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culture

Pat Thornton, Comedy’s Marathon Man, Prepares for Another 24 Hours

A local comic gets ready for his fourth annual 24-hour comedy marathon, to benefit the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Pat Thornton attempts to read a joke at last year's marathon. The mound of paper next to him is made of discarded jokes.

Pat Thornton’s 24-Hour Stand-Up Marathon
Comedy Bar (945 Bloor Street West )
November 16, 8 p.m.–November 17, 8 p.m.
$5 minimum donation

Stand-up and sketch comic Pat Thornton admits he didn’t really know what he was getting into when he agreed to do “something” as a benefit for the Stephen Lewis foundation back in 2009. He certainly didn’t think “something” would consist of 24 non-stop hours of stand-up comedy, nor did he have any idea that it would become an annual event.

“They had just started the Dare to Remember campaign, and they were trying to get people to do dares to raise money,” he says. “Someone who works for the foundation had actually worked as an editor for a TV show I worked on. He approached me, like, ‘Hey, you’re perfect for this. Would you do a dare?’ So I said, ‘sure,’ and then they kept calling me.”

The Stephen Lewis Foundation is an NGO founded by Stephen Lewis, a former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa. The foundation works with community-based organizations in 15 African countries to help fight the spread of AIDS. The Dare to Remember Campaign is the Lewis Foundation’s best-known fundraising effort. To participate, people accept dares, collect sponsors, and raise money for the charity by pushing their own limits. Thornton says his dare was at least partially the brainchild of Comedy Bar owner Gary Rideout, Jr.

“I said, ‘If I’m going to do a dare, it has to be something really crazy,’” says Thornton. “And Gary said, ‘Why don’t you do stand-up for 24 hours?’ So I said yes, and then I told everyone, so I had to do it.”

Last year, Thornton raised roughly $14,000 for the foundation. This year, he’s aiming even higher, with a stated goal of $24,000 in donations. Thankfully, Thornton has a team of friends from the comedy community who come in to write jokes for him. That’s good, because Thornton says his brain starts to become “more and more useless” somewhere around hour 15.

“Last year, at one point, I had 75 comedians in the room writing for me,” he says. “I usually have a few hard cores who stay for most of the show.”

Members of local sketch troupe the Sketchersons, a troupe Thornton helped found, are usually particularly well represented in his writers’ room. Current Sketchersons head writer Jon Blair started making up material for Thornton in the first year of the marathon. He has gotten progressively more involved over the past two years.

“I’d been working with Pat, and I’ve been friends with Pat, for a while,” Blair says. “So the first year I swung by to see what it was and wound up staying for a couple of hours to write jokes.

“I’ve just been staying longer and longer every year. Last year I stayed for pretty much the whole thing.”

Blair says that the key to writing for the marathon is to save some longer material for the early-morning hours.

“For those slow periods around five or six in the morning, I try to write a full page of material,” Blair says. “Something long, like a list gag or something…. At the peak of the night, around two, we’re all just sitting there trying to top one another with these crazy one-liners.”

Thornton says a few things have changed since the first stand-up marathon. Running jokes about pop-cultural figures have become a major theme in the show over the past couple of years. In 2010, a rash of jokes about 1990s action star Kevin Sorbo started a chain reaction that ended with Sorbo coming to the Comedy Bar. Last year, there were several hours of jokes about Mr. Smee, Bob Hoskins’ character in the movie Hook.

“I love that some sort of target or subject will emerge that will become a real focus,” Thornton says. “There’s a certain mob mentality to it. There’s a point in the night where writers are in the groove, and people are offering up subjects hoping their thing will be the thing that catches on.”

The other change is that, compared to four years ago, Thornton will be far more prepared when he takes the stage this weekend.

“I stand on a rubber mat now,” he says. “I didn’t do that the first year. It’s much easier if you stand on a rubber mat.”

For more information, or to donate online, check out Pat’s Tumblr.

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