Ladies & Gentlemen at Sketchfest
Sometime life gets so absurd you just have to laugh about it. In Montreal, we have plenty of opportunities to do just that, with an energetic comedy scene that offers stand-up, improv and sketch comedy just about every night of the week across our comedy clubs, cafés and bars, while summertime fests Just for Laughs and Fringe are famous with locals and tourists alike for bringing the lolz.
Before these big fests begin, however, you can get your funny bone tickled starting this week at Montreal Sketchfest, the city’s only festival dedicated to sketch comedy. For this year’s 10th anniversary edition, organizers have pulled out all the stops to bring in more sketch troupes than ever before, resulting in a solid gold line-up of performances, happening from May 21–30 and anchored at Théâtre Sainte Catherine.
“We have 60 troupes this year, which is the most we’ve ever had,” says Sketchfest festival director Erin Hall. “Last year we had 40. The festival started off as this little tiny thing, and it’s evolved into a really great community for sketch comedians.”
Highlights of this year’s program include Vancouver’s Peter N’ Chris from CBC’s The Irrelevant Show and Punchline (May 29), L.A.-based troupe It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way (May 23), a Saturday night line-up of New York-based troupes including Wendigo, Baby Shoes and Bridge & Tunnel (May 23) and a night of visiting Torontonian troupes including the Rocket Scientists, Tall Sigh and That’s So Whatever (May 28) in a double-bill line-up that also includes Montreal supergroup Gary, featuring Pat Dussault (This Hour Has 22 Minutes), Alain Mercieca (DéPFLIES), Al Lafrance (Flapjack Cadillac), Rodney Ramsey (The Debaters) and Sehar Manji (Montreal Improv).
Those who (like me!) are excited about the rising tide of women in comedy in Montreal and beyond won’t want to miss the Women in Comedy panel discussion on Saturday, May 23, presented by No More Radio and featuring Kristen Bartlett of New York’s Upright Citizens’ Brigade, actor Dawn Ford, the Brunch Club’s Sasha Manoli and more in a conversation moderated by Cult MTL’s own theatre correspondent Sarah Deshaies (also of CJAD and CKUT). The conversation will be followed up with a Women in Comedy performance night hosted by Tranna Wintour, featuring women comedians from Montreal, Toronto and New York.
Though the line-up of performers includes troupes from locales as far flung as Toronto, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and L.A., Hall is especially proud of the amount of homegrown, Montreal-based talent being showcased for the 10th edition.
“It was a mandate of ours to include as many Montreal troupes as possible,” Hall says. “In previous years there were a lot of out-of-town troupes coming. That was really cool for audiences, but it didn’t really help build the community here, and we want the festival to have a lasting effect.”
One such notable local troupe appearing during Sketchfest is Ladies & Gentlemen, the duo of Daniel Carin and Chris Sandiford that hosts a weekly Tuesday night comedy show at NDG’s Café Shäika (recently voted the #2 Best Comedy Night in Cult MTL’s Best of Montreal readers’ poll).
I met up with the pair at Sketchfest’s home base, Théâtre Sainte Catherine, to talk about their approach to comedy and their relationship with Sketchfest and the little downtown theatre that’s become a hive of activity and growth for Montreal’s grassroots performing arts scene.
“Théâtre Sainte Catherine is this little hub of really creative, almost punk energy and I love it,” Carin tells me.
“I want (comedy) to stay in the Black Box theatres and places where anything goes,” Sandiford adds. “The punk energy is electric. And we’re not punks! Though, we hate authority, kind of.”
“It’s the 10th anniversary of Sketchfest, and we won Best Local Troupe last year so we want to do something good this year!” Carin continues. “I feel there’s a little bit of added pressure. We’re honoured that we’re part of this thing so we take it to heart.”
For this year’s Sketchfest, Carin and Sandiford will be hosting Thursday’s opening night show as well as performing a set of sketch comedy on Friday, May 29 in an opening slot for Vancouver duo Peter N’ Chris. The Ladies & Gentlemen weekly show at Shäika — a largely improvised stand-up affair built around a theme that changes each week, to keep things fresh for returning audience members — has proven to be a fertile training ground for developing their ideas and stage presence.
“We’ve learned a buttload from the show about what you can do in front of an audience,” Sandiford says. “Dan and I just kind of riff and figure things out on the fly. We’re constantly fixing our little car that we’re driving.”
Creating a show centred on sketch comedy is a different type of vehicle for the comedians, who typically don’t use written scripts. Carin explains, “It’s not traditional sketch. We like squeezing comedy out of anywhere we can. This is going to be heavily written but partly improvised, and whatever skills we have will be thrown in.“
“With a sketch night, we get together and talk about what really makes us laugh, story-wise,” Sandiford adds. “It’s really much bigger picture stuff that we discuss, whereas with stand-up it’s really just bits — little nuggets of ideas.
When I ask what kinds of topics are likely to get the comedy treatment in their shows, both comedians agree that it could be pretty much anything.
“You go first,” Carin motions to Sandiford. “I was just going to talk until thoughts came.”
“It’s not an exact science,” Sandiford says. “Comedy is such a singular art form. We use it to talk about all these big, universal things. You let the weight of the world kind of crush you on the outside, and then when you’re on that stage, you just talk about it and filter it. You talk about why it crushed you and why it’s funny. I’m still alive, so it’s ok! I can make fun of it because I’m still here.” ■
Montreal Sketchfest is on from May 21–30 with events at Théâtre Sainte Catherine (264 Ste-Catherine E.) and Montreal Improv Theatre (3697 St-Laurent). Tickets cost $12 per show, $20 for double bills, or $50 for an all-access festival pass. See montrealsketchfest.com for full programming.
Ladies & Gentlemen will host Sketchfest’s opening night show Thursday, May 21 at 8 p.m., and will perform Friday, May 29 at 9:30 p.m., both at Théâtre Sainte Catherine. Catch their weekly Tuesday night show at Café Shäika (5526 Sherbrooke W.), 9 p.m.