TORONTO SKETCH COMEDY FESTIVAL , through November 27 at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West). For complete schedule, see Comedy Listings. $12, passes $38-$100. www.torontosketchfest.com.
For a city that's spawned some of the best sketch comedy acts around - the Kids in the Hall, the Frantics and the Atomic Fireballs, for starters - it's strange that we've never hosted a festival devoted to the art form.
All that's about to change this week as the inaugural Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival takes over the Gladstone Hotel.
"Sketch troupes tend to develop their own audience," points out Paul Snepsts, one of the fest's co-producers and a member of the sketch troupe Boiled Wieners.
"But a shared audience is a bigger one."
Inspired by similar festivals in the U.S., like the Chicago Sketchfest, where the Wieners performed earlier this year, Snepsts admits that one of the reasons for Toronto's lack of a sketch festival until now was the need for a full-scale theatre.
"Unlike stand-up comedy, you can't just put up sketch in a bar," says Snepsts, who adds that they've added wings to the Gladstone stage. "The technical requirements are more complicated. You need a sound engineer, a tech director, video editors, sometimes live musicians. It's not something you can just slap together."
Add the recent spate of theatre closings - like the Tim Sims Playhouse and the Poor Alex - and you've got an even tougher situation.
And then there's the talent. Snepsts calls this a bottom-up festival. Even though local troupes like the Imponderables, the Sketchersons and the Wet Spots have their fans, there's no household-name headliner on the four-day bill.
"We didn't want to go out and get the Frantics to perform just as a draw," he explains.
"We want to make the comics better at what they do. So there's a lot of professional development. One of the aims of the festival is to take this current crop of comics and push them to the next level, where they can start enjoying some commercial success."
Snepsts is looking forward to seeing some troupes he's only caught on video, such as New York's Freedumb, a troupe devoted to political, anti-Republican material, and Montreal's Dead Comics Society.
After months of helping organize the fest, performing with Boiled Wieners should come as a relief. One of the city's more promising troupes, the group also includes performers Ben McLean and Melanie Hunter, as well as director/producer Julianne Baragar.
Their best bits include absurd premises, dark comments about relationships and some musical send-ups.
"We try not to get too attached to topical things, simply because we don't write very quickly and topical material expires quickly," he says.
The troupe's background in improv comedy also helps relieve the potential tedium when performing sketches for the zillionth time.
"There are points where you deviate from the script and have fun with each other," he says. "Cracking the other person up can be so rewarding, and the audience loves it, too. Hey, Jimmy Fallon made a career out of it."