," explains Shore, who regularly turns down comics, telling them bluntly they're not ready yet.
"If you're onstage you have to feel comfortable with who is up there. You have to know that someone's got your back."
Shore himself had to wait two years before he got asked to take part in the Armando in L.A. Other comics he remembers performing include Nia Vardalos, Ian Gomez, Andy Dick and Scott Thompson.
"People do it because it's fun," says Shore. "There's no money in it. Kevin Frank once said you make more money as a juggler."
The week after the anniversary show, Shore's presenting a One-Man Harold, a long-form, multi-character narrative work that usually involves a minimum of five performers. Shore hasn't attempted to do one in a few years.
"I'm terrified, but fear is a really good thing in improv."
And speaking of fear, is he ever afraid of what's going to come out of his mouth? Does he ever censor himself when telling his stories?
"I've talked about my parents being Holocaust survivors, talked about my obsessive-compulsive disorder," he says. "Nothing is taboo. But there's no bedroom stuff. Nothing about my girlfriend. Some things you know not to talk about."