The acts and shows we still chuckle about when we think back on the past year.
Our list of the top 10 plays of 2014 primarily references shows that have come and gone over the past year—the beauty of our comedy top 10 is that most of the acts and shows mentioned here are on stage on a regular basis in this city. If you follow them on Twitter or via other social media profiles, you’ll almost certainly discover that they’re scheduled to appear locally in a matter of weeks, if not days.
We’ve arranged these 10 comedy-show highlights of 2014 chronologically. It’s an all-local list, and it doubles as a series of recommendations for which shows you should be checking out in 2015.
Rapp Battlez had a great 2014, selling out most of its monthly shows and winning a place on Now Magazine‘s top 10 comedy show list for its NXNE showcase. But our favourite of all its shows this year was the first one, which celebrated its four-year anniversary (it debuted in 2010 at Comedy Bar’s Festival of New Formats). There were great matches—such as the one featuring Andy Hull and Glenn Macauley as Dothraki warriors—but the discovery of the night for us was Marty Topps, who entertained us with his musical stylings and later went on to win the top prize at Laugh Sabbath’s NXNE comedy shorts festival.
Improv duo the Sufferettes (Becky Johnson and Kayla Lorette) was impressive as always at this “homecoming” set, a precursor to their summer “Tour of Toronto.” While the pair have played extensively in the U.S. and Europe, their hometown shows were few and far between—until this year. Their new local focus led to much-deserved local recognition: we named Johnson to this year’s Local Ladies Who Make Us Laugh (Lorette was on the first edition in 2011), and Now Magazine‘s readers’ poll named Johnson Toronto’s best female improviser, and the Sufferettes its best improv troupe.
The SheDot Festival, which celebrates female-created comedy, had an excellent first year, delivering a smooth festival experience with a wealth of talented acts. Of those, our favourite was CORY (Lauren Ash and Leslie Seiler), whose sketch set at the Opera House gala (and fest-closing show) brought the house down with a bit about friends awkwardly bathing together because “the girls on Girls did it.” (The duo closed out the year with a Christmas special.)
Tim Gilbert has long been one of our favourite stand-ups, so when he recorded an album over the course of two nights, we made sure to be there for one of them. The recording was clearly a great success; Splitsider named Gilbert’s Please Help Me I Am Very Sick one of the “7 Best DIY-ish Comedy Albums of 2014″. (Gilbert is still offering the album for free/PWYC on Bandcamp.)
Rebecca Kohler is one of the most rock-solid stand-ups in the city. We could have cited any of a half-dozen appearances of hers this year, including an excellent opening set for Iliza Schlesinger during JFL42 at the Garrison, but we’re going with her taping special in the hopes that it’ll eventually result in something akin to Gilbert’s album.
We’ve come to expect sketch excellence on the mainstage of Second City Toronto—this year’s spring revue Sixteen Scandals, for example, earned raves from media outlets across town. But sketch excellence courtesy of recent graduates from its conservatory program, at the Fringe Festival? Credit director Ken Hall, who helped the talented young cast fill the large Tarragon Theatre main space, and a wise-beyond-its-years cast that included Nicky Nasrallah and Allana Reoch (the latter of whom we named to this year’s Local Ladies Who Make Us Laugh for her solo work).
Directed by Julie Dumas Osborne—one of our Heroes of 2014—this improvised magic-realist story created connections between characters and Toronto landmarks such as the labyrinth behind the Eaton Centre, and boasted a heckuva cast in the Bad Dog Repertory Players, which include current Second City mainstage player Etan Muskat, Toronto Fringe MVP Colin Munch, and 2014 Local Lady Who Makes Us Laugh Hannah Spear.
We saw Demers polishing his material over the past year—opening for Christina Walkinshaw and Matt O’Brien at JFL42, appearing at the Alt Dot Comedy Lounge during our Week of Weeklies, and then making his late-night debut on Conan less than a week later, on December 1. He’s a great MC, a great headliner, and a comic whose star is clearly on the rise.
As we noted in our JFL42 wrap-up, drop-by out-of-town stars such as Tig Notaro and Paul F. Tompkins were what kept Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show buzzing—but it was local comics, primarily those associated with Laugh Sabbath, who filled out the nights. Chris Locke, Mark Forward, and Mark Little made multiple appearances; other frequent Laugh Sabbath guests included Tom Henry, Amanda Brooke-Perrin, and James Hartnett.
Catch 23 Improv was our favourite of the seven shows we caught as part of our Week of Weeklies feature, but to be honest, it’s been our favourite weekly show for the past year—and for a long while before that. The format brings out the best in many improvisers, and in the regular hosts and judges, too; non-improviser funny folk such as Norm Sousa, Brendan Halloran, and Ennis Esmer always seem to be having just as much fun as the audience. The December 15 TV pilot taping at CBC Studios seemed to go well, and it drew a large audience, so here’s hoping Canadians will get to catch a glimpse of what Torontonians can enjoy live nearly every week.