Sketch Fest performer/producer Gary Rideout Jr. sets the Comedy Bar high.
TORONTO SKETCH COMEDY FESTIVAL at the Diesel Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way), the Second City (51 Mercer) and the Comedy Bar (945 Bloor West). To November 23. $12. torontosketchfest.com.
The city's newest comedy club has pissed off its neighbour, and not because the shows aren't funny. Noise from renovations leading up to the Comedy Bar's recent grand opening upset the owner of the feng shui business upstairs.
"I think he tells people how to fix their lives by putting furniture in certain ways or installing waterfalls," says Gary Rideout Jr., who runs the new club. "I guess the illusion is ruined when you hear hammering and drilling."
Those sounds should be replaced soon by laughter, which could improve Rideout's karma. The multi-purpose theatre, in use for a few months now (it was part of the Fringe) is one of the three venues for this week's Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival.
Rideout is a producer of the festival but also a performer in two of the fest's 30-odd troupes: the duo Hawkmail with Pat Thornton and, of course, long-running indie comedy upstarts the Sketchersons, who recently regrouped after a nearly year-long hiatus while the west-end space was being overhauled.
The Sketchersons, who've helped nurture some of the country's top talents, like Thornton, stand-ups Nikki Payne and Gilson Lubin and the L.A.-bound Holly Prazoff, are morphing, too. After a big audition process, six new members have been added to the remaining cast; two new casts will perform a complete 45-minute show before the regular one.
"A lot of the city's sketch in the last year has tended to be vulgar and misogynistic," says Rideout, who wants to change all that by giving opportunities to the new performers. "It doesn't have to be like that. I think we deserve to have more great sketch troupes that help expand the community."
Expanding the community - and audience - is what Rideout's obsessed with these days. After sinking more than $300,000 into the Comedy Bar and putting a lot of energy into things like overseeing drywall emergencies instead of writing and performing, he's eager to spread the word about the club. The festival should help, as should resident troupes like Catch23, ProjectProject and a new Tuesday-night pro stand-up series headed by Thornton and Boyd Banks.
Inspired by U.S. comedy clubs like the Upright Citizens Brigade, Rideout wants to draw a younger crowd, especially students.
"I remember sneaking in to the Rivoli to see Corky and the Juice Pigs," he says. "Up till now, people have had to rely on word of mouth about something there or at the Poor Alex. People see new bands, but they don't do that for comedy - yet. But there's self-aware, cool comedy going on that they'll love."
Additional Interview Clips
On two Sketch Fest changes this year:
On his new renovation skills:
On choosing the Comedy Bar's Ossington/Bloor neighbourhood: