Comedy Q&A with Julianne Baragar and Paul Snepsts, artistic directors of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, November 13-18 at the Second City and the Diesel Playhouse. www.torontosketchfest.com Rating: NNNNN
Tell me about Sketch 101, one of the new things at the festival.
JB: The Second City Training Centre has come on in a more prominent way as a professional development sponsor. They do a monthly focus night for their students and the general public who want to come in and learn. Their next one happens at the same time as the festival, so we decided to make a big thing of it. The Imponderables, Uncalled For and another troupe will perform and talk about how they came together and how they work together, how to get gigs and how to hopefully get paying gigs and build an audience outside of Toronto.
Friday's Midnight Mixer and the Sketch-u-bator continue this year. What's new there?
JB: In the Midnight Mixer, we put people in different troupes and say go write a sketch. Usually it's a premise that somebody's had burning in their mind that their sketch troupe would never let them do. They've got a couple hours to write a sketch and then they perform it the next night at the Sketch-u-bator - with lots of free beer. It's always a good time. The material's usually wacky.
PS: It's a terrible show. It's a thing for the festival participants - a big schmooze and party. The quality of the work is just awful, but it's a lot of fun. Only once have I seen heckling at a sketch show. But it happens all the time at Sketch-u-bator.
What kind of premises come up?
JB: Last year's most memorable was called 100 Ghosts. Gary Rideout Jr and a team of people summoned ghosts onstage. I think they got to ghost number 39 before the audience made them stop. I don't even remember what some of the ghosts were, but they were so bad.
One thing I notice with a lot of new sketch troupes is that the writing isn't there. What do you find?
JB: Hmmmm... [laughs]. I think each troupe has their own strengths. Some are excellent writers and not as strong performers or vice versa. I don't want to get on my rant.
PS: There are different styles of comedy out there. One that's really prevalent is that sort of meta, alt comedy. Their attitude is: "This is a comedy show. I'm being funny. Now you laugh at that." For some people, that works. For me? Not so much.
JB: I've laughed at that stuff and had a great time. But there's a bit of a slacker energy to some of that scene that I'd like to... I'd like to tell them to just care, you know?
But their argument might be, "Well, we don't wanna just do traditional stuff, man..."
JB: And that's valid. There are people watching and loving it. There's some good stuff coming out of that scene.
PS: I've heard: "I just want to be original." Well, you're not. Everything in comedy has been done. It's a matter of putting a different spin on it.
Any troupes you're looking forward to seeing live for the first time?
JB: Pangea 3000 from New York had a really quirky video tape.
PS: Buddy System, also from NYC. And OneTwoThree from Chicago. They're playing with Drop Six who won the Best of the Fest at last year's festival, so that should be a really good show.