Tall Poppy Interview: David Shore, writer, comedian and creator of Monkey Toast
Every other Sunday night at the Drake Underground, David Shore hosts the always awesomely hilarious Monkey Toast, an improvised talk show. Each week he interviews a different guest – anyone from Nash the Slash to Quirks and Quarks’ Bob MacDonald – and a troupe of six of the city’s best improvisors do comedy based on the interview. The next Monkey Toast takes place on Sunday (April 30th) at 8pm, with Sean Cullen as David’s guest. But this week, the tables are turned and David is our guest (but you’ll have to do your own improv…or just go to Monkey Toast this weekend!).
Tell us a bit about your background and how you started Monkey Toast.
I trained in Los Angeles, and improv there is quite different than it is here – there are different styles, and I was trained in what’s called Chicago-style improv at the Improv Olympic West. I came back to Toronto with the hope of starting a show, I had connected with a bunch of people here who saw my one-man show and expressed interest in working with me, but all that got put on hold because I joined the Second City Mainstage for a couple of years.
Where did the name come from?
It’s just a name that I’ve always liked. When we were picking a name for the Second City show that ultimately became Insanity Fair we’d have sheets of paper up on the wall during rehearsal and we’d jot down random word combinations, and one of the things we got was Monkey Toast. And I loved it, I kept voting for it, and obviously it kept losing, but I liked the name and wanted to use it for something.
You’ve been doing Monkey Toast for a few years now – has the show evolved much since the beginning?
The structure of the show is quite a bit different now from how it started. It started as a form called the Armando, which was named after Armando Diaz – the full name is the Armando Diaz Experience Hootenanny, which they do at the Improv Olympic in Chicago, and in LA, and at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York where they call it ASSSSCAT. So I e-mailed Armando and asked if it would be cool if we did it in Toronto, and he said yeah, but then a mutual friend of ours warned me against using that name – putting ownership on improv is a bit of an issue. So anyway, I called it Monkey Toast, and the cast consisted of a bunch of Second City alumni and some people from the Bad Dog Theatre, all the city’s top improvisers. The show was divided into two halves, with six performers per half, and I’d come out and get a word from the audience, and I’d have to use that word to tell a story from my life, and then the six performers would do scenes based on my story. The second act was the same, except that the performers from the first act could jump on stage and bring back a character from the first half.
The Drake is our fourth home. We started at the Poor Alex, then moved to the Tim Sims, which was good but a really horrible time, Tuesdays at 10, but it was free. And just when they were about to give us a better time slot, Wednesdays at 8, the Tim Sims closed. So we performed at Bad Dog for a couple of weeks, and then moved to the Drake Underground. And then CBC Radio got involved, and they wanted a host to do guest interviews, so I became the host. And we have a much smaller cast now, which is unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. It’s a much tighter show now.
You have a fabulous variety of guests – how do you choose them, and who have been some of your favourites?
It’s a matter of who is interested and available, and who we think would be interesting. Once we had Nash the Slash on the show – that was pretty freaky. He came in full costume, all wrapped up in bandages – it was mindblowing, I was sitting across from him and I felt like I was sixteen in my parents’ basement! It was surreal. Ralph Benmurgui was also pretty awesome. It was one of those great situations where it just seemed like we’d known each other for years even though we’d never met before. We just really connected. But often the less known people will make for better shows.
Who’s your dream interviewee?
I’d love to have the cast of Little Britain on because I love that show, but in my dream of dreams? I would love to interview Pierre Trudeau.
You grew up in Toronto, right? What neighborhood? Do you have any good Toronto living stories?
North York. And then I was kidnapped to Thornhill, which I hated. But I refused to switch high schools – I stayed at York Mills. I grew up in a really mixed neighbourhood, which I liked – my friends and I were a rainbow melting pot. Anyway, I love it here – I lived away for awhile, but now I’m firmly back. My family’s here, my sister has two kids, and I want to be near my family. Although the city, I think, has gotten worse. It was really night and day since I came back from LA – Harris really ruined the city. He should be ashamed of what he did to this city.
I used to live with Peaches, the rock star, who was still Meryl at the time. She and her boyfriend and I lived in an apartment near Casa Loma while I was going to Ryerson, and I used to go to all her shows. Not because she was my roommate, but because I was blown away by her.
What do you wish you’d been asked that I was too dumb to think of?
What are you working on now?
Ok, what are you working on now (besides Monkey Toast)?
I have a meeting after this at the CBC Radio – I’m working on a pilot. I want to develop Monkey Toast for tv, because they don’t seem to think that improv works on radio. I disagree with that, but it’s their dime. But what was weird for me is that they said “but we really like you”. After eating shit for years now people are asking ‘do you have anything funny that revolves around you?’ And I’m like…’really? Um, ok!” So I wrote a treatment for a structured I improv show, kind of in the vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm. It revolves around a character similar to myself – kind of a lost generation sort of thing. There’s this whole generation of people who have been brought up to think they’re special, and eventually you wake to realize that life is passing you by. So this guy wakes up and thinks, ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ And that happened to me – I think it happens to a lot of people. So we’ll see if they like it.
But first I have to finish my wedding. My big fat Jewish wedding.
Photo taken by Tina Adam at Katz’s Deli in New York City.