CREAM OF COMEDY 10th ANNIVERSARY GALA at the Masonic Temple Concert Hall (888 Yonge), Saturday (November 18) at 8 pm. $20. 1-888-222-6608, www.timsims.com. Rating: NNNNN
Powerhouse producers Lindsay Leese and Julianne Baragar know how to show us the funny - and the money.
Leese is the founder/director of the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund and executive producer of the Cream Of Comedy Awards. The winner, named Saturday, gets to create a short film for the Comedy Network - and goes home $4,000 richer.
"It's not the Giller Award, but it's still significant," says Leese over coffee at a Danforth restaurant.
At Baragar's Sketch Comedy Festival (produced with Paul Snepsts, one of her Boiled Wiener sketch colleagues), prizes include performing at a Best Of The Fest Encore Show on November 24 - and getting paid for it.
"That was our number-one rule when we set out," says Baragar. None of the American festivals pays a dime.
"I don't mean to get heavy, but it's respectful, you know?" says Leese, sounding like someone who hasn't always received tons of respect for her hard work. "Because these people are artists."
"They're emerging professionals," chimes in Baragar. "They don't look like it if they're serving bar to make ends meet, but they are, so let's throw them a bone."
Leese's bone, the Cream Of Comedy awards show, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a gala show at the Masonic Temple. It's come a long way.
"When this started, there was a very clear division between stand-up, sketch, clown and improvisation. This was the one thing that said, 'This is for everybody in comedy.'"
The award also sends an important message to struggling comics. "Basically, we're saying, 'Keep on going, we think you're great, we think you've got real potential.'"
Last year's champ, Jeff McEnery, followed up his win by also snagging Yuk Yuk's $25,000 Great Canadian Laugh Off prize. (See page 84 for this year's nominees.)
Leese launched the award in tribute to her husband, the late, great Second City actor Tim Sims. His death united local comics, who raised $7,000 for a fund, which Andrew Alexander at the Second City matched.
"It was such a collective community creation, and continues to be one," says Leese.
When The Second City relocated from Lombard to Blue Jays Way, Alexander christened the smaller cabaret space the Tim Sims Playhouse. Last year's loss of the space has affected the community. "It's sad," sighs Leese. "It became a hub for comedy."
Baragar misses it, too. "From the sketch perspective, that was one of the only stages in the city where you could put on a show and actually look as good as you are."
For its second year running, SketchFest takes over the Gladstone. "We modify the space to make it work," explains Baragar. The 29 competing troupes range from local faves the Williamson Playboys and the Imponderables to New York's Drop Six and L.A.'s Keilly & Roeters.
After watching hours of audition tapes, Baragar sees a developing trend. "Comics are caring a lot about what their performance looks like. People are working with theatre and comedy directors now."
"Awesome!" says Leese. "That's always been my personal beef about sketch troupes, that they don't get directed."
Both of them see the role of women in the biz changing.
"There's much more opportunity for women to define themselves," says Leese. "Onstage, they're no longer just the girlfriend, the wife, the slut, the whore or the nut."
Offstage, meanwhile, many women are becoming producers.
"Which is great, as long as women don't fall into the role of simply supporting the male comics," says Baragar. "I see that happening in theatre. There are a lot of women producers and general managers, but most of the artistic directors are men. Producer ends up being that nurturing role."
"And the organized one," laughs Leese, who adds after a pause, "I'm glad to know you're a producer. I'm always looking for producers."
"Well," says Baragar, "I'm always looking for work in comedy."