the slap happy hour! w/ Kerry Griffin, Sandy Jobin-Bevans, Dave Pearce and Tabetha Wells, at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Wednesday (June 5) and June 12 at 9 pm. $10. 416-596-1908. Also at Tom Foolery's (194 Bloor West) tonight (Thursday, May 30) at 10 pm. $10. 416-967-5005. Rating: NNNNN
Like a lot of comics, the funny foursome who make up the long-form improv troupe Slap Happy watched a lot of TV when they were kids."I knew it would come in handy," says Sandy Jobin-Bevans, whose favourite morning show was Jason And The Argonauts. "I did my homework watching TV and told my mom I was working toward something. I knew this was more important than math."
"Max the Mouse taught me a lot about history," explains Dave Pearce. "Seriously."
None of them knew, though, that some 20 years later they'd occasionally get to pluck mythological and historical references from the dark pop-culture-saturated recesses of their minds to make people laugh.
But that's the nature of improv. Surprise is everything. The only thing predictable about this troupe is their consistent ability to entertain.
Hot off their deserved win at the Canadian Comedy Awards, and before a four-night gig in New York City, Slap Happy bring their act to the Rivoli for two consecutive Wednesday nights of improv, beginning June 5. They're also doing a show tonight (Thursday, May 30) at Tom Foolery's.
Anyone who likes comedy -- or comic theatre, for that matter, since their shows, when finished, resemble short plays -- should be there.
The quartet met through Second City and/or Theatresports classes in the mid- and late 90s, and have been performing together for four years. Pearce is known for his wacky humour, Kerry Griffin for his grounded straight-guy vibe, Jobin-Bevans for his weirdness and Tabetha Wells for her dry wit and the fact that she's the girl. But they try not to fall back on labels.
"That becomes a safety zone, and once you're in a safety zone the improv isn't as interesting," says Wells.
I've seen them twice, once performing in their signature and much-copied "character slap" format, in which a character from outside stops a scene by slapping another character; and once in their brilliant recent format called Narratron, in which a single character stops a scene they're in and comes up with a monologue to set up the next scene.
Where they go within these formats is anyone's guess. They recently wowed an Orlando Foolfest audience with a show about a bicycle race in which a little boy with a computerized high-tech bike was linked to an evil Stephen Hawking. Hawking was trying to beat a kid with cancer, and when he lost he realized there was a god.
The stories might sound weird on paper, but onstage they fly. The laughs come from being there, seeing the performers' imaginations at work, watching them try things out, sometimes fail but more often succeed and then wrap things up neatly.
More than any other improv troupe, they never dumb down to what they think an audience wants. I remember them using the word "hubris," once, and getting a solid laugh. Griffin recalls somebody mentioning Robespierre, a reference he didn't get but went along with anyway, calling the guy Pierre.
"You've got to play to the highest level possible, and the audience will come with you," says Jobin-Bevans. "It's a mistake if you think the audience won't understand. You'll never challenge yourself to push."
Wells shakes her head when I point out that improv's very nature -- its ephemeral, one-off quality -- can be a curse. They'll never be known, say, for a classic sketch.
"What do we remember about Monty Python?" she says. "The dead parrot sketch. You try to watch them do the dead parrot sketch now and it's the saddest thing in the world. We're never going to run into that because we're always creating something new."
"Buddhist monks make their sand drawings, right?" adds Jobin-Bevans. "And when they're done they destroy them. That's what improv is like. The journey or the process is more important than the result. You always have to be going forward. You can't rest on your laurels in improv."
Try explaining that to TV execs, though, and you'll end up frustrated.
"They've only seen short form; they think improv is all about games," says Jobin-Bevans. "They don't want to challenge themselves. Someone once said the Comedy Network's motto should be, "We like your idea so much we'll give you just enough money to not do it quite right.'"
"Um, any TV producers who aren't idiots can contact us," says Griffin.
"We have an IQ test ready," says Pearce, not missing a beat. "For starters, they have to know who Robespierre is."email@example.com on, get happy
You've probably seen the members of Slap Happy in other contexts -- a beer commercial, a Second City show or maybe a glamorous temp job.... Here's the lowdown on what the members of the comedy quartet do when they're not together.
KERRY GRIFFIN The only Toronto native, Griffin is currently Theatresports' artistic director (see him every Sunday at the Poor Alex) and appears in the recurring show BS -- The Live Sitcom at the Tim Sims Playhouse. Look for him on the tube as "the happy guy at the Keg" or "the happy guy at Future Shop" and with Sandy Jobin-Bevans at the Fringe this year in a show called A Year Of Loving.
SANDY JOBIN-BEVANS The Flin Flon, Manitoba-born Bevans began improvising in Winnipeg with sketch/ improv troupe Brave New Weasels, logged four revues with the Second City Touring Company and two on Toronto's mainstage. If you attended a movie over Christmas, it was hard to miss him in the LCBO commercial as the good son bringing booze to his lonely parents for the holidays.
DAVE PEARCE The Montreal-born Pearce is also the musical half of sketch duo the Cowards, just nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award. He plays bass for the musical comedy band Puddlejumpers, and makes music of a different sort with partner Jennine Profeta, aka Velma Hussey.
TABETHA WELLS The resident Yankee (born outside Detroit but raised in Whitby), Wells is a former member of sketch troupe 500 Miles Off Broadway, logged hours at Calgary's famed Loose Moose Theatre Company, has done time with Theatresports and has been hired and fired by the Second City Touring Company twice. (She wants to do it a third time, to complete the hat trick.)