This evening, Thursday, November 17th at 8 pm, join your host Erin Rogers at Comedy Bar for her monthly storytelling revue Awkward! (a comedic storytelling show). I had the pleasure of seeing last month’s showcase of performers tell some of the most compromising stories they could muster while still retaining some degree of self-respect, all while trying to make the audience laugh.
On the night I attended, headliners Jerry Schaefer (a Second City alumnus and writer/performer for The Red Green Show, the CBC radio show The Chumps Without a Net, and most recently YTV’s That’s So Weird) and Gemini winner Sandra Shamas were among the hapless souls who took to the stage to get a laugh out of the crowd at their own expense.
Other storytellers included stand-ups and improvisers such as Andrew Haggith, Deborah Etta Robinson, Luke Gordon Field, and Sam Rudykoff. Canadian Comedy Award nominees Sarah Hillier and Jon Blair were joined by some of their fellow members of sketch troupe The Sketchersons.
It’s no easy feat, and asking improvisers and stand-ups to do the self-deprecating thing in one single bit didn’t come naturally to everyone, but it made for an enjoyable showcase of a wide range of Toronto’s comedic talents.
I had the opportunity to ask Erin a few questions about this project, and the burgeoning trend across North America’s comedy clubs of performers and stand-ups just telling stories.
How did you start with this whole “storytelling” thing?
I’ve always loved stories and tall tales. My family has always told stories and since childhood I’ve been drawn to people who can tell a good one. I’m also a performer and performers LOVE to tell each other stories and try to make each other laugh.
And how did that become this show?
As for running a storytelling show, I’m a big fan of the podcasts “This American Life,” “The Moth” and the CBC radio show “Definitely Not The Opera.” There’s something so fascinating about people’s real life experiences. I had been listening to those podcasts and shows for years, then I found out that Toronto had its own MothUp. I went once and was hooked. I basically started running “Awkward” due to the convergence of my interest in storytelling, my love of what Laura-Louise Tobin, Alicia Louise Merchant and Daniel Goldbloom were doing with the Toronto MothUp and my seemingly endless supply of stories of me humiliating myself that people always seemed to enjoy hearing.
What do you think is the appeal of self-deprecatory humour? Are all storytelling shows mostly self-deprecatorily focused?
I think don’t think “Awkward” is self-depreciating so much as vulnerable. People are telling stories about things that made them feel weird or embarrassed. These types of stories rarely end with the teller as the hero, and because of that these are usually stories that the teller has told very few people, if anyone.
I joke that my show is ruining the flooring backstage, because there are so many performers pacing backstage before the show worried that they’re admitting too much about themselves. I think that kind of vulnerability is appealing to people. The unvarnished truth is funny and painful and people can’t help but be drawn to it.
That being said, my show has more of a comedic focus then a lot of other storytelling shows. I’ve heard a lot of really funny stories at other shows and I’ve heard a lot of really sad stories. What I think links all the shows in the scene together is the storytellers’ willingness to be vulnerable and share a very personal side of themselves with an audience. That’s always compelling.
What’s the Comedy Bar all about?
They’re really artist-friendly and it’s a great place to both see some of the best comedy the city has to offer and meet other comedians. The bar was started so the sketch troupe The Sketchersons would have a regular venue. The fact that it exists is kind of a dream come true for a comedy nerd like me.
What are other story-telling shows in Toronto that would be worth checking out?
MothUp Toronto for sure, its always incredible. The amazing Sage Tyrtle has a show called “Fireside Storytelling.”
Also, if Marco Bernardi or Catherine McCormick are telling a story somewhere, go see that show. Of course, now that I say that, that’s also true for Arianne Schaeffer and Sage Tyrtle and Alex Nursall and every performer I’ve had on my show, oh and there’s a great show in Montreal called Confabulation. Honestly, I could fill this entire page with names and recommendations. There’s so much great stuff out there.
This is tonight’s lineup of storytellers in Awkward! (a comedic story-telling show):
Amber Harper-Young (Second City’s Fresh Meat Nominee 2010)
Sara Hennessey (Much Music’s Video on Trial)
Chantale Renee (Touch My Stereotype)
Evany Rosen (Picnicface, 2011 Canadian Comedy Award Winners)
Ron Sparks (Comedy Now)
Todd Van Allen (Comedy Above the Pub Podcast)
Candace Lovett ( I Heart Jokes)
Rhiannon Archer (Canadian Comedy Award Nominee, Best Newcomer 2011)