THE DANCE PARTY OF NEWFOUNDLAND at the Diesel Playhouse Cabaret (56 Blue Jays Way). To Sunday (February 10), 8 pm. $20. 416-971-5656, www.dieselplayhouse.com. Rating: NNNNN
When the dance party of Newfoundland won last November’s Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, no one was surprised – except maybe the troupe themselves.
“We’re more used to food-and-livestock fairs, so this was a big deal,” jokes Dave Sullivan.
“Usually we run around festivals going, ‘We won! We won!' even though they’re not competitions,” says Phil Churchill. “But this time it was a competition – and we did win! Wicked!”In fact, two of the members had already left town and were back on the Rock when the announcement came. They soon had to head back here for an encore performance, even though their costumes were being held at the airport. (Their sketch comedy colleagues donated similar costumes to make the show work.)
Now the funny foursome’s back for a week of sets at the Diesel Playhouse (two of them, Steve Cochrane and Jonny Harris, are now based in Toronto), the site of their former glory. Don’t miss them. They’re the closest thing I’ve recently seen to a comedy troupe that could earn a massive following.
A lot of their appeal comes from their take-no-hostages approach to their material. Their premises can be absurd, but they follow through and execute them immaculately. Unlike many other sketch artists, they know that costumes and tech can amp up a scene.
“Our big influences are CODCO and Kids in the Hall,” says Cochrane, “ their TV shows, not their live shows. Instead of just saying ‘This is a kitchen,’ it’d be in a kitchen, and the mom was dressed like a real mom. We thought everyone did it this way.”In some ways, you can see the Dance Party as the unholy offspring of those two classic troupes. They’ve got the energy and angry restlessness of four vastly different white guys trying to make their mark in the world, but they combine that with the laid-back jokey spirit of the East Coast. CODCO’s Andy Jones hooked them up early on with touring gigs.
“Most of our stuff comes from sitting down and playing a bit of hockey on Xbox and trying to make each other laugh with a voice,” says Churchill. “The person you’re playing with ignores you for a while. Then you start riffing back and forth. A month later, bits of that show up in someone’s sketch.”
The DPON have about five hours of material. Compare that to your typical sketch troupe’s dozen sketches they keep performing for years.
“We live on an island in the North Atlantic. If we didn’t laugh, we’d go crazy,” says Sullivan.
“In parts of Newfoundland, the hero of the town is often the funniest person – not necessarily the best-looking person or the best soccer player,” says Cochrane. “The guy who cracks you up at the bingo hall in between the letter-calling can be a town celebrity.”
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On one of their classic sketches: