2013 Hero: Pat Thornton
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.


2013 Hero: Pat Thornton

Nominated for: making comedy matter.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

hero pat thornton brian mchlachlan

While the fight to stop the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in Africa is certainly no laughing matter, comedian and actor Pat Thornton (Satisfaction, Space Janitors) continues to wield the formidable power of comedy in support of the cause. On November 29, Thornton took to the stage of Comedy Bar to perform a special extended set that would likely have been much more daunting if it hadn’t already become a tradition at this point: it was his fifth year doing 24 straight hours of stand-up to raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

It’s a tradition that began, as many do, on a dare (one issued by Comedy Bar owner Gary Rideout Jr.) and has evolved into something resembling a well-oiled joke machine. Fellow comedians and audience members endlessly contribute suggestions to a large bowl; Thornton draws from it throughout his marathon. Sometimes the handwriting may not be all that legible, and he’s forced to try and decipher it like it’s some kind of comedic Da Vinci Code. And sometimes (as you would also expect from a crowd-sourced endeavour), the quality of the suggestions varies wildly. Thornton presses on, laughing all the while.

As the hours tick by, subjects typically arise that become running gags for the rest of the night. This year saw the obvious jabs at Rob Ford of course, but even more enjoyable were recurring jokes about rapper Coolio and an ongoing audience poll that pitted actor Steve Buscemi against other people, places, and sometimes inanimate objects. When Jann Arden’s name started popping up in a string of silly jokes centring on her alleged love of eating eggs, the singer turned out to be a good sport and decided to donate. (No word on whether Coolio or Buscemi were as amused or generous.)

Ask anyone who’s ever tried stand-up comedy (or seen a terrible show): it’s not easy to make a room full of people laugh for even five minutes at a time. There are surely moments in the wee hours of the morning, as fatigue overwhelms, when Thornton finds it increasingly hard to see how anything at all could be considered funny anymore or ever again. But then he’ll pull out the next piece of paper, read it aloud, and cackle with infectious delight.

Thornton has raised nearly $35,000 this year, and roughly $85,000 since he first started the event. There’s still time to donate.