After owning the Toronto Sketch Festival late last year, where they won “Best of the Fest” and a gig at Toronto’s famous Second City comedy club, local sketch comedy troupe The Dance Party of Newfoundland have already—with full force—plunged elbow deep into 2008.
Elling Lien reached the guys by phone as they were resting up for their last night of a great weekend run in Toronto. (Because Dave couldn’t figure out how to use speakerphone on his new cell, they passed the phone around.)
They’ll be returning home for a series of shows at the LSPU Hall from February 21-March 2.
(Jonny Harris, Dave Sullivan, Phil Churchill, & Steve Cochrane)
Hey, how have the shows in Toronto been going?
Dave: They’ve been going great. We opened during a snow storm in Toronto, though, so the audiences were low that night, but they were still really good and supportive and great. I mean they called us out three times at the end. It was wicked. I think it’s the first time that’s ever happened. Three times is the biggest number of times we’ve had to wheel ourselves out there.
And the last two nights have been sold out and we’re hoping for a sell-out tonight.
You guys have been quite the media darlings for this run, haven’t you?
Dave: Yeah, it’s been strange. Pretty odd. Toronto has really sort of embraced us and given us lots of attention with articles in both Now and Eye Weekly in the past few weeks. I tried to weasel our way into the Toronto Star last night but I think I just offended them.
[To the guys in the background:] By the way guys, I fucked up getting us in The Star!
[Guys:] Good job!
Dave: I don’t know. I guess she just came to see the show… Basically, I accosted her and tried to get her to write something. I told her that my mother was sick and she wanted an article so she could see it in the paper.
You’ll have to make some news, do something really controversial to get into The Star.
Dave: We try, but it doesn’t seem to be controversial enough. We’ve got one more night here so anything could happen tonight really.
Any stand-out shows?
Dave: Last night the audience was absolutely insane. They were screaming throughout the show. There were a few women in the back who were just yelling. We’d say a punch line and they’d go eyyaaahhh! like it was a Martin Lawrence comedy act or something. People were going cra-ay-zy. And we didn’t know anyone in the audience last night. Maybe three or four people. And there was this contingent of people who were just yelling and screaming. They were yelling the punch lines back at us. It was crazy. They were totally interactive.
Did they get unruly at any point?
Dave: Sort of. But not in a bad way. It was the first time we’d encountered that kind of enthusiasm and it took a little while to adjust, right? Because the danger is: you let the show go and the audience takes control of it. Then you’re really screwed. Basically the whole night was a fight to keep the control of the show in our hands rather than let the audience have it completely. If we let them have it things would go on forever.
About the media attention in Toronto: Why do you think they’re paying so much attention to you right now?
Dave: I don’t know. I’m going to get somebody else to answer that. Phil!
Hello, how are you?
Phil: I’m good, how are you?
Not bad. I wanted to ask about the coverage in Eye Weekly and Now magazine… I was asking Dave why the group is getting so much of that attention now.
Phil: Yeah, I don’t know… Now magazine has a lot of pages so there’s plenty of room for everyone?
I guess winning the 2007 Best of the Sketch Festival didn’t hurt at all. Truly, it’s weird. I’d love to get the sort of attention back home as we do here…
Hold on now, I’m going to hand you to Jonny.
Jonny: How’s it going?
Not bad. It’s a bit like a game of pass the parcel.
Jonny: I’m sure Dave’s phone does have speaker phone, he just hasn’t figured it out yet.
No problem. I heard you guys were a little worried about performing stuff on the mainland you thought was too Newfoundland-centric. Is there one sketch in particular you were worried about?
Jonny: Well, there were a bunch of them really. With the stuff we write we cover a pretty big range of material, and anything is up for grabs. But of course you can’t help but turn loose the real Newfoundland characters and stuff, right? When we’re sitting around joking with each other we throw on the outport accents, and we just inherently write characters from back home.
We never know how it will translate in other centres. Sometimes not so great, but lately they’ve been going over a lot better.
Why is it getting better, do you think?
Jonny: I don’t know if people here totally get every innuendo we’re throwing out there. There’s some stuff where they just can’t. Specific references to places in Newfoundland and stuff. But I think if they like us as a comedy troupe then they’re at least interested in that stuff. Like for example, when I talk about Dave’s character being a big, beautiful woman from Spaniard’s Bay, they find it funny. They find it entertaining regardless of if they know where Spaniard’s Bay actually is.
Is there an example of a sketch you weren’t sure about performing away but the audience really surprised you?
Jonny: Yeah. We do this one sketch where Dave is the kingpin of an outport town. He’s like the Elvis Presley of the bay. A lot of rural Newfoundlandism in it.
We’re like ‘ah, are people just going to scratch there heads at this?’ But it became one of our most popular sketches up here. People just really die at it.
Another interesting thing I’ve noticed, throughout the show, you can feel people learning. People tune in to the accent a bit more, and they seem to enjoy that stuff more than at the beginning. They just pick it up along the way.
Oh! We do this other sketch with two guys who are making audition tapes trying to get onto Fear Factor. They’re always getting each other to do all this gross stuff. And they’re these two baymen sitting in a shed with this baygirl. People get a real charge out of it.
Why do you think these characters work as well on the island as they do off the island?
Jonny: I think just because it’s funny. It leans on the character stuff a lot but it doesn’t really matter if the person is from Newfoundland or Timbuktu as long as it’s got some effect. …As long as it’s well done people will get on board.
There are guys in rural Ontario who are the Elvises of the town, for sure…
Jonny: Exactly. The kingpin. Every town in Northern Ontario probably has one. They can understand.
Phil [grabs phone]: If I can cut in here… I think there’s a fascination people have with people from somewhere else and their comedy. If you look at Flight of the Conchords—a couple of guys with acoustic guitars from New Zealand. Or the group Little Britain. I think there’s a huge fascination with these sorts of groups. People ‘from away’.
(Okay, right now I’m just trying to get you to list our name alongside Little Britain and Flight of the Conchords. I just want people to start name dropping all of us together, that’s why I grabbed the phone.)
So: Dance Party of Newfoundland, Flight of the Conchords, Little Britain.
Great! Oh, think of how North America at one point, didn’t know who Monty Python were.
(If you list Dance Party of Newfoundland alongside Monty Python as well, that would be great. If you could do all of those things that would be great.)
Okay I’ll give the phone back to Jonny.
How does it feel to have the Dance Party be called ‘the next big thing’?
Jonny: I don’t know. I bet a lot of people get called that and not much happens, but right now it’s a lot of fun. I remember saying to Phil in the dressing room last night, “I wish we could just get paid to do this all the time.” Because when it’s going well it’s such a laugh. When you’re getting packed houses and people are into it, it’s just so much fun, you know?
Two of the guys live at home in Newfoundland and two of us live here. I think the fact that the guys can get together here in Ontario and we can cram into a rental car and drive for four hours to Belleville and tech rehearse there for four hours, then do a show, then, at the end of the day, that the four of us can go back to the hotel room and have a beer and a have a laugh and get on well rather than wanting to choke each other is why it’s a fun thing to do right now.
What’s next for you guys?
Johnny: …This is not really a money maker for us yet so its kind of hard to schedule stuff. But hopefully we’ll get together for a few shows over the summer.
Right now we can’t wait to do the show at the Hall. We did a few shows outside of Toronto and the crowds were good and really nice, but some of the stuff they weren’t really in tune with. So to get back here again to Toronto and have crowds really enjoy it was just phenomenal. The only thing that could really top that now is to go back to the hometown crowd, and—hopefully—if they enjoy it as much that’s the most gratifying kind of show for me. And I’m sure that’s true for all of the boys.
Well I hope it happens. Thanks for your time today…
Phil [grabs phone]: By the way, we’ve enrolled Dave in the “Telus Mobile School of Learning How To Use Shit You’ve Spent An Assload of Money On”, so hopefully next time it will be a little less repetitious for you.
“Low Blood Sugar Sketch Magic” will be at the LSPU Hall from Feb 21st-March 2nd. 8PM. Tickets $20. www.rca.nf.ca