Music, laughs and impressive ensembles rounded out the festivities at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival
Friday night at the Lower Ossington Theatre hub of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival was definitely a lively one featuring the Chicago-based Shock T’s and Canadian Comedy Award nominees Hot Thespian Action, hailing from Winnipeg. It’s great to see such a Toronto-centric comedy festival, densely packed with talented local troupes, keeping its door flung open for the out of towners. In the case of these two acts in particular, it’s a smooth move that brings in some quality A-game humour.
The Shock T’s kicked things off with their special brand of music and comedy (not musical comedy, as they cleverly implore in their intro song). The trio from Chi-town reeled me in right from the beginning with their folk-rock vibe backing their highly relatable jokes. Smart and on point without being inaccessible, Sarah, Tim and Tyler bring a lot of themselves to their set.
With the three of them singing over one guitar, there’s a good mix of music, personal anecdotes, relatable observations about life in general, some call and response audience participation and a sprinkle of random absurdity. They seem both personable and genuine and it lends an infectious energy to their performance that kind of makes you want to just grab a beer and hang out with them all night.
Winnipeg sketch troupe Hot Thespian Action ended off the early show in a versatile collection of sketches that showed off their penchant for tight-knit ensemble pieces. I think what’s most impressive about this particular troupe is how deft and smooth each performance feels, and how well the actors works together. I did feel some discrepancy between a few of the sketches as some struck me as a lot more strongly written than others, but the ones that were on were side-splittingly hilarious.
My show partner indicated afterward that, while he thought they were lively and exciting to watch, he could easily tell that the women (there are three comediennes in this five person troupe) were clearly the more influential writers of the group. He had some trouble relating to some of the sketches and as a result didn’t enjoy them as much as I did, at least on the level of content.
I think Hot Thespian Action’s secret weapon is their great skill at physical comedy. They’re not afraid to push boundaries with the physical, something you can tell almost immediately as they perform their whole set barefoot wearing black movement clothes. My favourite sketch of theirs, entitled “Night of the Living Ex”, featured no dialogue whatsoever and used Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (you might recognize it from Fantasia) to punctuate the story of a young man haunted by the demon of his former girlfriend.
All my expectations of the evening were exceeded by both sketch groups, such has been my luck so far with the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival in general. If you didn’t get a chance to see any shows this year, I’d highly recommend making the extra effort once next March rolls around.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival ran from March 6 – 16, 2014
Photo of Hot Thespian Action provided by the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival