Toronto troupes swept the awards at this year's Sketchfest.This year’s edition of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival—also known as Toronto Sketchfest—was, if nothing else, proof positive that this is a very, very funny city.
Over the 10-day festival, which ended on Sunday, local sketch troupes took the stage alongside some of the best comedians from across North America. Those Torontonian performers not only held their own, but dominated. All four of the festival’s awards went to locals, with She Said What winning Best of the Fest, Deadpan Powerpoint winning the Audience Choice Award, The Rocket Scientists winning producer’s choice, and Fratwurst taking the peer-selected Sketchiest Sketch Troupe award.
“Toronto is just the place to be if you want to make it in Canadian comedy, or in media,” says Sketchfest associate producer Cameron Wyllie. “It attracts performers from all [backgrounds]. If you look at the performers at Sketchfest, you have accomplished improvisers, accomplished stage and TV actors, accomplished stand-up comedians. I think it’s that kind of cross-pollination, being able to see those different styles and learn from them, that makes the Toronto scene really, really unique.”
Local sketch troupe Deadpan Powerpoint came out of retirement to open for headliner Michael Ian Black on March 12, and showed off something unique in the process. Instead of a series of short sketches, the two-man group’s entire routine consisted of two fairly long motivational speeches, accompanied by Powerpoint presentations. The topics included how to plan a murder, and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Dogs.”
Conversely, Wyllie says the members of She Said What, appearing in their fourth Sketchfest, won because they embodied everything that sketch comedy is supposed to be.
“Every show was juried by the Second City, and, at the end, we tallied all the votes, and we had a couple troupes with perfect scores,” he says. “That led to a lot of discussion, and I think the point that was made, for me, that made me think [She Said What] deserved it, was that they are really a classical sketch troupe. It was less like a revue. There were lots of funny shows, but they were more like complete shows. Any one of She Said What’s sketches could just stand on its own.”
She Said What’s Carly Heffernan says that the difference-maker this time around was her troupe’s level of comfort with the fest, and each other.
“After being on stage together so many times now, there’s a great sense of confidence and play,” she says. “We’ve also been trying some new staging and transitional work that really bumped up the energy for us and the audience. We were literally having a blast trying new things. Also, Marni [Van Dyk] had really great hair this year.”
Wyllie says that producer’s-choice winners The Rocket Scientists were picked because they were not only funny, buy also remarkably hardworking.
“We were looking for a troupe that was taking advantage of all the opportunities Sketchfest had to offer,” he says. “Those guys were at every panel and every workshop. They couldn’t wait to sign up and try to step up their game. They were at every show. When they weren’t performing, they were in the audience every night, watching as much as they could…They really embodied that development aspect of Sketchfest.”
He adds that Fratwurst were able to win the esteem of their peers, and the accompanying award, by simply showing a willingness to be silly.
“The amount of growth they’ve shown in the last year is staggering,” he says. “They’re silly, they have stupid costumes and they attack stupid premises, but they do it in such a smart way. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they all have a degree of heart in them.”
Fratwurst’s Josh Murray says that, as far as he’s concerned, they took the festival’s biggest honour.
“Truthfully, we were gunning for that award from day one,” he says. “It’s great to be recognized by anyone, but when we get recognized by a bunch of sketch comedians as a troupe to go see and work with in the future, it’s freaking amazing. There’s something really special when people understand what you do, appreciate your contribution.”
Overall, Wyllie says this year’s edition of Sketchfest—which was longer than ever before, with bigger names on the bill—was a success on a number of fronts. The organizers were able to raise the profile of the festival while also boosting Toronto’s comedy scene as a whole.
“It’s great to be able to raise awareness of the cool things that are happening in Toronto,” he says. “With the bigger names this year, like Bruce McCulloch and Michael Ian Black, we had a little bit more money for advertising. So just raising the profile of sketch comedy in Toronto has been one of this year’s big successes. Even if people don’t go, they see the festival on the poster and they know it exists, so when they see it again next year, they remember it.”