Winner of last year's NOW Readers Poll for best stand-up comic, Chris Locke headlined a bunch of sets at Yuk Yuk's Downtown between Christmas and New Year's. We caught the early show last Friday, December 28, and while the night never caught fire, particularly during disappointing sets by Derek Supple and Steve Dylan (host Jay Brown, was, as usual, terrific), Locke demonstrated his unique spark.
His onstage persona is that of a bald, chubby, genial slacker who'd rather be home wearing track pants, eating junk food and watching The Simpsons. "It makes me feel like Mom's gonna say, ‘Dinner's ready!' is his bittersweet line about that image.
His jokes are mostly about not wanting to grow up. While others his age own homes, he's obsessed with that new chocolate bar; while others wear gym clothes to work out, he dons them to watch TV, maybe putting on a baseball glove to hold more Doritos.
It's solid material that gets the audience on his side. His jokes making fun of his luck with women - a natural progression from the earlier stuff - aren't quite as sharp, although he does have a brilliant bit near the end comparing wearing condoms to eating your favourite foods with a plastic bag in your mouth.
More anger would help many of these jokes go further, and it might also give his act momentum. He's excellent off the cuff and has a natural appeal. But as is, Locke's set - given his gifts - isn't where it could be.
Kenny Robinson's Nubian Disciples All Black Comedy Revue made our Top 10 Comedy Shows of 2012, and the December edition at Yuk Yuk's Downtown was a great way to spend New Year's Eve eve.
It's one of the city's - if not the country's - funniest monthly comedy nights, and a great showcase, especially for non-white jokesters.
Host and producer Robinson opened with timely bits about the Ikea monkey, Django Unchained and - most cutting of all - the state of the NRA in the wake of the Newtown shootings. Won't be able to look at Ronald McDonald the same way again.
The beyond-packed crowd didn't know what to expect from first act Rick & Chuck, the faux Grade 8 students from Holy Name Elementary School who turn out to be misogynist rappers. But the duo (Jay Wells L'Ecuyer and Eytan Millstone) won them over with their first number, We's Innocent, only to lose them slightly in their second song (which incidentally comes out on video January 7 - check out rickandchuck.com).
Solid sets by Keith Pedro, John Hastings (who's headlining at the club this weekend), Arthur Simeon and Patrick Haye kept the energy high, and the last-minute addition of Trixx, who's now based in L.A., was a definite bonus. Also good to see some ballsy women on the lineup, like Crystal Ferrier and Keesha Brownie.
Headliner Jean Paul brought the three-hours-plus night to a close with promising material about a recent trip to Israel and a clever bit that challenges homophobia in the black community by focusing on one man's overreaction to a piece of Splash gum.
The next Nubian night takes place at Yuk's on January 27. Book early.
The holidays are generally a time for frothy stage shows, and Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow should fit the bill.
The operetta, set in Paris, centres on the fortunes of wealthy widow Anna (Leslie Ann Bradley), whose relationship with Count Danilo (Adam Luther) was cut short years before because she was poor. There's also a subplot involving her country's ambassador (David Ludwig), his wife (Elizabeth Beeler) and a man who's been courting her (Keith Klassen).
Perhaps to enliven the frivolous plot, director Guillermo Silva-Marin has also inserted topical references to fiscal cliffs, Obama and Rob Ford into the dialogue and lyrics. These feel as stiff as the awkward choreography and ugly costumes.
Still, even with uneven playing in the pit (conducted by Derek Bate), Lehár's melodies come through, and they're generally well sung, particularly by Bradley, whose bright, gleaming soprano shines in the show's most popular numbers, Vilja and the closing duet. It's a shame she and Luther have no chemistry.
Other highlights include a well-staged scene set at Maxim's and a spirited performance by Joseph Angelo as an enterprising secretary.
The Merry Widow continues at the Jane Mallett until January 6. See listing.