Thursday, January 26

A Sketch22 Weekend Update

We are back from the Halifax Sketch Comedy CBC Audition Weekend.  We are trying not to feel like conquering heroes.
It was a really fun weekend, hanging out with the guys.  There was the eating, and the drinking, and the ogling that one would expect a bunch of guys to do.  Rather than go on about the periphery of the weekend, this post will focus on the reason we were in Halifax - to audition for a CBC producer who is planning on producing a one-time sketch-comedy tv show featuring 6 sketch comedy groups from across Canada.  Auditions are being held in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver.  We were part of, along with 8 other groups, the Halifax auditions.
The event was held on a Sunday night at Gingers Tavern.  The Comedy Dawgs perform there every Sunday night, apparently.  I don't know what kind of stuff the Comedy Dawgs does, but based on the very small dimensions of the stage, I'm guessing it's mostly stand-up comedy.
So, yeah, the small stage was a bit of an issue for some groups I'm guessing, but not really a problem for us.
Here's my impressions of the night of sketch comedy:
The first group was god-awful, their segment containing a couple of horrid bits revolving around the election.  Yeah, it was timely, but it was not funny in the least, and really amateurishly performed.  I couldn't possibly convey to you how bad they were.
We (Sketch22) were really interested to see how we compared to other sketch groups in the region.  We had some fear that we'd prove to be not all-that, and would be driving home the next day realising that we were nothing special.  This first group allayed all those fears and had us feeling really good about our stuff.  Their badness instilled in me many emotions.  I was ecstatic that this was potentially the level of competition we'd be facing.  I was also worried that if this was an example of the rest of the night, many of the audience (which was packed, by the way) might leave before we went on (we were slated last).  I also felt bad for the group performing.  They were giving it their all, but it just wasn't good.  The audience was kind and laughed encouragingly for them.
To be honest, I don't really remember the order in which the other groups performed, so I'll just pick and choose memories as they come to me.
I found it interesting that a lot of the groups had "god" "jesus" or "philosophy" as the theme of their sketches.  The kind of comedy you'd expect to see at a university talent show.  Kind of sophomoric and text-booky.  Of the god-religion-philosophy themed sketches:
One group had an interesting sketch involving Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Buddha.  Basically the sketch was about Mary telling Joseph and Jesus the truth about Jesus's real father.  It was interesting because it traversed some of the same themes that we did in our Christmas show.  They had some pretty funny lines, and was somewhat edgy, but overall it really missed the mark for me due to the poor performances of the actors.  The guy who played Buddha laughed at his own lines a few times, mostly when the audience would laugh at them too.
Another group, a duo, did this way-too-long sketch where they both played gods who were creating Man and Earth and kind of following the History of Man to its inevitable conclusion involving nuclear explosions.  They were good performers, and some of the material was pretty funny, but the two criticisms I had for their bit are: 1) it was way too long, in desperate need of editing, and 2) I had seen them perform the exact same bit maybe 10-15 years ago.
Yet another group had a couple of scenes that involved Jesus as a waiter.  To be honest, I didn't pay too much attention to this group as they didn't seem to be very good.
Also interesting was that two groups each had a very similar sketch, of the type that I'd seen performed somewhere else long ago.  I'll call it the "wha' 'appened" sketch.  They both start out with a "business man".  He gets accosted, in one group it was by a bum, in the other it was by a mugger.  There is some dialogue and in the end, the roles have reversed, so that in the first sketch, the business man is now seen as a bum, and in the other the business man ends up mugging the mugger.  Wha' 'appened?  Not very good, either of them.
The night wasn't all bad, though.  There were some competent and funny performers.
One guy, physically a cross between Quentin Tarrentino, Neil Patrick Harris and David Hyde Pierce (he had a three-name name, too) was a gifted mime.  Yes.  Mime.  Fascinating to watch, but, you know, it was mime.  He also did some talky-bits.  One where he's on the phone to god, and maybe another one that I can't remember.  He was a pretty competent performer and my only complaint about him was his over-bearing ego got in the way of the comedy he was performing.  In fact, his comedy was kind of all about how great he was.  Kind of off-putting.  He was the kind of guy who'd insist on gathering all the groups together before the show, so that he could suggest that all the groups could make sure that they conform to some sort of thing that was important to him and his group but not really important to any other group.  In fact, that's what he did.  He had the organizer call all the groups together.  Once called, Quentin Patrick Pierce instructed us all on how great it would be if we could all use the same convention when informing the audience that a sketch was over.  Since there was no way to "blackout" the lights to signify the end of a sketch, perhaps, chaps, we could all just say "blackout!" to indicate such.  He said it would be good to instruct the audience that anytime they heard the word "blackout" that they were to close their eyes.  Then, he suggested, when we say the word "open", they'd open their eyes.
What nonsense.  Graham made me laugh when he said that one of our sketches had the word "blackout" in it a bunch of times and how would we handle that?  Neil Hyde Anal, taking Graham seriously when absolutely nobody else did, suggested that we could use the word "scene" instead of blackout.
That important bit of business taken care of, and his feathers properly displayed, the cock of the walk allowed us to get back to our regular programming.
He did a segment on his own, and also was in another segment with a group of 4 or 5 others.  They, apparently, were an improv group who decided recently to switch over to writing sketches.  Trouble is, they didn't have any sketches written.  Also, apparently, they were misinformed as to the nature of the event, and they were expecting to do improv.  When they were told, days before the event, that it had to be scripted material, they feverishly began the arduous task of rehearsing some improv games and, I'm guessing, transcribing the words they said in rehearsals.  These bits became their "scripted material".
As a group, they were all pretty talented, I thought, but their material was weak.  Basically, they performed maybe 30 "sketches", each that consisted of a brief setup, then a punchline.  Then the "blackout!" followed by "Open!", then into another 10 to 30 second "sketch".   It reminded me of fast improv games you do to warm yourself and the audience up.  Only these were written down.
Good talent, really poor execution.  And not "sketch comedy".
The best of the bunch of groups was a duo from Moncton, called, I believe "2 To Go".  Consisted of a woman who was pretty funny and a guy who was really funny.  They did a bit where they played nuns who had a cable-access type show that focused on Entertainment News.  Basically a back-and-forth bit where the nuns say increasingly more outlandish and bawdy things.  It was pretty funny and well-performed.  Yet I couldn't help but sense that it was a bit too rote for them.  They obviously performed this a lot, and their reactions to the lines sometimes had that "I've heard this a thousand times before, but I'm acting like this is the first time I'm hearing this line" fakery.  They did a second sketch which I honestly don't remember.  Then they inexplicably went back to an encore of the two nuns, and did basically more of the same.  I was surprised that they went back to the nuns sketch and it had me wondering if this was all that was in their repetoire.  Their material was what I would call "good PopCultured" jokes, and would fit well, if perhaps a bit too racy, in an Air Farce show.  Of all the groups that performed, they are the only other group besides us that I could see the CBC going for.  Not so much from their material, but from their sense of professionalism.  To me, though, their act was a bit too polished, to the point where it was a bit robotic.   Another factor that could potentially work in their favour is the fact that they are half woman and half gay-asian and that might be a benefit in terms of the CBC feeling the need to consider demographics?
The only other performer worth talking about was a guy who did standup.  I'm not sure why he was included in an audition for sketch comedy because his routine was pure standup.  He started off dressed in Scottish garb and did a bit in Scottish brogue about Keiths beer.  I didn't really understand the point of it, but the audience seemed to like it.  He did a couple of other non-scottish-guy routines that were pretty funny.  It was apparent that he was a pretty smart stand-up comic, but his stuff wasn't sketch comedy.  After the show was over, he went to great lengths to try and impress the Sketch22 group.  It was during these attempts to fit in where I learned what an egotistical, desperate sadsack this guy was.  A good comedian, but something of an asshole in real life.
Anyway, he was on just before us.  The MC, who was a standup comic, and a not-very-good one but thankfully kept his between-group bits short, came up and started doing this "thanks for coming out to the show" bit.  We, as a group, began to get a bit worried because he was kind of signalling to the crowd that the show was over, and I was afraid that they'd start getting their coats on, etc.  Fortunately, he stopped that before it became trouble and introduced us.
My character in our first sketch was the first one on stage, and I noticed that the previous group had left their chairs and stool on the already-small stage.  Since our sketches didn't require them, but required the real estate, I kind of paused the beginning of the first sketch to remove these items from the stage.  I did it in kind of a comical way, pretending to be upset at the housecleaning I had to do.  It was getting a few audience chuckles and a few more as I continued.  Then, after I cleared the stage, I did an over-the-top "blackout", just to spite Doogie Howser.  It got a few laughs.
Anyway, we did our set, and from my perspective, it went over like gangbusters.  Huge laughs and great appreciation from the audience.  If felt fantastic.
While I personally try to maintain a critical perspective on the things I do, and we in the group try to temper our self-aggrandizing as much as we can, it was really hard not to feel like the guys who saved the day.   I felt like we were on another plain compared to the other groups.  I really think we rocked the house.
The reactions from the other groups, the members of the audience with whom I spoke, and from the event organizer all seemed to indicate that we nailed it.
The CBC producer remained pretty tight-lipped about the whole evening.

Whether or not we get to be part of this CBC show or not, it was really rewarding to see how we compare with other groups and people from around the region.  Interesting, too, that the two best groups of the night didn't come from Halifax.

1 comment:

Les said...

Wow Rob, sounds like you guys had a great time and a super experience...congrats and I hope that CBC comes back with an invite to tape for the show!!