todd's lunch almost lost it this summer.Picture this. While touring the Fringe circuit, the sketch troupe gets stopped at the U.S. border and is forced to clear out their van. Soon, a customs officer waves an empty bag found in a pair of their jeans that smells suspiciously like pot.
"Before we know it, he comes at us with a rubber glove and some lube," says Gary Rideout Jr. "He says, "We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way.'"
Ouch. Almost as bad as that single-star review they got in Winnipeg. Well, maybe it'll make a good bit in a future sketch.
It would fit. After all, the hilarious and bizarrely named troupe -- the title refers to one of Rideout's childhood friend's miserly hosting habits -- tends to take on surreal stuff.
"We'll take a left turn when we should probably take a right," says Tal Zimerman. "Instead of making a Crocodile Hunter joke we'll do a Ghost Dad joke. I mean, does the world really need another Crocodile Hunter joke?"
Together for nearly two years -- they met in the Humber Comedy School -- Todd's Lunch have prepared their off-centre sketch at venues like the Rivoli and Second City.
They're known for playing characters, then commenting on the scenes while playing themselves. Their running gags as themselves tend to form a through-line.
Some people call it meta-theatre, postmodern. They just call it fun.
"We don't think about it so much," says Pat Thornton. "If it makes us laugh, we'll do it."
Last June they gambled on a full-length musical, Todd's Lunch: The Musical, a big, blue and ballsy parody.
In it, the troupe splits up when a shady agent lures Thornton to L.A. Cue the B-movie clichés: a trip to Vegas, gangsters, prostitution. And a touch of the surreal, like an appearance by director "Steven Spielberg," and an ongoing cameo by local anchorman Gord Martinhole from Shitty TV.
"Citytv anchor Gord Martineau decided not to sue," says Rideout, seriously. "Do we dislike Citytv? No. Do we love the word "shitty'? Hell, yeah."
Incredibly, the show sold out many performances and earned the troupe enough money and confidence to recast the show and remount it, beginning this week.
They're hoping to attract more people this time around, including potential producers. They've handed out flyers to The Lion King audiences -- with the tagline, "Less lions, more funny" -- and sent a gift basket to the Mirvishes.
After their cross-country Fringe experience, they've learned a thing or two about marketing.
"One of our earliest posters said our show was banned in 75,000 countries," and lots of people in Thunder Bay actually came up and asked us if there really were 75,000 countries," laughs Zimerman.
"Oh yeah, we learned that all Montrealers hate Toronto," says Rideout. "The next time we go there we're going to say we're from New Brunswick."
Avid fans of Mr. Show, Saturday Night Live and films by the Farrelly brothers and South Park's creators, the troupe don't mind being known for their dumb, silly humour.
"The Farrellys showed us that you can be totally juvenile but be cute and have a large audience," says Zimerman. "Not that I'm cute. Or am I?"
"No, I'm the cute one," quips Thornton.
"And in our work there's always a heavy meta piece that lets you know what we're doing is intentional," says Zimerman. "We're not as dumb as we present ourselves. It's just a device.
"If you make it seem like you're below the audience, you can get away with almost anything."firstname.lastname@example.org
TODD'S LUNCH: THE MUSICAL written and performed by Todd's Lunch (Tal Zimerman, Pat Thornton and Gary Rideout Jr.) at the Poor Alex Theatre (296 Brunswick). Runs to February 2, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 3 pm. $20. 416-923-1644.