From bridesmaids to pimps, improv fest reels in laughs
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL IMPROV FESTIVAL through Sunday (August 22), Cabaret Stage at the Bad Dog Theatre (138 Danforth, Mainstage at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley). $10-$20. 416-238-7337, www.torontoimprovfest.com.
BASSPROV created and performed by Mark Sutton and Joe Bill, Sunday (August 22) at 8 pm on the Mainstage.
SUTTON & HALLAL August 19 at 8 pm on the Mainstage.
BASS HAPPY August 21 at midnight on the Cabaret Stage.
Mark Sutton and Joe Bill take the idea of the exaggerated fishing story to a whole other dimension. As improv duo Bassprov, they play Donny Weaver (Sutton) and Earl Hinkle (Bill), best friends who get into an imaginary boat, crack open a couple of cans of real beer and, prompted by a couple of audience suggestions, discuss the issues of the day, their personal lives and anything else that strikes their down-home fancy.
It's a great formula for character-driven comedy that's unhurried and topical, revealing as much about the state of life in America as any short story or newspaper think piece.
"We both grew up in Indiana, so we know these guys," says Sutton, on the phone from Chicago. "As Joe likes to say, these are guys who might work at blue-collar jobs during the day, but at happy hour they're at the bar answering the Jeopardy questions. They're not dumb."
Neither are their creators, who came up with the fishing buddy premise during a weekly improv show at Chicago's famous Annoyance Theatre (both were founding members) and realized they'd reeled in something special.
Unlike a lot of improv acts, Bassprov shows develop with a less-than-maniacal pace. Donny and Earl are slow talkers whose silences communicate as much as their quips.
"The pace gives you time to think and lets you really develop things," says Sutton. "It shows that it's perfectly OK to listen and think, as long as the audience stays with you. A lot of other shows don't have that luxury."
Bassprov's proved so popular that guests like Fred Willard (Best In Show), stand-up Emo Philips and The Simpsons' Dan Castellaneta have joined them onstage.
"Emo played an Amish guy," says Sutton, "and Dan, who'd never seen the show, played Earl's Uncle Walt, an actuary from Wisconsin who predicted how many more months Earl had to live."
Sutton, whose Toronto connection goes back to the late 90s when he directed a production of Co-ed Prison Sluts, is doing triple duty at the fest.
He and Bill are joining Slap Happy for a show called Bass Happy, and Sutton joins Stacey Hallal of the duo All Jane No Dick for Sutton & Hallal.
"The show with Stacey is a cool concept," he says. "We're going to bring up a bunch of CDs and ask someone to randomly pick one song from one CD. Then, inspired by the song, we'll do three scenes in half an hour: a comedy, a tragedy and a romance."
He's enjoying being able to play different characters and scenes with Hallal, including romantic ones, something he can't do as his fishing pal alter ego.
"Donny and Earl are close," he says, "but not that close."