Toronto Selects Top Comic Showcase Winners

The Interrobang’s Coverage of all three nights of the Toronto showcases of the annual 25,000$ competition

It is a muggy Tuesday evening at Absolute comedy club in north Toronto; framed head shots of comedy legends and nobodies, and Legends when they were nobodies, line the walls. A small crowd of a few tables settle in. Each table is adorned with a sign advertising the clubs new dessert (an ice cream sandwich in the shape of a platypus the mascot of the club). At first it would appear to be a standard slow night at the club but tonight is unlike any other… tonight is the first round of Top comic’s Toronto showcases.

In Canada, stand up comedy is not recognized as an art form, therefore, it is nearly impossible to receive grant money to fund tours or albums the way musicians would be eligible for. Essentially the only way comics can receive an impactful lump sum of money to fund their comedy career is to win Top comic’s prize $25,000 along with headlining sets at The Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. As well as the Toronto, Vancouver and Australian incarnations of the Just for laughs branded festivals.

Thousands of comics applied for a spot on the coveted 6 showcases. Three of which happened in Vancouver earlier this month and garnered 9 finalists one of which is Sophie Buddle who has been runner-up at Top comic in 2016 and 2018.

Tonight in Toronto a group of 10 comics who know each other all too well politely pace around in the tense silent dark. There are ceremonial wishes for good luck exchanged with each competitor in full realization of what this could be the beginning of and how essential the right alchemy of emotions will be to their success.

The first Toronto showcase featured a lineup of comics that are stylistically more unconventional and have found success in spaces beyond the comedy club circuit.

Ted Morris who is a Staldwalt headliner in the Queer comedy scene gave a formidable performance that was so polished it shone with cunning wit. Nour Hadidi who is gaining popularity on the festival circuit and wrote on the Tiffany Haddish Gala at last year’s Just for laughs also delivered a noteworthy set that had been honed with a great deal of work and intent.

Yet ultimately the winners from night one were Adam Christie a comic who has written on This Hour Has 22 Minutes (think Canadian Daily Show) an endearing non-threatening self-deprecating yet not an entirely gentle giant; Natalie Norman an observational feminist comedian who’s ability to deliver blue material with ease is an undeniable a skill Norman has practiced to a masterful level at the long-standing safe space room the crimson wave of which they are founder and co-producer; and Brandon -Ash-Mohammed the undeniably charismatic and confident comic who made the homegrown list in 2018 (an annual list of Canada’s best breakout comics who showcase together at Just for Laughs) and is signed with the prestigious 3 Arts management.

The following evening the second showcase takes place again at Absolute. It featured a lineup of comics who were all headliners in their own right. This can be a detriment in Top Comic because a spot on the showcase is only 6 minutes long. The second showcase saw the return of one of the most memorable winners of the competition Chris Robinson who won in 2016– Dave Chappelle tweeted his career is one to watch. Five of the 10 competitors on this showcase had been featured on the prestigious JFL Homegrown list.

Marito Lopez a comic with explosive energy and massive stage presence gave a performance that was poignant and entertaining about his proud El Salvadoran heritage and was audibly a crowd favorite, but at the conclusion of night two it was announced Homegrown 2017 winner Courtney Gilmourwould be advancing along with Chris Locke a character-driven ironic satirist and founding a member of the Laugh Sabbath collective. And after delivering an entirely new 6 minutes worthy of a place in the finals Chris Robinson also advanced.

The final showcase which was held at Yuks Yuks in downtown Toronto. This night was well attended there was very much a sense of occasion. Competitors kept to themselves busy with ritual and trying to ignore their name being whispered in the crowd as the audience speculated the outcome. Hungry Like the Wolf, and Eminem’s Lose Yourself set the drastically un-ironic pre-show mood. This night featured a cross-section of stand-ups who strengths lie in writing and delivery rather than character and persona.

The focus and craftsmanship was evident in every set.

Keesha Brownie a mainstage regular of Montreal’s comedy nest performed an energizing six minutes that showed excellent transition and execution of material. It was also clean– something that is not required of top comic but a skill unto its self. Brownie is a club headliner at the top of their game Jackie Pirico is one of the most unique and theatrical performers in the Canadian scene. They delivered a cohesive well-written set with their seamless signature vernacular. Jackie is easy to like and hard to forget.

But neither made the list. The three selected were Homegrown winner 2016 Nigel Grinstead with an entirely new 6 minutes that featured topical bits about The Raptors in the NBA finals. Grinstead is a writer, a relentless worker elusive off stage and constantly evolving on. And Jess Solomon a Canadian ex-pat who returned to compete in the contest and competed against her own wife for a spot. The third spot went to Alex Wood who had the breakout moment of this showcase. This was not his first time on a Top Comic showcase his set seemed tailored to be competitive. Opening with an almost psychological inversion on crowd work and the whole nature of the competition, he was incredibly focused. With a set that made self and societal reflection funny in a way that other comics would ease into. It was a risk it paid off.

Now all the competitors wait until August when a nationwide online vote will open where each person can vote on each device they own once a day. The comics with the most votes will showcase again at Toronto’s JFL42 in September and then a winner and two runners up will be selected.

A common misconception about Top comic that it is about finding the funniest person. That is simply impossible. Comedy is subjective. Everyone selected to compete in Top comic is funny that is why they are there. What a comic contributes to their art form and scene is unchanged by awards only how people acknowledge it. What Top comic is, however is a series of multifaceted tests to see who is deserving and ready for a career changing opportunity unlike any other.

We’ll be covering the event through August’s vote and September’s final as JFL. Until then…

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