Host Hamhock Velvet (Lar Vi) starts out with a warning that Mercury is in retrograde and then attempts to explain what retrograde is by walking backwards in tiny circles. Sketchfest has started. Hamohock Velvet deserves mention on his own, living somewhere between the North Pole and Woodstock New York, a hippie with a white beard, flowing hair, boots, and a Grateful Dead positive vibe. Since Mercury is retrograde, in an attempt to fight the forces of nature, Hamhock proposes that the entire show run backwards to forwards and leads us in an end-of-the-show round of applause of thanks. Then, New Yorkers, The D.A. take the stage, followed by Montreal’s Downtime and Toronto’s Parker and Seville.
The D.A. begins with a sketch that could become reality. American Mr. Meatball shows up at the Canadian border, and dissatisfied with the elected president, demands citizenship. As “Pat Poutine” responds to his bluster with prairie calmness, he knocks stuffed beaver after stuffed beaver off her desk. Overall, this group performs exactly the kind of sketch comedy one expects in a festival like this: oddball characters in weird situations. Among them are a country musician “Old Smokey” who has a unique fetish for soft toys and a twin who longs for a best friend who can replace his estranged twin brother. The battle to convince a CEO to adopt an escalator instead of an elevator is probably my favorite. Every now and then The D.A. had a one-liner that seemed to escape everyone’s notice, but sent me into paroxysms of giggles.
Downtime is a clever concept for a sketch piece — three stoners share an apartment in Montreal and each faces a crisis related to work: one is demoted, one is promoted, and one likely be downsized. The actors appear on the stage usually two at a time to develop the story through their conversations. Rich with local references to places and Montreal life, this one benefited from familiarity with the city. Some of their most on-target jokes made reference to local places (Summit Circle, Lower Westmount, Sir Winston Churchill Pub). The character creation in this is super. One character constantly confused words, referring to macrame, as “colored oreos” (macarons).
Finally, Parker and Seville, known award winners, came forth with situational absurdism. Their two-handed sketch show was the audience favorite to judge from the fact I actually missed some of the lines from audience laughter. At times, I thought Parker and Seville would start laughing themselves. While not exactly a full story, most sketches revolve around a heckler (chuckler, is more like it) at a stand-up comedy show who meets an unfortunate fate. The other theme is cell phones, since most of the sketches are awkward conversations with an off-stage presence, including of a CBC (“Charlie BC’s station”) reporter trying to survive an irritating caller (reminiscent of CBC’s old show, Sad Goat crossed with Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap), a call to 911 for the first time ever, and an encounter with a repugnant sounding ex who is now is a dispatch at Pizza Pizza.
The atmosphere in the theatre was dense with support. The audience found everything hysterical and the laughter infectious.
Sketchfest continues until May 14. $12. Tickets and schedules here.