Sketch troupe Primo landed on our People to Watch list at the beginning of the year because of its stellar roster and its cleverly conceived monthly live shows. Tonight’s Last Show Ever will celebrate a year’s worth of performances, and also bring the group’s residency at Supermarket to an end—though with a new member and lots of irons in the fire, it’s also the start of a new phase.
When we sat down with members of the troupe at a recent rehearsal, we wanted more details on Primo’s evolution, but we also wanted to know how so many of Toronto’s top comedians coalesced into such a tight-knit group. “It was really all Dan [Galea],” says troupe member Kris Siddiqi.
“I just wanted to make comedy with some of my favourite people,” says Galea, an alumnus of long-running troupes like The Sketchersons and The Boom. “The fact that many of us were Sketchersons alumni was a fluke.” Galea, Inessa Frantowski, and Laura Cilevitz, Primo’s newest member, were castmates in an earlier incarnation of the Sketchersons’ long-running Sunday Night Live show, but didn’t overlap with fellow Primo members Alex Tindal, or Daryn McIntyre, who’s the current head writer for The Sketchersons.
Also involved in Primo are Kayla Lorette and Toby Berner. Berner’s new to Toronto; Galea recruited him shortly after he moved here from Vancouver.
What all of Primo’s members share is an impressive amount of stage time in previous projects—and a sense that they wanted to do things a little differently. “We’ve all been doing comedy for a while now, in multiple sketch and improv troupes, big stage shows and little hole-in-the-wall shows,” says Siddiqi. “So we find we all jump on the same ideas pretty quickly, and we all wanted to avoid the standard lights-up lights-down style of sketch. That’s why we wanted to try having a DJ and dancers between scenes, without bringing the lights down.”
Bringing Marianna Khoury and Allison Johnston on as those “fly girl” dancers ended up being a huge plus for the troupe. “We lucked out,” admits Galea. “Marianna and Allison were Kayla’s roommates, and we thought they were so much fun, and then I found out they were these great filmmakers.” The troupe collaborated with D’Main Friends, Khoury and Johnston’s video company, on a note-perfect recreation of the Roseanne sitcom opening credits, which was praised by Roseanne Barr on Twitter. Primo has filmed other shorts, like the one above, and more are planned.
Creating shorts and online content is going to be a focus moving forward, as the troupe members feel their year of monthly shows has already accomplished what they set out to do. “I mean, where do you go after you’ve had Scott Thompson and Colin Mochrie on your show?” asks Berner. “Also, there are two jobs with a monthly: you have to create the show, then you have to promote it. It can be a lot of work to get an audience out—so we’ll take that effort and channel it into creating content.”
All of Primo’s members are proud of what they’ve done with this year’s run, of course. “We’ve had all these great guests, some of whom are back for our ‘last show ever,'” says Galea, referring to, among others, Mantown host Rob Baker, and Kurt Smeaton, head writer for CBC’s Mr. D. “Also, great musical guests, like Bob Wiseman, Spooky Ruben, Maylee Todd, Doctor Ew…”
By consensus, the show about Scott Thompson’s “hunger strike” is considered a high point. “He put so much into that, and we worked with him a lot for that one show,” says Siddiqi. “It wasn’t him just showing up that evening. We met, he went home and wrote a 20-page script, we spent several days filming it.” The Kids in the Hall comedian, who currently appears on NBC’s Hannibal, has been involved in most of Primo’s stage shows. “He’s the sixth Beatle,” cracks Berner.
Moving forward, all of Primo’s members have other projects on the go. Frantowski’s busy shooting a role in a horror film, and Cilevitz begins shooting on the second season of Comedy Network’s Match Game next week. Galea is in another troupe, Hyena Subpoena, while Siddiqi is in Bad Dog Theatre‘s Egg Zeppelin and Throne of Games. Tindal and Lorette (who’s currently touring Europe again with her duo The Sufferettes) are remounting the ambitious theatre cabaret series Henri Faberge’s Feint of Hart this July. But Primo will remain a very active project. “We’ll still be meeting weekly,” says Galea, “and we’ll focus on writing and filming.”
This post originally misspelled Daryn McIntyre’s name.
This post originally misspelled Marianna Khoury’s name.