November 8th to 13th the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is taking over venues across the city. Every day we’ll post our top few picks so you don’t have to work too hard to find that perfect show. For the full TSCF schedule, check out their website.
THE SKETCHERSONS – Comedy Bar 9pm
Another TOsketchfest has come and almost gone. For a week, the whole city was worked up into a non-existent fervour. The excitement was unpalpable. What better way to cap it all off than in the comforting arms of a regularly scheduled performance starring the usual cast of familiar characters.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t go to a single TSCF performance. Perhaps I failed to perform my journalistic duties, but I just couldn’t get excited enough by any of the shows to make them part of schedule this week. It’s safe to say that I was not alone: the dearth of enthusiasm was evident in the complete lack of coverage by most local media outlets. When the highest profile press you get for a week-long event is a single post on BlogTO or a single interview on AVClub Toronto with Scott Thompson that focuses on fruit, you can’t be surprised if Joe Public ain’t shouting about the fest from the rooftops where we all keep our water coolers these days.
Like I said, I didn’t go this year, so I have no clue if the shows were packed or not. And again, in terms of my journalistic obligations, my designation as “blogger” stipulates I do as little research as possible. A brief glance at the TOsketchfest Twitter feed suggests at least some of the higher profile shows were full. But the lack of online chatter suggests that the crowds that do show up consist of friends and fans that are already tuned in. One of the goals of these fests is (or should be) to generate some buzz for newer acts and help audiences discover who the next generation of stars might be. It’s never going to be NXNE, but I wonder what could be done to crank up the excitement factor a bit.
Festival organizers deserve kudos for a couple great moves this year. They secured some heavy Canadian talent as headliners. Picnicface, This is That and Two Kids One Hall (featuring Scott Thompson and Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall) are all perfect fits for the festival and should have been big draws for audience eyeballs. TSCF also greatly improved their web presence with an great new website. One hopes that these festival building blocks will be considered the bare minimum in the years to come.
If the TSCF wants to compete with bigger sketch comedy festivals like San Francisco then there a couple suggestions I’d like to make from my computer chair:
Swallow Our Pride and Bring In Some Bigger Stars: As I mentioned, 2011’s headliners are premiere Canadian talent that deserve top billing. But the reality is that your average Canadian entertainment consumers are only vaguely familiar with these acts. And, excluding two fifths of KITH, their international pedigree is minor to non-existent. By mixing in some big (read: American) names alongside these Canadian gems, organizers could raise the profile of the fest and make our top acts look as strong as they are by standing them alongside more established stars. I’m thinking former SNL cast members, the Upright Citizens Brigade, comedians with Comedy Central shows, etc.
Stronger International Presence: Headliners are one thing, but the weight of the fest is held up by the below the radar talent. Scrolling through the list of troupes on offer each year, they are overwhelmingly local. While it’s important to showcase Toronto’s talented comedians, featuring such a high percentage of acts from the local scene only further insulates an already cliquey community. Bringing in more outside talent will give those local acts who are included a chance to make better connections to the broader comedy world at large. No matter what you’ve got at your party, it won’t be great unless you invite people to join in.
All Access Wristband: This year TOsketchfest offered an uninspiring deal on tickets: $40 for 4 shows. If you really want to hook comedy loving audience members for the whole week and not just the shows they know, give them a chance to indulge themselves. For $75, an all access pass would give superfans a reason to geek out and take a chance on the less-than-sure bets. This would truly make it a festival and not just a series of shows.
Now, these things are all easier said than done and I’m sure festival organizers have discussed if not even fought for these improvements. So let’s hope they can pull some of them off and convince me and everyone else not to skip the fest next year.
UPDATE: Wow that’s a lot of response. Read some of my comments about your comments here.
Also I removed the picture at someone’s request. I didn’t get permission. Fair enough.