NSFW (NOT SAFE FOR WORK) as part of the SKETCHCOMEDY LOUNGE hosted by Jared Sales and Tal Zimerman, w/ guests Claire Brosseau, Brian Barlow and Gary Rideout Jr. At the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Tuesday (August 28), at 9 pm (doors 8:30 pm). Pwyc. 416-596-1908, www.sketchcomedylounge.com.
FADE TO BROWN w/ Shawn Ahmed, Jessie Gabe, Amish Patel, Daniel Stolfi and Raehan Bobby Umar. At the Panasonic (651 Yonge), Friday (August 24), at 7 pm. $20. 416-870-8000, www.fadetobrown.com. Rating: NNNNN
What we find funny keeps on changing with the times. Not that you'd know that from all the tired sitcoms and stale acts cluttering the airwaves and comedy stages.
Two comedy shows happening this week couldn't have existed here 10, even five years ago. But they tell you a ton about the world we live in today. And - most important - they're funny.
Take NSFW, for instance. An acronym for Not Safe For Work, it's a monthly show at the Rivoli hosted by Jared Sales and Tal Zimerman consisting of 25 viral videos, a few comedy guests and some clever between-vid commentary.
The often low-rez videos, mostly cribbed from YouTube and projected onto a screen, are the stars of the show. What's unusual is that we're viewing them in a public space and laughing with other people.
"You usually watch these things alone at home at midnight," says co-host Zimerman, a member of sketch troupe the Sketchersons and a former employee at Suspect Video, where he'd often go home with not-available-on-the-shelf VHS compilations of weird and wonderful arcana.
"The audience part is the real experiment," he says. "We had no idea what it would be like to watch with a live crowd a series of videos about, say, people falling off stages. But it's hilarious - and strange. You feel dirty but kind of anonymous, which is sort of the theme of the Internet anyway. Someone's total pain and failure gets aired in front of millions of people, and there you are with your friends laughing about it."
At last month's NSFW, highlights (or should that be lowlights?) included a video of a hungover David Hasselhoff sprawled on the floor eating a hamburger, as well as a series of clips of guys obsessed with Superman.
"The videos are often stand-alone funny, but if you put them in some context they get really interesting," says Zimerman.
"Jackass was a massive movie. The next thing you know, you've got 14-year-olds in Idaho blowing their asses off with fireworks. So there's the trickle-down effect from the mainstream to isolated smaller towns.
"But in some ways even more interesting is the opposite, where somebody bored, alone in their house doing something on their webcam, becomes a star. Before you know it, the whole world is adopting their catchphrases or dance moves. Look at that light sabre kid from Montreal who ended up on Colbert and Letterman."
A shot on mainstream TV is what Amish Patel and Jessie Gabe really want. But as two members of the relatively new sketch troupe Fade to Brown, they know they've first got to prove there's an audience for it. After all, who's going to give a South Asian-based sketch troupe their own series?
"TV networks aren't into trying out new stuff," says Patel, who's produced the consistently sold-out monthly FTB show for about nine months now. "It's tough pitching to them. You've got to go and build your own crowd. If you build that, they'll come."
The FTB show I saw last March, a South Asian take on the musical West Side Story, was one of two standing-room-only shows they did that night at the Brunswick House.
Since then, the high-energy troupe has tweaked the show, punched up some jokes, added mics for the performers and rented the Panasonic Theatre. Yup, we're talking 700 seats.
"Neil Bansil, who produces the Most Races Show On Earth, sold out two shows at the Panasonic on the same night that we had a show at the Brunswick," says Patel. "He's an inspiration. I think there's a crowd out there."
He's also hoping for as diverse a crowd as Bansil, or Russell Peters, gets. At the FTB show I saw, most of the faces were brown, which is cool. Patel wants to aim wider.
"Jessie and Dan [Stolfi] are the group's two token whites," laughs Patel. "Jessie's a writer, so she makes sure it's not just a bunch of brown inside jokes."
"If I don't get a joke and Dan doesn't get it," adds Gabe, "the joke goes.
"As for the Panasonic show, there'll be white people there, but they won't be segregated. Our show's kind of racist, so we don't want them to be endangered. They'll be mixed in, so if people want to take their anger out on them it'll be hard to target them."
A race riot at a comedy show: now that'd make a hilarious video.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Patel and Zimerman on funny videos of people and animals:
Patel and Gabe on their troupe's comedy background:
Zimerman on America's Funniest Home Videos and a great Groucho Marx quote: