If you’re reading my blog, chances are you probably already know that Mark DeBonis beat out the competition to take home the $25,000 grand prize at Yuk Yuk’s Great Canadian Laugh Off on Sunday night. I’m sure it was all over the front page Monday morning. Maybe if something big happened, they would bump it to Tuesday but I doubt it. Nothing interesting ever happens.
A lot of pixels have been spilled about how this was a surprise win and a tight competition, but to me there was no question that DeBonis deserved to win. He was the only comic that exhibited a genuinely original persona and style.
Now before I put my foot in my mouth I should say this: All the competing comics were extremely skilled and funny. Polished material and slick delivery were the order of the day, and deliver they did. It just wasn’t super exciting comedy.
Massimo had explosive energy. Darrin Rose had suave charisma. Eddie Della Siepe had charming likeability. Everybody could make jokes, but nobody could match DeBonis and his unique sensibilities. He broke out of the shell of club comedian and brought unexpected premises to light with ease. All comedians do jokes about relationships, in the broad sense of the word, and so the challenge is to bring a fresh approach to it. Claire Brosseau’s act centered around her cheating ex-boyfriend and despite her well crafted barbs, I found myself exhausted by all the dick jokes I had heard, both during her set and throughout the night (admittedly this was more a symptom of her going last and my server’s inability to serve me a single beer until after the last performance). Ian Peet’s jokes about how he’s glad when other things piss off his wife are old hat. Even Rose and Della Siepe, the apparent favourites to win, stuck to tried and true tropes like “Daddy Issues” and “Dating Troubles.”
(Sidebar General Criticism: I was pretty disappointed by the number of cheap stereotype jokes I heard throughout the night. I’m not opposed to jokes that have “sexist” or “racist” undertones to them so long as they’re intelligent and the payoff is worth it. Alas, more often than not this was not the case.)
DeBonis stood out because he tackled unlikely relationships, like the one between him and a newly-baptized baby or a guy he knew pre-kindergarten. You could always relate to him but at the same time, Mark gives you the feeling that only Mark could have come up with that joke. Not only has he found his voice, but he is using it in a way that will make people remember him. From the simple brilliance of lines like, “If you don’t have dumb friends, then you’re the dumb friend,” to more drawn out ideas, like the one about recording his most used phrases in case he ever loses his voice, these are unmistakably Mark DeBonis jokes. It transcends the everyday comedy audiences are used to.
Mark has that essential ‘it’ quality a comedian needs to truly connect with crowds beyond that one night on stage. And it’s not that the other finalists are incapable of that – some of them are right on the cusp of it – but on Sunday night Mark DeBonis stood out from the competition. And unlike the Canadian Electorate last night, the Laugh Off judges gave the prize to the guy that deserved it.
To see what I mean, tune into Yuk Yuk’s Great Canadian Laugh Off when it airs on The Comedy Network sometime in July (airdate to be confirmed). If you can’t wait that long check out this set of Mark’s from AltDot in March
I feel weird writing about podcasts. Podcasts are filled with so many words that adding to that total seems counter productive. If you want to listen to a podcast, you’re going to listen to the podcast. You don’t want to read about whether or not you should listen to a podcast. Plus there are so many podcasts out there that there is scarcely time to listen to the good ones – let alone read about them – on top of all the blog reading, video watching and re-tweeting that we fill our days with.
That being said, as a blog with a mandate to cover Toronto’s comedy scene, I would be remiss to omit coverage of Hold Your Applause and the new direction they are embracing of late. Since December 2009, Bob Kerr and Adam Christie have been getting together with a special guest to talk about whatever. The format has been something akin to “friends hanging out making jokes.” Along the way they picked up (retiring?) Mark Forward and together these three have taken shooting the shit to the next level. Peruse the blurbs from even the first page of entries on their site, and you’ll find a diverse list of unrelated topics including ‘dying at sea,’ ‘caves that are so hot,’ ‘the fact that Mark has only read one book,’ ‘spider dance clubs,’ and ‘Garfield.’ But stupid jokes aren’t all they do. Last week’s episode with Todd Glass saw the gang talk about how emotionally wretched it is to put down your family pet. Also China! It’s been hours of directionless fun with just a little poignancy thrown in for good measure.
But the directionlessness stops now. Starting this week with Episode 63 aka Episode 1 aka The Imagination Episode, Hold your Applause is embracing format for the first time. It’s still loose and open ended, but each episode is now bound by a theme – this week it was Imagination – and there are semi planned segments with actual concepts. Of course within the bounds of ‘Imagination,’ Mark and Adam (going it alone while Bob is in Winnipeg for the Winnipeg Comedy Festival) manage to talk about ‘a restaurant that doesn’t serve food,’ podcasting at the end of the world, and ‘a book bag of bees.’ Next week’s theme will be… announced sometime in the future.
Again I find myself without much to say other than that Bob Kerr, Adam Christie and Mark Forward are all really funny. If you want to listen to funny people talking about stuff for an hour check out Hold Your Applause. Now, with a format, at least you know what they might be talking about. Sort of.
Like clockwork, with another second Thursday of the month comes another edition of MyTapes. It’s literally a monthly show! Like every month, there’s some gold and some less precious metals. I wasn’t crazy about this month’s winner. The tragedy of democracy is that the guy who gets the most votes always wins. With that in mind, here’s the videos I thought were more worthy of the $100 prize.
Meatloaf is the story of a young girl who forms a special bond with her meal after refusing to eat the dinner prepared by her parents. To me this is an allegory for the triumph of individual rights over the oppressive nanny-state. Obviously.
Written and directed by Josh Saltzman. Starring Inessa Frantowski, Josh Saltzman, Cole Osborne, Norm Sousa, Gary Rideout Jr., Alana Johnston and introducing Tara!!!
He-man (Of Love) is a passionate love letter played to the tune of the He-man theme song. This guy really has STRONG feelings, if you know what I mean. (What I mean is that He-man is strong.)
Babette Sinclair’s Fishin’ Magician’ on OLN is a show I would watch. It’s also a show I helped make indirectly. And when I say indirectly of course I mean that I helped in no way whatsoever. I am part of their sketch troupe though.
By The Raisin Gang (Marissa Caldwell, James Boyd, Tom Conway) and featuring Joe Tavares
So those were my favorites. But that’s just like, my opinion, man. If you really want to see all the other videos you should probably bug James Gangl. Ball’s in your court dude.
Wow. It’s been way too long since I’ve written anything, let alone something for this blog. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been tuned into the comedy scene though. Last week I had the chance to see three very different shows and I’m going to take this opportunity to compare and contrast them in an effort to make some kind of cohesive, cliché statement about something.
Last Tuesday, I went to see This Party’s A Riot! The new revue at The Second City was entertaining though not mind blowing. By sticking to straightforward premises and broad themes, the cast hedged their bets to assure a wide appeal. Some times the simple sketches worked and good writing shone through, like the sketch featuring a son, father and grandfather trapped in a car together hashing out what is right and wrong with each other’s generation: Relevant and full of laughs. Other sketches fell flat though, like the bit about the Arabic revolutionaries who use Facebook to liberate their people but then can’t liberate themselves from Facebook, or the sexually suggestive “super hot” yoga teacher complete with fart jokes. The performances were competent if not inspiring, with the exception of Inessa Frantowski whose weeping office worker character single handedly made what would have been a boring sketch into a highlight (To be fair, Rob Baker’s straight man killed). The seasoned cast do a solid job selling the material but come off feeling so professional that it lacks the crucial element of danger, even during the improv. Nothing too exciting. However, considering the target audience is out-of-towners and people “of a certain age,” (read: with money) I suppose my criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, I am a card-carrying member of the downtown pinko hipster “elite.”
To prove it, the following night I made my way to The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern to take in Michael Showalter and local opener Nick Flanagan. This show was so alternative that the crowd STOOD! Like they were watching a BAND! In all seriousness it was a really cool show. Flanagan was very well received by Showalter’s audience and actually seemed to be enjoying himself. He made a comment about experimenting with new delivery methods and I think he was serious. Instead of his characteristic deadpan, he became a little more conversational with the audience and it actually suited his facetious jokes about drugs, bodily functions and weird pseudo-sexual impulses. He seemed very comfortable on stage in front of a room he probably figured would “get” him.
Showalter’s set, on the other hand, could best be characterized by his lack of comfort. Not to say he performed poorly or seemed out of sorts, but the thrust of his act – promoting his kind-of-a-memoir Mr. Funny Pants – was an honest self-examination that displayed a vulnerable side that most comedians go on stage to hide. It’s no secret that comedians are often motivated by their insecurities but Showalter took it beyond self-deprecation and nakedly exposed his fears of fucking up, having “what is it that you do?” conversations and even referring to himself as a comedian. His interaction with a drunk fan and accidental heckler summed up the spirit of his performance quite poetically. She disrupted his set screaming “I LOVE YOU! I LOVE EVERYTHING YOU DO!” Showalter tried to avoid name-calling with a “how-could-I-stay-mad-at-you” speech. But when she wouldn’t shut up – even after he politely explained why what she was doing was rude – he was forced to embarrass her (she later stormed out after another audience member apparently called her a “cunt”) and needed the audience’s help to get back his train of thought. “The world doesn’t understand me and I’m tired of having to explain myself,” he seemed to be saying. Not complaining, but commiserating with an extensive support group of devout followers. As someone who aspires to be creative for a living, I found it interesting to see someone with a healthy amount of success – albeit all of the “cult status” variety – to display such a lack of confidence in themselves.
With that in mind I headed to my final outing of the week on Saturday night. I went to Ryerson University to see RIOT! – my own former sketch troupe and a 60 year tradition at that institution (not to be confused with The Riot). My fellow alumni and I ventured to the always boisterous midnight show and found ourselves surrounded by the next generation of smart-ass college kids. The show was a blast, thanks in large part to the contraband adult beverages we provided for ourselves. But kudos is due to the cast for bringing energy and excitement to the stage. The performances weren’t the tightest and the writing was neither groundbreaking nor particularly subversive, but the young performers brought pure comic exuberance that those stuffy details were easily overlooked. Will that energy alone work every time in every room? Nope. But a confident presence and a sense that you’re having fun will serve you well no matter what material you’re performing.
If there’s something I can take away from this week it’s that the relation between experience and confidence (not to mention competence) is not as obvious as it may seem at first glance. Maybe managing your audience’s expectations is just as important as your material. Maybe that is your material. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got, but it’s best if you don’t make it seem like work. That’s a cliché I can get behind.
Last night I showed up at My Tapes as a competitor but I left as a fan. My Raisin Gang associates and I entered our video confident in our superiority only to be met with a extremely deep well of talent and polish. This monthly show at Comedy Bar features some of highest quality comedy shorts I’ve seen gathered in one place in the city. Hosts James Gangl, Robin Archer and Kevin Whalen present the films and provide invaluable commentaries like, “My favourite part was when those three guys came out.” I’m not trying to be mean, it was actually a funny comment. I guess you had to be there. Continue reading
Last Thursday after a tough day at the “office,” I happened upon this nugget of a tweet. I had planned on doing nothing – something I do well – but the promise of major sets from Chris Locke and Michael Balazo intrigued me enough that even good TV and the absence of a companion couldn’t keep me on the couch. I had seen both Chris and Mike a number of times before but extended jokes at a new place couldn’t be missed. Plus, my mom pointed out it would be a great opportunity to hand out business cards and promote the blog. So I hopped on the subway and ventured into the bizarro world that is north of Bloor street.
I once saw Nick Flanagan open for Aziz Ansari at Mod Club where he faced an antsy, unfamiliar crowd. By the midpoint of his act, a couple unimpressed hecklers had started ragging on Nick’s trademark notebook mistaking the schtick for a crutch. I might be wrong, but I think they thought he was a loser. Rather than getting dragged into a burn-off and slinging zingers back and forth with some chumps, Flanagan ignored the peanut gallery and pressed on with his self-effacing material, notebook in hand, confident in his expression of his superior inferiority.
“I’m Here All Weak” – Flanagan’s debut comedy album – is just that; a collection of smut-ridden, sexually demented musings on inadequacy, debauchery, and some of the more pressing matters facing the human race like, “Why don’t they make normal sandwiches anymore?”. Jokes range from the coarse-for-coarseness-sake comments about shit-filled balls to brilliantly stupid wordplay like somehow turning the word “apostrophe” into “a pasta fee”. Nick’s stop and start delivery has him jumping from short bit to short bit in a seemingly random order, but his sequencing is perversely aware, like when a joke about ejaculating directly into a garbage can is followed immediately with, “I like children…” in his most wickedly innocent turn.
His style may not be for everyone – the audience laughter on the record can best be described as nervous – but his detachment from the explicit language and decidedly dark subject matter is what makes him feel dangerous. Flanagan has a way of making you feel like maybe your own most twisted thoughts aren’t all that bad. When it comes to scraping the bottom, Flanagan is tops.