Slap Happy’s Kerry Griffin travels Barack To The Future.
BARACK TO THE FUTURE Directed by Bruce Pirrie, written and performed by Marty Adams, Kerry Griffin, Darryl Hinds, Reid Janisse, Karen Parker and Leslie Seiler. Presented by the Second City (51 Mercer). Now in previews, opens Wednesday (August 6) for an indefinite run, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, late Saturday show 10:30 pm, Sunday 7 pm. $23-$28. 416-343-0011.
You may recognize the newest addition to the Second City main-?stage company as the dad from last year's Canadian Tire commercials. Or perhaps you'll know him as the market researcher from the Diamond Shreddies campaign or the ironically cute face of depression for the Canadian Mental Health Association. With his Kevin Spacey-ish everyday-middle-?aged-guy looks, Kerry Griffin is easily cast.
"I generally play characters that are grounded in reality, that people can relate to and go, ‘Okay, that's a real guy having to deal with something really outrageous going on around him,' " says the veteran improviser backstage at the Second City during a break from rehearsals for the its 62nd revue, Barack To The Future.
Griffin's ability to elicit gales of laughter as the straight man was a major reason the show's director and producer, Bruce Pirrie and Klaus Schuller, decided to add the three-?time Canadian Comedy Award winner (with improv troupe Slap Happy) and long-?time fixture in the city's improv scene to its cast.
With his understated style, the company's latest member fills the void left by fellow nice-?guy actor Jim Annan (who left in May) and balances out larger-?than-?life character actors like Marty Adams and Karen Parker.
"Everybody is coming from different places in life," explains Griffin. "A few of the cast members are married, Reid [Janisse] has a kid, and others have just gone through break-?ups, so we bring different points of view."
And what does the 38-?year-old Griffin bring? "I'm the oldest, so I suppose I bring a slightly different outlook on life," he says, pausing for effect. "I'm a little more bitter and jaded."
The comment, of course, is a joke. Despite teaching at the Second City's training centre for almost a decade, Griffin had long given up on performing professionally with the company and was fairly satisfied with his career before this latest job.
"I understudied with the touring company 10 years ago but got pushed aside for whatever reason," he says. "I thought the Second City wasn't my path, so I just kept doing my own thing in the improv world."
That thing included performing alongside Dave Pearce, Tabetha Wells and fellow Second City alumnus Sandy Jobin-?Bevins in Slap Happy and working as an associate producer at the Bad Dog Theatre. Griffin has been a staple of dozens of improvised shows at the Bad Dog, including the long-?running Inside The Out-Of-Work Actors Studio.
Still, for an improviser used to making stuff up and then forgetting about it as soon as a show is over, helping create a professional sketch revue has been an intense change.
"The biggest difference is the amount of work and rehearsal and writing that goes into it," says Griffin. "That idea of taking a scene you improvised and trying it again, reshaping it and mapping out the beats, is pretty different from most of my experiences."
Griffin may continue to play unthreatening characters in Barack To The Future, but he says audiences shouldn't expect his performances to be watered down.
"There's a lot of edgy stuff," he says, like a scene called Too Far ("the name says it all").
Promising to be more high-?energy and in-?your-?face than previous revues, Barack To The Future also marks the company's return to sketches with more political commentary.
"I think what Barack Obama brings to the U.S. and to the world is a sense of hope, of change, of new attitudes and new beliefs," says Griffin.
This optimism, he says, is reflected onstage. "Even with all the dark stuff we're doing, the show seems to have an odd sense of hope, people hoping to find relationships or overcome obstacles or be successful at whatever they do."
As for Griffin, he hopes older audiences at the Second City will relate to him. "I bring a nice balding maturity," he says. "I'm someone they can look at and say, ‘There's a guy with a big bald spot. There's a guy who looks like he's been through some life.' "