Improv comedy show highlights the best and worst of the dating scene
Many of us, on Valentine’s Day, go the traditional route of flowers, chocolate, and a fancy dinner for two. But, for the more adventurous, the lovelorn, or the anti-V-Day iconoclast, there was a different option this year: a Super Hot Date Night of improv comedy based on stories of our worst or strangest dates.
Several of Toronto’s best-known comics and improvisers, including Guled Abdi (Tallboyz), Andrew Phung (Kim’s Convenience) and Second City’s Tricia Black, Andrew Bushell, and Devon Henderson, gathered at the Paradise Theatre to create sketches from our greatest romantic foibles.
Host Rebecca Payne, after checking in with the various sections of the somewhat cavernous space, got us started with her own unpleasant dating experience. Her tale of a San Francisco date that was designed to intimidate, with a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by hostile luminaries, answered the question of “What do you do when your host shows you a picture of herself with the Dalai Lama?” The answer, apparently, is: drink a lot.
Opening group Scam Algie riffed off an audience member’s tale of a first date where odd requests (of the 18+ kind) were revealed way too soon. The specific riffs were woven in and out of scenes that smartly didn’t hew too closely to or re-tell the original story, while providing entertaining callbacks and a thematic through-line. The group members had good timing and chemistry, and more importantly were clearly having a great time, giving us stories of over-zealous Applebee’s waiters, terrible therapists, and gently-held towels.
It was both slightly disappointing and a relief that audience participation was limited to the opening set, with the main cast instead using the stories of two comedians for fodder. We were assured that they hadn’t heard these stories in advance. While audience participation adds a certain daredevil-like freshness to the evening (and, to be honest, I was dying to tell my own bad date story), the potential for awkwardness is also very high. Having the comics in control lessened the discomfort and anxiety of “performers coming into the audience” syndrome.
I wondered if audience participation was minimal due to the space. The Paradise Theatre is lovely, but its sheer size does negate some of the intimacy of people revealing uncomfortable anecdotes. I imagine that the show’s usual Bad Dog Theatre location would contribute to an added sense of intimacy and bonding, lending itself more to a sharing of experience. Here, the all-star cast of this outing instead pitched its energy to reach the larger audience. The main group was on fire – sometimes literally, in terms of the fates of their arson-inclined characters.
The main set was drawn from two guest monologists: Dalmar Abuzeid, who shared a story of losing an apartment key late at night in Paris, and Anne T. Donahue, with tales of dating teenage rebels and the hazards of looking an acquaintance up on social media years after meeting. The set had a stream-of-consciousness feeling to it, almost like a fever dream one has after consuming an ill-advised number of conversation hearts. In, you know, a good way. Every song that was referenced cleverly found its way on to the sound system, adding to the callbacks, with Eminem being used particularly well.
Improv can feel interminable and awkward if it’s not done right, but it’s a testament to the quality of the improvisers that both sets flew by and almost felt short, possibly because a 20-minute intermission as part of a 90-minute slot felt a bit long. Though I could have easily watched more, both sets were well-realized and came to a natural ending point.
Unlike the bitter relationship moments it shared with us, this sampler of comedy candy left no hearts broken on a Valentine’s Day evening. I can’t speak for the set every week, but with guests of this calibre, you might be inclined to go out for a second date.
- Super Hot Date Night plays March 6th, 20th, and 27th at Bad Dog Theatre (875A Bloor St. W), and select Fridays thereafter (TBD) at 9:30PM.
- See website for ticket prices and purchasing.
Photo of Tricia Black and Guled Abdi by Brent Robichaud