Humour and Remembrance

I just wanted to write a little follow-up, albeit a late one, about the First World War themed improv show I held with co-producer Aaron Peever on Vimy Ridge Day, this past April 9th.

One of my huge concerns about the show was that people, especially the performers, would take it seriously. And, I know the reason I was concerned. I was met with a certain defensive suspicion whenever I mentioned the idea to people. I could tell the instinctive reaction was something along the lines of  a “how dare you make fun of people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom?”-mentality, which I think is certainly reflective of the way we’re expected to feel about most military action nowadays. Either you’re you support the troupes, or you hate Canada, right? And making jokes about the War sure doesn’t sound like supporting the troupes!

Here’s the thing. I hand-picked the improvisers to play in this show based on one fact: their knowledge of First World War history. Some of the cast weren’t even improvisers, but were excited by the opportunity to give their knowledge of history a new platform. In fact, most of the improvisers I asked leapt at the opportunity to play in this world, to combine their knowledge with their amazing abilities to create realistic relationships, characters and scenes specifically within the realm of that era. I mean, some of them were pretty stoked to history-nerd out! (Myself included.)

The platform was wonderful. I chose this cast because I knew they would not mock the War. They would create characters and scenes within the very real context of the War based entirely on their historical knowledge of the events in question and their respect and appreciation of its history. The characters they chose were real. The scenarios, likely, given the context. The result; pure unbridled silly awesomeness. NOT mockery.

We’re all so sensitive to political correctness now, I felt like I was walking on eggshells producing a show based on events that took place nearly ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago!  The more I thought about it, the more I came to wonder why people didn’t really get it. And here’s what I came up with.

1) People, in general, aren’t familiar with longform improvisation, or any improvisation for that matter that doesn’t follow the Whose Line Is it Anyway? model they’ve seen over the years on TV. This, to me, is tragic. Longform improv at its core is about playing real, honest characters and having them tell a story and transport you to a place and a time that, when done correctly, will have you in disbelief that it’s all made up on the spot, but also, in stitches. The scenes last much longer than what you’ve come to expect out of Whose Line, which allows for more time to create very realistic world right there on stage.

2) People have short memories. We’re certainly not the first people to make comedy about the First World War (or any war for that matter; look how many movies came out of Vietnam, and what about M*A*S*H, set in Korea? That show was on the air for over 10 years!)

But, specifically regarding  WW1, how about the greats? Here’s some Monty Python for your faces:

Hell, during the Great War itself, Canada had its own group of comedians who would entertain the troops with their vaudeville act, which went onto Broadway after the end of the War!


The horrors these soldiers faced during the war are not something we want to mock. Quite the opposite. Why not use humour as a way to help people REMEMBER the war, rather than making people paranoid about even talking about it, lest they express some criticism that might make them seem unpatriotic?

If you still don’t catch my drift, come to Toronto on June 6th, and watch this amazing group of improvisers storm the beaches and pay homage, in our own special way, to the Canadians in WW2.

JFL Forty-Boo-Hoo

I was feeling a little bummed out lately because my financial situation has rendered it impossible for me to check out any of the JFL42 action currently taking place around town – and I really wanted to go see Family Guy – as much as a bunch of you are probably like “buh, Family Guy is so lame!  My grandma’s more edgy than Family Guy!  Seth MacFarlane can eat his own butthole!”  Well, feel that if you may, but I still really wanted to see the live show – it would have been awesome.  Also, I like a man with that kind of flexibility.  Nevertheless, I’m broke.

THAT BEING SAID… I had to take a step back and remember a little thing called “appreciation.”  Because yes, I may not be seeing the amazing alternative, and not-so alternative (Family Guy) comedic acts taking place in our great city over the course of this week, but I AM, going to see one of my comedy HEROS, thanks to the generous donation of a benefactor who shall remain nameless, (it was Dan,)  the incomparable John Cleese, performing his “Last Time To See Me Before I Die” tour stop at the Winter Garden Theatre.  I haven’t been there since my first year in Toronto, when I was volunteering at my first Canadian Comedy Awards, and met awesome Canadian comedians the likes of Mary Walsh, Colin Mochrie, Luba Goy, among others.

Which brings me to the impending 2013 Canadian Comedy Awards, for which I have been Tweeting semi-regularly. That reminds me.  Can you hold for 140 characters please?

Ok, I’m back.  I got distracted by the “Best” and “Worst” Emmy moments “article” I stumbled upon, but they meant absolutely nothing to me as I didn’t watch the Emmy’s last night.  Rather, I went out and enjoyed prime rib, thanks again to a generous benefactor, who shall remain nameless. (Dan again.  Totally Dan!)

Yeah, so the Canadian Comedy Awards are also coming up – which means I get to spend 4 days in my former home of Ottawa. (I miss you Lisgar House!)  And I’ll get to see some of the best Canadian comedy has to offer.

I think I just wrote this post to cheer myself up.  I hope you don’t mind.  But it kinda worked, so that’s good. Sure I’m missing Marc Maron tonight, and tomorrow – where he’ll be a guest on Strombo, in the same building where I work, and it would be free, and I bet it’s gonna be awesome, but I’ll be working – hard, and a lot – and dealing with… stuff…

But so So SO much more importantly…

Front of House Action – aka I love Mr. Show

I had the privilege of working Front of House for the very talented first year comedy students’ Archival Show over the past few nights.  While they seemed anxious, excited, proud & stoked – I felt calm and reflective.  It reminded me of the simpler times – of my own first year…

(Flashback to Brie’s First Year Archival Show Performance)

Well, that was fun.  Now.  Back to the present.

I wish I’d taken home each of the programs so I could have pointed out which of the performances stood out to me, but I’m forgetful and I didn’t do that.  I guess I can point out some points I noticed overall about the performances – I’ll do it in order of how I saw them:

1)  Team Melody: What I would have given to be in this performance!  An ode to vaudeville with great little snippets & bits all throughout, each just as fun as the last.  Lots of individual stage-time for many people in the cast, lots of singing AND a LOT of great parts & focus for the LADY performers!  It flowed so nicely.  And Monty Python’s Penis Song was in there.  Hilarious.  I left singing that Eva Tanguay song for hours upon hours after both nights Melody’s group was performing, which I suppose is good and bad.  OMG the Bored Room sketch.  Too much.  SO good.  And the Lie Detector sketch.  LOVE Mr. Show.

2) Team Eric/Christel: Reminded me loads of our performance last year, structure-wise (which makes sense, considering the Tothmeister directed my section.) BUT… our transitions were better.  I’m just kidding.  But we had that weird onesie Bruno was crabwalking around in– However, this year they had an exceptionally well-choreographed Thriller transition, which was rather impressive. The Lumberjack song – a classic!   It was also fun to see the Lawrence Welk song revisited – and as funny as it was to see a lanky dude in drag, I still couldn’t get the image of Camille Cote out of my head singing around and chasing bubbles.   Oh, and OMG the Hunger Strike sketch is amazing.  LOVE Mr. Show.

3) Team Baumander:   Lewis’ group seemed more, disciplined, more sharp.  Does that make sense?  I don’t know.  All I know is that adding the CSI intro to the Wayne & Shuster bit was a stroke of genius.  And the Smothers Brothers song was super well done!  The Jerry Lewis opening was FANTASTIC!  Holy cow!  It seems that some people were more heavily featured in this group than the others.  You would see some performers a lot more than others.  I’d be curious to know Lewis’ decision-making process for allocating roles.  It was fun, again, to see some of the performances revisited from last year ie: the Marx Brothers one (well done!), Bronx Beat (still heard Rachel & Camille in my head the whole time) and the Hail Satan one, thought not my favorite… I just wanted to make sure I mentioned that I LOVE Mr. Show!

All in all, the performances were very well done and SO much fun to watch.  First years should congratulate yourselves on a job well done – and a good chunk of dough raised for LAMP.  I’m glad to have been part of the whole thing. 🙂

And now I’m filled with the desire to research and watch some classic archival sketch comedy over the reading week break!