Comedians left to right. Front row: 7 Minutes in Heaven (Laura Cilevitz and Josh Saltzman), Alana Johnston, Zabrina Chevannes. Back row: Adam Christie, Bryan O’Gorman. Photo courtesy of Dan Abramovici.
The Tim Sims Encouragement Awards Showcase at Second City on Monday was a testament to how strong Toronto’s comedy scene really is. Don’t forget, the nominees are meant to be new comedians, but you couldn’t tell with the confidence exuding from the stage that night. Every performer had a solid set and no jokes failed. With the exception of some of the judges (they’re professionals and can’t show any bias; we guess laughing constitutes bias), everyone in the audience was in stitches the whole night.
We’re reluctant to declare a winner a month before it’s announced, but we’re willing to give you our top three: in order of appearance, Adam Christie, Bryan O’Gorman, and Alana Johnston completely rocked it. They all had minor slip-ups (O’Gorman burping into the microphone), but their respective successes overshadowed any of that.
Christie opened the night—always a difficult job for any performing artist—with his form of absurdist, stream of consciousness jokes. The highlight of the set, and probably the biggest laugh of the night, was him talking about punching his panda bear girlfriend in the eyes when she gets out of line (did we butcher that? It’s better when he says it). He was the only act of the night who didn’t have any easy jokes.
Belching aside, O’Gorman was probably the most confident performer of the night. He played up his pot-smoking/burnt-out demeanor at first, only to emphasize the clever, biting leftist satire that infused the majority of his set. “You all thought I was dumb,” he said with a laugh. He also does a really good Velociraptor impression. Even though he already has a fairly successful weekly comedy show, we have no doubt that he—like anyone who is twenty-four and living in Toronto—would benefit from $5000 prize.
Nominee Adam Christie apparently refused to smile during this photo shoot. What kind of comedian doesn’t smile? A sad comedian.
That leaves Alana. Alana is a little different from the other performers: she wasn’t doing stand-up, but rather character monologues. It might not sound that different, but it is: stand-ups need jokes, and pretty much everything they say has to be funny or leading up to something funny. Character monologists don’t tell jokes, but they still need to be funny, and Alana was: she did two characters, a black woman yelling at her husband and an elementary school principal with issues, and both were great. We don’t know if you can expect to see her doing the stand-up circuit that often, but a one-woman show would be the perfect venue for her wackiness.
There’s the top three. Again, it’s not that the other performers were bad, but they were not as consistent as those three. While Zabrina Chevannes had strong jokes, the comedy about her kids and married life might have been hindered by the audience being comprised almost entirely of 20-something artistes who couldn’t possibly relate to her. We still wouldn’t be surprised if she were a superstar within the next few years, whether or or not she won Tim Sims, and we expect that she could make a very good sitcom (and we mean that as a compliment, not in a “she could be Jim Belushi” way).
7 Minutes in Heaven we just don’t get. The two people in the sketch act are really strong performers, and the way they play off each other is incredibly well executed, but it’s all one joke. The idea for their set—incidentally longer than seven minutes—is that they are an abusive couple who are giving advice on how to stay together. We felt uncomfortable for a lot of their set. While that’s probably the idea, it didn’t really make us laugh; it wasn’t that kind of uncomfortable. Some other people were laughing a fair bit, though, so we’ll just stick with “we don’t get it.”
Specific mention—and kudos—should be given to Steve Scholtz, the MC. He was great (and not bitter at all about being nominated but not winning last year’s award).
Comedy in Toronto is one of the things that the city should be proudest of. It’s been a while since we had a major performer make it into the public consciousness, but we could see any one of these five make it there. The bar has been set, and we are expecting great things. Unfortunately, we have to wait a whole month before we find out this year’s winner: it’ll be announced at the annual Cream of Comedy show, taking place on November 22, after all five performers do their thing one last time.