Early Friday shows at comedy clubs don't have the best reputation. Audiences are often exhausted from work and haven't yet let loose enough to enjoy themselves. Late Friday crowds tend to be more lubricated, and hence readier to laugh. So the theory goes anyway.
None of that mattered last Friday, January 4, when a small group hit Yuk Yuk's Downtown. We'd seen headliner John Hastings, a Canadian comic now based in London, England, a few days earlier when he triumphed in a short set at Kenny Robinson's Nubian night.
The clean-cut Hastings has the authority and talent to deliver even more than the 40 minutes he presented on Friday. From the start, he helped diffuse a possible heckling situation with an increasingly drunk group of young guys; smart move. Then he killed with impeccably timed bits about whispered arguments, Canadian politeness and singing along to Rage Against the Machine while wiping out on his bike.
He hits that sweet spot of being terrifically confident - his vocal rhythms could be those of a motivational speaker - yet never obnoxious. His asides are astonishing, as when he undercut his line about Canadian politeness by digging into hockey fans burning down a city.
And his powers of description are dead on. Recalling the aftermath of a nightmare gig at a Kenora carnival, he mentioned lining up for a pulled pork sandwich so he could put something dead in his mouth to go with his soul.
And he didn't shy away from personal material either, including darkly funny bits about his relationship with his father in which he referenced Full Metal Jacket and one surreal fight over a carton of ice cream.
On the subject of fatherhood, he's got one of the cleverest and most succinct jokes: "You jizz and something comes out of it besides laundry and apologies."
The opening acts were terrific, too. Mark Walker was a genial host, even if his material seemed a tad dated. Michelle Shaughnessy, exuding a fascinating neurotic vibe, killed with jokes about women, sex and insecurity. And Graham Kay, a definite act to watch, has mastered the art of sarcasm, with great bits about picking up women while sober, being invited to weddings in exotic places and (best of all) working out the personal finances of a heroin addict.
Crow's flies east
After years of operating in venues west of the Don Valley, Crow's Theatre is setting up residence in the east end.
Coinciding with its 30th anniversary, the indie company founded by Jim Millan is launching the first professional performing arts facility in that part of town. It'll be on the ground floor of a condo under construction at the corner of Dundas and Carlaw.
Current artistic director Chris Abraham - who helms the Crow's/Canadian Stage co-pro of Kristen Thomson's Someone Else, opening tonight - anticipates that the venue will showcase Crow's productions and also host an ongoing series of live events, performances, art classes and Leslieville community programing.
When it's completed in 2015, in time for the Pan/ParaPan Am Games, the facility will house three venues: a configurable 200-seat theatre; a studio space for rehearsals, intimate performances and community programming; and a gallery bar/café. Look for a world premiere to coincide with the launch and the games.
The only other venue in the east end regularly presenting stage works is the Red Sandcastle Theatre (Queen and Logan).
The Crow's facility will be a nice counterpoint to the new home of the Theatre Centre (Queen near Dovercourt), located in a former historic Carnegie library and set to open in the fall of 2013. In between the two new spaces lies Daniels Spectrum, open since fall on Dundas east of Parliament, which has two theatre spaces and is also the administrative headquarters of various arts groups, including Native Earth Performing Arts and COBA (Collective of Black Artists).
Young Centre grows
The Young Centre keeps expanding its programming, giving extended life to shows that became hits in other venues.
In addition to the Soulpepper and George Brown Theatre programming for the winter, look for a remount of Fringe success Rare, featuring nine performers with Down syndrome. Created and directed by Judith Thompson, the show is largely written by the performers (January 28 to February 7).
It's followed by the return of Spent, a comedy performed by Ravi Jain and Adam Paolozza, about the recent financial crises (February 12 to 22) and another Fringe hit, pomme is french for apple, featuring Liza Paul and Bahia Watson in a West Indian-flavoured exploration of women's lives (February 28 to March 9).
And don't miss Brent Carver's incredibly rich cabaret performances (February 15 to March 3). The version we saw last October as part of the Young Centre's Global Cabaret series blew us away.
Another show to look forward to is VideoCabaret's The War Of 1812, set for April. It's had a run both at the company's regular venue, the Cameron House, and this past summer at the Stratford Festival. 416-866-8666