Big league sketch troupes took to the stage in one of the final days of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival
The Comedy Bar was packed as hordes of comedy-ravenous theatregoers descended the steps for one of the final nights of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival. Arriving with my friend Paul, an old-school sketch and improv performer himself, we milled around the crowd before finding our seats for our triple bill of the evening — Ladystache, The Majors, and Alley of Nightmares.
Toronto-based Ladystache are comedians Allison Hogg and Steph Tolev, who find many of their laughs from the concept of two women being dudes. They kicked off their sketches with this idea, fulfilling every hyper-masculine and misogynistic stereotype you could think of — which quickly funnels down to “plowing chicks”.
At first it was fun for a couple of laughs, but the extent to which they took the joke — “drumming on those ‘jumbalayas’ and you’d lose bus fare down that crack! Har-har-har!”, which isn’t even the worst of it — I soon became uncomfortable, and I don’t usually take offense to sexual joking. I believe most of my discomfort lay in the fact that a father and two young sons were escorted to sit in the front row, and therefore received the brunt of the sexually off-colour humor.
Their redeeming sketch for me was of a writer doing a reading who is approached by another writer — R. L. Stine, one whose words many of us spent our impressionable pre-teen years devouring and thus leaving plenty of room for nostalgic laughs at all things Goosebumps and Fear Street. This R. L. Stine unfortunately hit a rough patch in the 90s and is now eager to piggyback on the new writer to make his comeback.
Ladystache had sketches that used plenty of costumes and props and others that lacked props where I felt they were needed (flipping through pages of a script that wasn’t there). There were also a few times where it appeared that both these ladies were struggling to think of the next line, which made it feel far more like improv rather than a written sketch, leaving many of their jokes to fall flat.
Next up were another Toronto-based troupe, The Majors, comprised of big-league sketch artists Brian Crosby, Peter Hill, Mike Kiss, Justin Skinner, and Paul Snepsts. I have to say, these guys ranked as one of the best comedy troupes I’ve ever seen live. Not only did they all visually present well (five sketch artists in suits), their humor was tight and incredibly well executed.
They began an ongoing gag by setting up a tray full of shot glasses at the front of the stage before they went on and filed each one with copious amounts of alcohol. In between each sketch when the lights faded, they’d each take a shot to the tune of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. It quickly became a thing I looked forward to, aside from the fact that I love “Thunderstruck”. It became a collective high-five for a sketch well performed — and certainly well earned I might add.
Each of their sketches were well-crafted and performed, and though some were stronger than others, nothing fell flat. Their first sketch of douchebag news anchors too slick for their own good hit the mark with well-placed and timed jokes. They all went in for their communal shot when it was done and it was clear the high-five was warranted.
Their sketch on the salmon run, who respond to the call of the wild by swimming up stream, spawning and dying, showed a fun and creative response to a late night of watching Animal Planet. Then there was Optimus Prime teaching his very human son how to transform into a truck then running into the pitfalls of his son having very human bones and a significant lack of car parts. Smart and the perfect platform for physical comedy.
You earned your shots, boys.
Closing the show were Alley of Nightmares from Philadelphia making their debut on Canadian soil. The “Gatekeeper” is your narrator for the evening and comedians Rob Baniewicz, Jacqueline Barker, Dan Corkery, Chris McGrail, Matthew Schmid, Andrew Stanton, and Kaitlin Thompson fill out the cast. They take their cues from classic horror anthologies (namely Tales From the Crypt, The Twilight Zone) using both horror (rising dead, letters from the future) and story-telling elements (plot twists) to their advantage. For the most part they work well. For the rest of it, I felt it could’ve been taken a lot further.
I enjoyed their opening sketch of a couple in an affair who murder and dump the body of her former husband and wind up caught in the usual couples’ arguments of joint bank accounts and offspring. The rise of the dead husband first coming back for revenge and then reverting to “can’t we work this out?” felt like it could’ve been extended (also his zombie growls started to come off like he was singing).
Paul and I agreed that the strongest sketch that they did have wasn’t even the one they closed with. A group of scientists formulating a cure for being an asshole after a meteor collides with the planet turning the human race into, well, assholes. It gave everyone ample opportunity to let their snide, jackass selves go and a chance to get away with crude comedy antics: air horns and a pie in the face. The classic Twilight Zone plot twist? Maybe we were all assholes before the meteor hit. Nah!
As with any night of great comedy, there will be both hits and misses but the hits definitely outweigh the misses ad that’s what makes Toronto’s Sketchfest that much fun. With only a couple of days left to get your comedic fill, you’d better hurry on those tickets. They’re selling fast.
- The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival runs until Sunday, March 16.
- Alley of Nightmares perform again on Saturday, March 15.
- Their final performance is at The Comedy Bar (945 Bloor West), beginning at 10 pm.
- Tickets are $15 and are still available online.
Promotional photo of “The Gatekeeper” for Alley of Nightmares provided by Sketchfest.