ART SMARTS: Is it comedy or is it theatre?

Columnist Janis La Couvée examines at the fine line between the two

Monday Magazine columnist Janis La Couvée. File photo

Victoria has its fair share of colourful stage characters. Birthed in cabaret sketches, at comedy clubs and through improv, they sometimes take on a life of their own, with entire shows being built around them. But—is it comedy, or is it theatre?

Mike Delamont (God is a Scottish Drag Queen) has a steady following, from the Fringe circuit in Canada and the US, where he is one of the top earning performers, to regular appearances on regional stages across the country with his bevy of shows (The Devil, Mama’s Boy, Husky Panda, Floriduh). God first appeared in Atomic Vaudeville sketches and was then developed as a one person show in 2010.

Delamont believes an essential difference between stand-up comedy and a solo show is the “ability to sustain a real moment of gravitas before the punch line. In stand-up you can’t let the darkness sit, there has to be a release”.

Delamont has also worked with close friend Morgan Cranny on his solo show Vasily Djokovitch: Russia’s #1 State Approved Comedian. Cranny started by first performing improv with Impromaniacs, is a member of Atomic Vaudeville, an improviser with the hit serial Sin City, host of The Mint comedy open mics and a regular performer with many local theatre companies and on the Fringe circuit.

Vasily began life as an Atomic Vaudeville bridge character who created space for others. “He was interesting because he was the anti-comedian, an earnest character” says Cranny. In order to create an entire show, they took the tragic parts of Vasily’s hinted-at past, added theatrical elements—a dance, a history lesson, props—and paid more attention to lighting and the stage set-up. Elements of improvisation and audience participation remain.

Delamont and Cranny will be performing with Wes Borg and Rod Peter Jr. at this year’s Victoria Fringe in The War of 1812. You can also catch them at comedy open mics across the city. Their other shows are touring this year with no plans as yet for Victoria dates.

Shawn O’Hara performed stand-up first, and debuted Brad Gooseberry (Field Zoology 101), a “pompous know-it-all idiot who doesn’t know anything,” four years ago at the monthly Come and Play with Ryan and Chris. “I hadn’t done any character bits and was interested in giving it a try. I used to love Jack Hanna Wildlife Expert as a kid” says O’Hara.

The first half of the show is scripted—the hapless Gooseberry gives a slide presentation filled with visual gags. The latter half is improvised as the character responds to submitted audience questions. Field Zoology 101, produced by Delamont, returns to the Victoria Fringe 2018.

Kirsten van Ritzen, co-founder of Broad Theatrics, is a well-known local actor and comedian who regularly teaches classes in both comedy and improv. Her “barfly and party girl” Louise was a character in a season of the live improvised serial Sin City and while Louise has no plans for a show of her own, she can be seen regularly hosting and performing at local comedy mics in town. According to van Ritzen, “performing comedy as a character is harder but it gives you more freedom. You can get away with much more, especially as a woman—it’s more acceptable to an audience. You’re not hiding behind a character, but rather, exploring.”

Find more from Janis at janislacouvee.com or on Twitter @lacouvee.

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