Just label the year 2001: A Race Odyssey. Even before people began getting pulled out of planes because of the colour of their skin, some of the strongest comics mined race for laughs. Politically correct? Nope. A fact of life? Yes. And seriously funny.
1 RUSSELL PETERS (Yuk Yuk's Superclub, December 7) Demonstrating that he's the city's most culturally savvy stand-up, Peters riffed on the ethnic makeup of the audience around him for a solid 30 minutes before telling a single prepared joke. The energy -- and laughs -- never let up, and we got a history of global immigration patterns thrown into the deal. With solid sets by openers Kenny Robinson and Jason Rouse, this was a night to remember.
2 KATE RIGG -- KATE'S CHINK-O-RAMA (Buddies in Bad Times, May 5) Like Peters, Rigg, a former Jarvis Collegiate student now living in NYC, hasn't met an Asian stereotype she can't deconstruct and ridicule. She puts a different, um, slant on it, though, as she showed at the We're Funny That Way festival, launching into a series of intelligent cultural critiques all sung to boppy disco tunes.
3 SECOND CITY ALUMNI GALA (Second City, June 15) Why didn't someone think of it sooner? Contact various Second City alumni, ask them to recreate their classic sketches for a good cause and watch the magic. Robin Duke, Colin Mochrie, Kathryn Greenwood, Bob Martin, Jenny Parsons, Chris Earle and others made it look easy, and raised funds for Gilda's Club to boot. Hope it's an annual event.
4 THE ATOMIC FIREBALLS -- FAST TIMES AT FIREBALL HIGH (The Rivoli, September 16) A mere five days after 9/11, the fast-rising all-female sketch troupe (Sarah Carver, Fiona Carver, Allana Harkin and Sam Bee) made a strung-out crowd forget about towers and terrorism with their spot-on skits, including -- unbelievably -- one hilarious scene set in an airplane. How did they do it? Solid writing, good character work and great timing.
5 MARGARET CHO -- THE NOTORIOUS C.H.O. TOUR (Roy Thomson Hall, November 23) From her raunchy opening joke about helping the New York firefighters after September 11 to her final poignant snapshot of her mom and dad, stand-up Cho proved she could be obscene, sexy, vulnerable, political, bitchy and empathetic -- all in the same hilarious set. An original.
6 THE ROYAL LIECHTENSTEIN COMPANY -- BUSH PARTY (Tim Sims Playhouse, December 8) This seven-person troupe from the 'Peg could be the next sketch sensation. Their much-anticipated local debut (minus one member) paid off with a non-stop series of polished sketches that took surprising turns. Like the best troupes, they've got an undefinable chemistry, something you can't fake.
7 GORD DISLEY (Yuk Yuk's Superclub, March 17) Hot on the heels of his CD release and Comedy Now special, the Timmins native brought his intelligent, bilious sarcasm to a bigger crowd, headlining Yuk's for the first time. Graduating from the alt rooms didn't alter him. He's still the shrewdest, most watchable bullshit detector around.
8 KENNY ROBINSON -- LIVE TAPING, AFTER HOURS (Masonic Temple, September 9) The public taping of the Comedy Network's season closer for the series After Hours With Kenny Robinson may have lasted close to four hours, but it was worth sticking around to see A-list talents like Greg Morton, Jean Paul and Mike Wilmot bring down the house. The man himself -- more polished than ever after manning the mike at Flow 93.5's morning show -- ruled, but was almost overshadowed by hiphop artist Kardinal Offishall, who added sketch comedy to his resume.
9 TERESA PAVLINEK AND SHOSHANA SPERLING -- SAM AND DALE SANCTUARY (Tim Sims Playhouse/March Of Dames, March 30) Shot a mere week before its debut at the all-women March Of Dames fest, Pavlinek and Sperling's video about two wannabe goths who travel from Oakville to Queen West's Sanctuary only to discover it's become a Starbucks is comic gold. The affectionate send-up proved a clear highlight in a fest that also included Lisa Merchant and Janet Van De Graaff's hilarious deadpan recreation of the rat scene from Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.
10 TIM STEEVES (The Laugh Resort, November 16) Stand-up Steeves ripped through a late-night set (and a so-so touristy crowd) by ranting effortlessly about societal stupidities. Sure, the angry-young-man act's been done to death, but his feels authentic. Didn't hurt that 22-year-old Ryan Belleville -- this guy is going places -- was one of the openers.