(As published in The Scene Magazine)
Comedy isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a blood sport. A brutal gauntlet where words and wits are subjected to the discerning scorn of drunks, nighthawks and revellers, in the wee hours. But when it goes well, there’s no bigger high in the world.
Comedians are wired a little differently than the rest of society. We thrive in these dark, late, low-lit conditions – baring our souls to people while we work to gain your attention. Yes, its how we get off. So we’re always inventing new ways to mainline this strange and dangerous drug we call “Standup”. New shows, new venues, new formats, new spaces and places to play.
Toronto’s famous Comedy Bar has been home to some of the Toronto comedy scene’s most bizarre and innovative new shows over the last decade. An alternative to Canada’s oft-called ‘two club system’ (which really isn’t the case anymore, because of Comedy Bar and a new wave of other independent comedy clubs of its kind that are springing up across the Canadian comedyscape) New formats and unheard of experiments in live standup, sketch and improv seem to thrive on the Comedy Bar’s dual stages. The Game, is one such show.
(Nick Martinello. Photo cred: Back of the Room)
Launched a couple of years ago (in its original home at The Central), Halifax-imported comedian Nick Martinello began the game as a sort of parlor show. Comedians would hang around and perform improvised sets based entirely on suggestions from the crowd. And yes, early on that crowd was mainly open mic’ers and comedians passing through. Sometimes the jokes were a little inside – but it caught on. It grew. It found a new home at Comedy Bar, and a new audience. Some comics who’ve done the show found it a little nerve racking – I myself get off on it. Yes, I get off on it. There’s something electric, something liberating about not having a set list in mind. About not knowing where the topics will steer you. As written as we may be, The Game gives comics (and audience) a unique chance to connect. Its the purest form of that drug I mentioned earlier – you’re playing Jazz up there. Ducking and weaving, rolling with the punches. I can’t say how many times I’ve left that show with new material in hand, because someone placed the right little nugget of an idea into that bucket for me to mould. It’s kind of like in college, when we used to get drunk and play the game operation (pictured here, for reference sake)
You either get zapped, or you win the day – and you feel that sweet little jolt of euphoria wash over you.
As the show changed venues, taking up residency at C.B and picking up pace, Nick teamed up with Toronto comic (and let’s call him, the new millennium’s updated ‘King of Kensington’) Tim McDonald.
(Tim McDonald; The Supermarket)
The duo started rounding up comedians after the show, recording the leftovers from the night’s bucket of topics and recording a roundtable style podcast. The Game: The Podcast was born. Sort of an indie Canadian podcast version of Politically Incorrect, but recorded in a one bedroom apartment at 2am with upcoming comedians you haven’t heard of yet. We in turn picked it up on Talkhole Podcast Network and floated it out to the world that way. Recently, they revamped The Game – moving it over to monthly Friday nights in the Comedy Bar’s cabaret space (“the cab space” if you want to know the local lingo) With a specific lineup of comics booked to suit the style of the show. Audiences are encouraged to come out in droves, and drop topics into the holy bucket. Oh, and one tip – have fun with it but don’t be too broad. Things like “religion” or “winter” or “Dads” might end up in a crumbled wad of paper at stage left, depending on who’s doing the drawing.
It’s a unique show, and well run by this duo – and hey, that’s exactly what we need more of in this town. Come by Comedy Bar and see which comics are brave enough to play The Game.