Revving up for the premiere of their TV show this month, East Coast troupe Picnicface showed off their sketch skills IRL at the Rivoli.
Picnicface gave a sneak preview of their show last night at the Rivoli, and one of the first sketches perfectly summarized the group to the packed house. In the sketch, Andy Bush plays a suicidal jumper on the ledge of a building. The sketch starts out with Mark Little in the crowd, screaming at Bush: first to get a DVD on the ledge next to Bush, then demanding that Bush give up “his awesome shirt.”
It’s fantastic and very traditional sketch comedy, which abruptly morphs into an absurd song-and-dance routine comparing Little’s hairless chest to Bush’s ursine one and finally into a sort-of callback to their “Good Touch, Bad Touch” sketch. It’s an almost Pythonian progression from traditional comedy to anti-comedy all in the space of about five minutes, and it’s really funny. And that’s a good chunk of the reason why Picnicface now have their own TV show on the Comedy Network: they’re a collective comedic jack-of-all-trades.
Members of the group worship numerous comedians of all styles, from Paul F. Tompkins to Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, and the members themselves all have their specialties: Little refers to Scott Vrooman as “the Bruce [McCulloch]” of the group, “the vibe of difference, of dry sensibility,” while Bush is the group’s filmic director, Cheryl Hann the “strangely talented battle rapper,” Brian Macquarrie the most physical, Evany Rosen the “brainiest writer,” and Bill Wood the “purest soul” who demands that their comedy be inclusive.
During the show, Vrooman and Kyle Dooley take turns doing what are more or less readings from Picnicface’s upcoming book. Vrooman’s “explanations” of the various provincial flags are killer (Ontario’s is the winner of a “most pathetic collage contest”); however, Dooley’s presentation of musical charts and equations gets a good reaction but feels a bit derivative, like it got upvoted on Reddit a thousand times before being deemed worthy for mass consumption—it’s those hip-hop graphs but with Canadian musical artists.
This illustrates what seems to be Picnicface’s primary vice: something that can only be described as internetiness. The group often indulges in randomness, sometimes for its own sake, and the results are hit and miss. The “trucker robbery” sketch, which ends with Bush screaming and pretending to be a deer, gets one of the less enthusiastic receptions of the night precisely because it’s so random. Picnicface have relied on the absurdist non-sequitur since they first broke big on YouTube with Powerthirst, screaming about 400 babies and Kenyans, but even they can’t make it hit every time. (Of course, Bush’s deer act then segues into their brilliant series of cereal-tycoon titan performances, so it rebounds.)
If this is a criticism, though, it is a mild one. After all, Picnicface filled the Rivoli to bursting (and forced staff to turn away many more) for a reason: they’ve been honing their craft since 2007, constantly putting on shows in Halifax’s otherwise small comedy scene (where Picnicface was the only major sketch-comedy troupe, and for a long time the only major improv group as well), refining their creative process and writing enough sketches to float a comedy show for years. During that time they also created Roller Town, which is opening the Atlantic Film Festival (but not TIFF, as Bush sarcastically notes in the group’s opening spiel).
In short, Picnicface are good at what they do, and only growing better as it as they progress. They are smart comics, every one, and the Rivoli show was mostly excellent at a point when they’re still very much developing as performers. They have the potential to be the most important Canadian sketch troupe since the Kids. We only hope they can live up to their promise.
The premiere episode of Picnicface premieres September 21 at 10:30 p.m. on the Comedy Network.