THE TORONTO SKETCH COMEDY FESTIVAL, March 7 to 17. Various venues. torontosketchfest.com.
A couple of big name headliners raised the profile of the eighth annual Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, which wrapped up last weekend and left producers and audiences smiling. Attendance was up 48 percent from last year, and there was more buzz during the fest than I ever recall before.
Granted, some of that attention came from performers like Bruce McCulloch (whose Kids in the Hall pals Scott Thompson and Mark McKinney made cameos during his solo show), Eugene Mirman and Kurt Braunohler, none of whom really do sketch.
But almost every sketch show I attended was near or at capacity.
At the end of the fest, awards were given to the following troupes: SHE SAID WHAT earned the Second City's Best of the Fest Award; DEADPAN POWERPOINT won the NOW Magazine Audience Choice Award; ROCKET SCIENTISTS won the Steam Whistle Brewing Producers' Pick Award. All three will return to the Best of the Fest Encore Show later this year. And FRATWURST won the Understudies Sketchiest Sketch Troupe Award.
Here are my personal highlights:
CORY!: The comedy duo (Lauren Ash and Leslie Seiler) celebrated their 10 year anniversary with an astonishing set that included sendups of their erratic performance history, the weight differences between men and women and boozy, right wing morning talk show hosts. Their best work took on sex: Ash as a woman lusting after Seiler's younger boyfriend, or singleton Ash and engaged Seiler comparing their lowest moments. The bit that's destined for classic status, however, is the finale, in which the two women take a contrived image from Lena Dunham's Girls to the next level. Let's just say Ash bared more than her soul.
BRITISH TEETH: Comic chameleons Filip Jeremic and Allana Reoch, winners of the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award in 2011, are insanely, gleefully watchable, whether they're depicting a blind date between a North American guy and a Finnish woman whose entire vocabulary sounds sweetly offensive, or a tough-talking candy striper looking after an older woman with a penchant for fisting porn. The character-based writing is generally sharp, the wardrobe and wigs help immensely, and the pair's unbridled enthusiasm for performing is instantly infectious. I'd watch them any time, anywhere.
THE FEEKO BROTHERS: Imaginative, long-form sketch comedy at its best, with well-defined characters, a loopy, fun sense of structure, and tons of energy. Sometimes the duo from Philadelphia (Christian Alsis and Billy Bob Thompson) are a bit too clever for their own good, but their stuff is theatrical and ambitious.
FRATWURST: One of the freshest troupes around, Fratwurst (Evan Arppe, Eric Miinch and Joseph Murray) is hard to pin down, but almost everything they did hit its target. They can do silly and surreal, like their raunchy opening bit about the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion after Dorothy left Oz, or the Scrabble-based fantasy in which characters only speak in "letters" (a bit too much like a later sketch, which involves TTC subway stops). Their stand-out scenes included a Grade 8 prom scene in which a student (Murray, in a touching performance) tries to muster courage to ask out a girl, and a gently satiric take on Stuart McLean's folksy stories that turns into a scatological fantasia.
DEADPAN POWERPOINT: The basso-voiced, suited, expressionless duo (Ted Sutton and Mike Kiss) announced at one of their shows that they were retiring. So how great that we got to see them present one last hurrah, mock presentations on the "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Dogs" and how to murder people.