The eighth edition of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival features more big names, more troupes, and more venues.
When Paul Snepsts started the Toronto Festival of Sketch Comedy—more commonly known as Sketchfest—back in 2005, he had one fairly simple goal: to help create a critical mass of sketch comedy in Toronto.
He believes we already have some of the best sketch troupes in North America, but that Toronto’s performing-arts institutions haven’t always been supportive.
“Toronto’s sketch comedy scene is really, really good,” he says. “I’ve been to Chicago and New York, and theirs are not as good as ours. But those two cities have thriving theatre audiences. We started Sketchfest to get various troupes to pool resources and shine a spotlight on the work they’re doing.”
Eight years on, the festival is bigger and stronger than ever, and so is Toronto’s sketch scene. This year’s festival, which starts today, will feature over 40 troupes, performing at three venues over 11 days. Headliners will include Eugene Mirman, Kurt Braunhohler, Michael Ian Black, and Bruce McCulloch.
“The next logical step for us is to start bringing some bigger names to help get new audiences in, both to see those names and get them more familiar with Sketchfest and our core programming,” Snepsts says. “Bruce McCulloch is going to be really interesting, because it’s going to be a mixture of readings from a book he’s doing, stand-up, and some character stuff. And it’s all going to be backed by Brian Connelly from Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet.”
In addition to those headliners, Sketchfest has introduced its Featured Series, which showcases some of the top sketch troupes from across Canada.
“One of the things we wanted to be able to do was bring troupes in from elsewhere. Usually they don’t have the money to do these sorts of things. We pay our acts stipends, but there’s no big money in it for anybody, so getting these acts here has always been a challenge. Being able to fly people in from Newfoundland and Vancouver and Winnipeg really enables us to show the best sketch comedy in Canada.”
This year, the Featured Series will be bringing in The Dance Party of Newfoundland, Montreal’s Uncalled For, Vancouver’s Peter ‘N Chris, Winnipeg’s Hot Thespian Action, and local crew Rapp Battlez.
Rapp Battlez—which features comedians battling each other in character, sometimes as pop-culture icons—is a regular monthly feature at Comedy Bar. For Sketchfest, however, there will be two editions of the show. Co-host Freddie Rivas says that the team is planning to step things up for the festival.
“We’re looking to maybe do a bit of a cliffhanger on [March 8], and have some folks who are in the second show introduce themselves in the first,” he says. “We like to make it as much like wrestling as possible.”
He adds that he’s excited to be getting comedians from across the country to perform on the show.
“Usually we just go with folks from the local comedy scene, but this time we kind of took a look at who was at the festival and tried to book some different people who may not have done it before,” says Rivas.
Snepsts says that having comedians from across the country working together and influencing one another is one of the things that makes Sketchfest great.
“If all you’re seeing is what folks in your own town are up to, you can stagnate,” he says. “It’s good to see what your peers from across the country are doing.”