Review: 2 Humans, The Rulers of the Universe, and The Templeton Philharmonic (2014 Toronto SketchFest)

Toronto Sketchfest kicks off to high laughs with the Templeton Philharmonic

The night began with nuns, and yes, the nuns were horny. “I think I’ve heard this one before,” I thought to myself as I settled in with my friend at the back of Comedy Bar for comedy troupes 2 Humans, Rulers of the Universe, and The Templeton Philharmonic. I was wrong.

Sex-starved nuns have definitely punched the joke clock more than once, but not like this. 2 Humans quickly set the tone for an evening of absurd twists and hilarious double-takes, serving up a veritable smorgasbord of fresh weirdness.

As their name suggests, 2 Humans like to start out with a simple premise, whether nuns in New York or an amorous grocery store announcer. The surprises don’t come from random plot-turns; instead, the Toronto-based duo just follow the logic as far as it will go — and then way past that — until it’s completely insane.

The Rulers of the Universe came next, and though in general they swerve more toward the utterly strange (think: interchangeable work ninjas), their first sketch was a charming gem of unadulterated funny that I really want to tell you about, but I won’t, because it would ruin the wonderfully silly disappointment of it all.

This more established Toronto troupe has six members, all of whom contribute their own odd angle to that hexagon of hilarity. They also tend to ham it up to the extreme; Kat Letwin’s facial contortions while performing an awful English accent are so funny, they almost don’t need a backing sketch. Jeremy Woodcock reins it all in as a pitch-perfect straight man who often clinches the joke. (Rulers excel at the kicker.)

For example, at one point Woodcock plays opposite to Letwin in a send-up of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. Their routine culminates in a stand-off: the famous heroine professes her love in exaggerated Shakespearean poetry, but Woodcock doesn’t understand what the hell she’s talking about. “I thought I understood for a second, but now it just sounds stupid,” he says grumpily.

Finally, the show’s headliners took the stage. Sketch comedy troupe The Templeton Philharmonic are less numerous than their name would suggest, but not less grandiose: Gwynne Phillips and Briana Templeton often assume characters that are preposterously vain or smug, but whose not-quite-concealed existential misery reaches Beckett-like proportions.

Like two rusty kitchen knives slicing through a plate full of crumpets, these self-described “vaguely Edwardian” comics love to explore the psychotic side of good etiquette. They opened the show with a short intro in their natural state, clothed in frilly garments and delivering oddball pronouncements with bug-eyed intensity.

But when the lights went down, the gowns came off. Phillips and Templeton are masters of transition, using carefully choreographed dance routines to move between sketches. Equal parts wild abandon and studied precision, the physical comedy of these moments is irresistible. Basically, they killed it.

What makes The Templeton Philharmonic so powerful as a duo, however, is that they excel at writing as much as creating concepts or performing physical comedy. Their sketches are wordy and elaborate, which gives the humor a cunning quality that’s scary funny. If you like frissons with your giggles, these ladies are it.


Photos of Gwynne Phillips and Briana Templeton, and Rulers of the Universe provided by the company