Photo courtesy of 7 Minutes in Heaven.
We went to a comedy show at the recently opened Comedy Bar on Bloor Street West last Thursday. The club has become known as a place where local comedians go to watch their contemporaries, and this show was no exception. Being Torontoist, we decided that listening in on some talking comedians might prove fruitful for our ongoing column Streeter. We were pretty disappointed to learn that all Toronto comedians seem to talk about is basketball, going on about the Raptors and how they are going to do next season. There was only one topic able to break them from their hoop talk; whenever they weren’t twittering about Chris Bosh, they would gossip like Teri Hatcher about who was going to be announced in the top five for the prestigious Tim Sims Encouragement Award. This is their Polaris Prize; the big chance for a local up-and-comer.
The jury-selected nominees were announced on Monday, chosen based on their performance at Fresh Meat, an event held early last week at Second City. Odds are you haven’t heard of the nominees before, and that’s not only fine, it’s sort of the idea. It might not be fair to call them amateurs, but that’s really what they are, in the same way that Olympic athletes are amateurs. Lindsay Leese—who started the competition fourteen years ago at the request of Tim Sims—set out the stipulation that the performers can only have been actively working towards a career in comedy for a maximum of two years. “It’s sometimes tricky to pinpoint the exact moment when someone stops dabbling in comedy and starts pursuing a career,” she admits. For instance, while nominee Alana Johnston has only been doing the character monologues for which she was nominated for a year or less, she has been active in the city’s improv scene for considerably longer than that.
Leese is thrilled that this year features one of the most diverse groups. There is the young (21-year-old Adam Christie, pictured at left) and the slightly older (31-year-old Zabrina Chevannes, the first woman of colour to participate in the competition). Also for the first time, there is an almost even split of male and female performers. It doesn’t solely focus on the stand-up side of comedy either, with aforementioned Alana Johnston stepping in as a character monologist and sketch duo 7 Minutes in Heaven (featuring Josh Saltzman and Laura Cilevitz, pictured above) both being nominated. That’s not to say that being a little more standard doesn’t mean you don’t have a good story. Nathan Macintosh—last year’s winner—nominated stand-up comedian Bryan O’Gorman, who runs a weekly “cannabis friendly” show called “Weedy Wednesday” at Vapor Central, a pot memorabilia store specializing in vapour technology. Leese was admittedly shocked when she heard this. “Everyone is basically smoking pot there,” said Leese, “and I asked, ‘How is that legal?’ He said most of the people there are cancer patients or have AIDS.”
Regardless of who wins, they are sure to go on to great things. Previous winners include Gavin Crawford, Levi MacDougall (that guy with the weird eyes who you see in almost every Canadian commercial), and Fraser Young (trust us, if you have ever seen an episode of “Video on Trial,” you know who this is). Most comedians who have walked away with the award now have a sustainable career in comedy, which is the main goal of the competition. Oh, they also got $5000 and a Canadian Comedy Short featured on—and produced by—the Comedy Network. They got that too.
The final winner will be selected based on a 15-minute performance at the Tim Sims Award Nominee Showcase on October 27 and announced at the televised Cream of Comedy showcase (date to be discussed).
Photo of Adam Christie courtesy of Corbin Smith