Comedy goes unscripted at the Heritage Grill (with audio)

April 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Members of Unscripted Chaos, from far left Blake Cuthbertson, Luke Johnson, Andrew Job, Tracy Schut, Rachelle Tomm and Jessie Crabbe strike a natural pose. (Photo by Miranda Gathercole)

A new improv group has taken hold of the Heritage Gill, bringing a mix of laughs and occasional head-shaking to New Westminster on Wednesday nights.

Unscripted Chaos is a group of six acting students looking for a real-life setting where they can practice their classroom skills.

Rachelle Tomm, a Kwantlen student and the youngest member of the group, said being able to interact with a live audience is a rewarding experience that just can’t be matched.

“It’s a lot of fun. And when you get a larger crowd out, you just feed off the audience. The audience just works off each other. You get good laughs,” she said.

“And when an audience laughs at a time when you didn’t expect it and you can crack up the actors and get them to start laughing, oh that is golden, golden.”

The group starts the evening with a series of games, which provide rules for each scene. The audience is involved in each skit, and will chose the characters settings, occupations, personalities, themes and so on. Once these key elements are established, the actors make the rest up on the spot.

After a break, the final half of the show usually consists of a longer piece that lasts about 25 minutes.

So far, the audiences of their shows have been locally based, with many hearing about the show by word of mouth. But the group hopes to expand and create a rep for themselves.

“It’s exciting, because we are the founding members of the group,” said Tomm.

“It’s not like we had to audition to get in, so we’re growing with it. We’re learning what not to do some nights and what games worked and what games didn’t, because we don’t have any prior experience or older expertise on it. It’s all new to us.”

She says looking a year from now, anything could be possible.

“Maybe we will be well-known like Laugh Lines, or Granville type shows” she said.

Unscripted Chaos performs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Heritage Grill, 447 Columbia St. in New Westminster.

For more information, visit their Facebook group.


Rachelle Tomm, Jessie Crabbe, Tracy Schut, Andrew Job, Luke Johnson and Blake Cuthbertson talk about their experiences so far as members of Unscripted Chaos.


Andrew Job and Blake Cuthbertson perform a skit.

Instant Theatre: a quick education in improv comedy

March 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Amanda Punshon and Brian Russell take a look at long-form improv comedy from the perspective of Instant Theatre, a improv team and school that has been around since 1994. The giggles, guffaws and great on-the-spot comedy that the group is known for are all here, including interviews with Instant Theatre’s artistic director Alistair Cook and one of the group’s performers, Brynn Peebles.

The Giggle Guide: where to find improv and standup comedy nights in the GVRD

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New York, Boston, Chicago and Montreal are all funny cities. Together, they have produced some of the biggest names in comedy — instantly recognizable people such as Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, Bonnie Hunt and Caroline Rhea.

But what about Vancouver?

While it’s true that we are not as well-known for our comedy scene as Just For Laughs staples such as Montreal, Vancouver does have a pretty solid comedy scene. Colin Mochrie (Whose Line is it Anyway, This Hour Has 22 Minutes,) Ryan Stiles (the Drew Carey Show, Two and a Half Men,) and Seth Rogen (Freaks and Geeks, Superbad) are all from here, and local and international comedians play Vancouver’s comedy and nightclubs every week. Show tickets are usually cheaper than the latest 3-D Justin Beiber cinematic extravaganza, and most of the venues are licensed.

The only problem is that finding comedy nights in Vancouver isn’t easy. That’s why we’ve created the Giggle Guide. Simply pick the night you want to go out and click through the available options to see what’s happening. Clicking the map for a venue will take you to the Google Maps website, where you can get more detailed directions.

A caveat: Vancouver’s comedy scene is like a beach. New things are always washing up as the old drift away, making it impossible for this guide to be comprehensive. It’s always a good idea to phone the venues before heading out, just in case they’ve changed or cancelled their night. Most venues are 19+.

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*The Montemartre Cafe has comedy nights once a month; Zesty’s Restaurant occasionally hosts comedy events.

Infographic by Amanda Punshon and Sarah Casimong

Funny girl, and a busy girl, too

February 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Nicole Passmore (left) and Kaitlin Fontana perform in their sketch group, Pony Hunters. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Fontana)

Kaitlin Fontana is a writer, sketch comedian, improv comedian and all-around funny girl.

And, after been involved with the comedy scene for roughly 10 years, she knows what she’s doing.

Fontana started out being involved in high school performances, and later was involved with UBC Improv. That lead her to doing comedy and improv with groups in both Vancouver and New York.

“I feel everyone needs something that allows them to explore their imagination and that creative part of themselves,” Fontana said. “I feel like comedy is that for me, particularly improvisation.”

She’s even started her own all female improv group, called Rosa Parks Improv.

“It started because I was surrounded by all of these awesome female improvisers and I wanted to take and perform on our own somewhere, just for kind of a different vibe. When all women are doing something, it changes things,” Fontana said.

Fontana has also formed a sketch group called Pony Hunters with one of the members of Rosa Parks Improv, Nicole Passmore, called Pony Hunters. A lot of their comedy is Star Trek-related, as how both Fontana and Passmore are big fans.

“I guess I would describe [my sense of humour] as nerdy and intelligent with a healthy dose of the ridiculous,” Fontana said. “I’m a nerd who reads a lot, so that comes out in my improv, for sure.”

Although Fontana is involved with many different forms of comedy, improv is where her heart is.

“The feeling of doing a really good improv show is very satisfying because, while I enjoy scripted work, and when it goes well I’m very happy with it, there’s a sense that it was programmed to succeed,” Fontana said. “Improvisation is much more risky. You don’t know what’s going to happen on stage. It’s not just you. It depends on the entire group of people you are performing with. It depends on trust and the energy in the room. And that undefinable other thing that makes comedy good, or makes any art good, that we can never really put our finger on. It’s like that magical ingredient.”

Fontana is busy with several comedy and improv shows coming up. Pony Hunters will be featured at an upcoming art exhibition about comedy at the Helen Pitt Gallery, where they will be showing the first episode of one of their web series, called Shitty Spock.

“It’s about a shitty version of Spock coming to Earth and trying to rescue his captain, and has found that his captain has become a mid-20s female, who lives on Earth and doesn’t realize that she is the captain. So basically it’s an odd couple comedy,” Fontana said.

She’s also performing on Feb. 17 at The China Cloud in Chinatown with Ghost Jail Theatre, an improv and spontaneous writing group.

Then, from Feb. 23-26, she’ll be performing at the CBC Studio 700, with a bunch of other improv groups from around the city.

“Someone once said that it takes 10 years to be good at anything. I feel like I’m starting to get to that point where I feel very comfortable in [improv] and I like to explore it, teach it and direct, as well as perform. And it’s like anything. I mean why does a painter paint? The motivation is that creative impulse.”

Tom Segura: The man behind the laughter

February 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Photo courtesy of Tom Segura

It’s all laughs at the Comedy Mix on Saturday night as headliner Tom Segura takes the stage.

Patrick Maliha, the MC, prepares audience members for Segura by describing him as awesome and describing how he blew the roof off the venue on the night before.

He does it again. From talking about people with no teeth, to comparing living in LA to living in prison, Segura has the audience roaring with laughter. After the show, he stands outside the venue selling his album Thrilled, which features nearly an hour of his comedy. Members of the audience stopped to talk to Segura, including one man who claims he hadn’t laughed that hard in a very long time.

Segura is a comedian from LA, whose favourite comedians have included Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Dave Attell and Dave Chapelle.

“I feel like I’m always being inspired by different people,” Segura says.

Segura was born in Cincinnati, but moved around a lot growing up. He started thinking about a career in comedy when he was 18, and became set on the idea when he was 21. He decided to move once more, this time to LA, to pursue a career in comedy. He started taking classes at an improv school where a couple of his fellow students, who were stand-up comedians, took him out to a couple of different clubs to show him what it was all about. Three weeks later he started trying it out himself.

“I’ve always liked doing it; making people laugh and I really liked performing,” says Segura.

He describes his first year doing comedy as awkward. “It was like a discovery thing, like just figuring out how to get a feel for it. I didn’t know what I was doing so it was about figuring out the little stuff, like how to walk on stage and how to take the mic out,” he says. Most importantly, “it was about learning how to fail, miserably.”

A lot of embarrassing things can happen during stand-up comedy, especially at the beginning of a career. “There’s everything from flubbing what you say to forgetting a joke, but I think the most embarrassing thing is getting really upset,” Segura says.

He recalls losing his cool on a couple of occasions when someone in the audience yelled something at him. He now believes the best way to deal with hecklers is to not let them get under your skin: in order to come out on top, you have to be funny back at them.

“If you lose your cool, which I’ve done, it’s really embarrassing. It throws everything off. You don’t want to do that but sometimes you feel undermined because somebody just mocked you,” says Segura.

Segura says ideas for jokes just come to him. It’s not something he really plans for. “I’ll just be having a conversation with someone, and then start thinking, ‘Hey, that could be a good joke’,” he says.

He also comes up with jokes by writing about something he thinks about a lot. “If there’s something you’re always thinking about, that’s usually a trigger that you should write about it and a joke will just come to you,” he says.

For Segura, what makes a good comedic performance is someone who has a solid point of view.

“It’s always better as an audience member to watch someone who is not just funny, but interesting. It really heightens the performance,” he says. Segura also believes that a good performance is a combination of material, personality and energy.

His advice to beginner comedians is to “quit now, don’t do it,” he says.

Jokes aside, Segura says “you have to write a lot and get on stage as much as you can. It sounds obvious, but there really are no shortcuts. You need to perform a lot, you should be on stage every night, like at least six nights a week.”

If Segura could go back, he says he would have started doing comedy earlier. “It took me awhile to gain that momentum, because at first, it’s really intimidating to try to be an entertainer basically,” he says.

Some of the highlights of his career include having a special that recently aired on the Comedy Network, doing festivals in Montreal, Las Vegas and Vancouver, and getting the opportunity to open for Russell Peters in front of 16,500 people.

“I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve been able to do some pretty cool things. I don’t feel like there’s just one highlight, I feel like it’s been a lot of different things,” he says.

Segura believes there’s a strong future for stand-up comedy.

“I think it’s exciting right now. There’s like a resurgence going on. You go to these clubs and it’s packed, the show is sold out. That’s a really good thing to see and it’s inspiring to see that people still want to go to live shows. And there’s so many young comics to watch. I think there’s a really bright future for stand-up comedy,” he says.

To learn more about Tom Segura and his tour dates, visit his website.