The province’s premiere sketch comedy troupe, The Dance Party of Newfoundland, are back for another show—with a new lineup. Long-time member Dave Sullivan has bid the group adieu, and Susan Kent—creator of that dodgy character on a bike, Jerry Pack—has signed on.
The group enjoyed a string of successes last year. They were presented the Second City Best Of The Fest Award at the 2007 Toronto Sketch Festival, they toured to Chicago and New York City, and performed at last year’s Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. Balancing the troupe with their lives as actors on stage and screen has kept three of the four members on the mainland, but they always manage to return home for a run of shows.
This time around they’re teaming up with the Mark Bragg Band for a combination comedy/rock show… which is already drawing excited comparisons to the Wonderful Grand Band, the all-star comedy variety show from the early 80s.
Elling Lien sat down for a chat with three of the four members of DPN.
You guys have two shows coming up at the Rock House. They’ll be your first shows as the Dance Party in St. John’s in quite a while…
SC In over a year.
SC Yeah! Our last show would have been a year ago in March at the Hall, at the end of our tour.
And that was at the end of a very successful year, where you were doing really well in Toronto-you won the award at the Toronto Sketch Fest…
SC Then we did a run at the Diesel playhouse in Toronto, and we sold about 80 per cent of the tickets for that, which was great. And then we came home and we sold out twelve shows here. That’s where we peaked, and we’re on the downward slope now.
SK I’m the death knell.
SC When the Beatles got Ringo, it was all up, but when the Dance Party got Susan, it was like they went and got Pete Best.
But you guys definitely aren’t The Beatles. And I shouldn’t say ‘guys’, because, Susan, you’re in the group now.
SC Although she plays men mostly in the show.
SK They do a more believeable girl than I do.
So what happened? Dave Sullivan used to be a full member…
SC Dave failed a test that we gave him. We said, if you fail this one, you’re out. We’ve been letting you ride on a scholarship for a couple of years… no. You know what? Dave grew up.
JH Yeah, he went back to school, got married, bought a house…
SC And the thought of touring didn’t really appeal to him any more.
JH Unbelievable! He’s missing out now.
SC But for this show, he’s going to come back and do stuff with us again, which is great. We’re really happy about that.
JH …That’s supposed to be a surprise!
SK [laugh] You put it on Facebook, Jonny.
How did you get involved then, Susan?
SC We all had a party at Donny’s house, and the next day, Sue was like, “b’yes, remember how I’m in the Dance Party?” and I was like, “Oh yeah.”
SK Yeah, I roofied them so I could get into the Dance Party.
SC She drugged us, and when we woke up she was standing over us with twenty sketches written and threw them down at us. “Have ’em read when I come back.”
JH Seriously though, we’ve always been buddies. We had done theatre together and we were fans of the Jerry character and Nan and those characters that Sue did, and it seemed like the logical and exciting thing to do.
JH And now, when we’re touring…
SK You guys get your laundry done.
SC We get our laundry done, and we get grants that we couldn’t get before. Now all we need is a first nations member and a paraplegic. Once we get all that settled, we’re going to be minted.
JH The only problem is when we’re touring we can’t fart in the car any more.
SC As much.
JH There was a lot of farting going on back in the day. Now we use cutlery too.
SC Ahh, sexism.
So, uh, what happened exactly?
SK Jonny and I are roommates, and I was sitting on the couch of the apartment, and he had been playing Xbox hockey, and he was in his drawers, and he said, “So, we’re goin’ on tour, would you wanna do that or wha’?” [laugh]
Are you …together?
SK No, we share an apartment. We’re roommates in Toronto.
Well I’m happy Susan is a member. It made sense when I heard it.
JH Yeah, I think a lot of people reacted that way too. Everybody’s been diggin’ it thus far. Not to say that they will here!
SK I’m shit-baked for friday night.
SC There’s a lot of pressure here now. This is where we see if she’s got it. Yeah. I went to a dog-fighting ring here in St. John’s the day I got in, and they were laying bets on “Will Sue Kent suck at the Dance Party show?”
I’ve seen a Dance Party show, but I haven’t seen a lot of other live comedy troupe shows-so what’s the difference between what they do and what you do?
SC You know what? I think for the most part, we are very much entrenched in a theatre background, and we strive for a lot of committment with the characters. The costumes and the theatricality is a big thing.
I also think that we write in a more traditional way. Our sketches tend to have a beginning, middle, and end, and a lot of times it’s a collection of funny ideas or funny moments.
JH We try to dress it up as much as possible. It’s always a trade-off with what you can do theatrically in terms of lighting and costumes, wigs, fake mustaches to what you can do quickly-so you’re not leaving the audience in the dark between transitions. But we try to get on a wig or glasses. When we first started going to Toronto to perform, that was when we really started seeing a lot of other troupes, where they often would leave that stuff aside. They would get up in whatever clothing they were wearing that day and do their sketch.
SC Codco and Kids in the Hall were a big influence for the costumes…
JH We just thought that was the way it was done. You dressed up.
SC We watched television shows with big budgets and thought, “oh yeah, that’s sketch comedy.”
The dress-up part, a lot of it involves you guys dressing up in drag…
SK Not any more! I got my corner!
SC It depends on what kind of girl we want. If we want a really, really feminine woman we get Jonny to do it, and if we want a…
SK …gangly, dorky kind, then my phone starts ringing.
SC Yeah, but the more genteel roles are still Jonny’s. He plays women with dignity.
SK [to Jonny] You always play women like women. You don’t play women like a guy playing women.
JH Well that’s good.
SK Oh, it is good. And Phil plays a very good woman too.
SC So what she’s saying is the only person who doesn’t play good women is me. That’s it.
SK You’re a good smothering mother type.
Has Jerry been incorporated into the Dance Party repertoire at all?
JH Oh yeah. Jerry’s gotten harsher than ever. His unibrow gets bigger, his bike gets smaller, and the creep-factor goes through the roof.
SK Yeah, we had to take the edge off him, because he was scaring Ontario. Someone actually came down during the Jerry sketch, hobbled down to the edge of the stage, made the sign of an X with their arms, then hobbled out of the theatre.
Was that one of those shows where it seemed like the end? Do you have those?
SK We thought in Petrolia that they were cresting the hill with torches.
SC Yeah, they even tried to kick us out of the motel that night because we were rapping. We were rapping to Fur Packed Action. The guy came out and said, “uh, you guys gotta get out.”
JH We were rapping loud though.
SC Yeah, we were. That was after that horrible show.
JH We were more afraid of that guy than he was of us, we were like, “Oh my gosh! We’re so sorry. We’ll go right to bed.”
SK My favourite comment that the theatre got after that show was, “I hated it, and it was too short.”
JH Yeah, we did a soft-seat theatre show across Ontario this year, and after those first few shows we ended up changing our content because we were getting a lot of older people… Sometimes we think people come to our show thinking it’s a celtic dance show, right?
SK That’s true. Some people do, for sure.
SC Everyone up there havin’ a good time in a fake kitchen! But at the same time, the Jon Dore Comedy Show toured Ontario before us and they had the same reaction. Certain types of comedy works in certain venues. And I don’t really want to make that kind of comedy.
The Rock House–a bar–is a pretty unusual venue for sketch comedy…
SC Yeah, the Hall is closed down, and we always wanted to do a bar show…
JH Actually, I was telling someone about the show recently and they said, “oh, we haven’t seen something like that since Wonderful Grand Band!” And yeah, it’ll be a bit of a hybrid of a show. At first it was just going to be us and then Mark Bragg was going to play later that night, but now he’s going to back all of our comedy songs up, and we’re even going to sing on one or two of his songs, in character.
SC So we’ve got a lot of music in this one. There are a lot of sketch troupes out there that either do music sketch, or they do straight sketch, and we sort of do a combination of both. Phil and Jonny are both such talented musicians, and Sue’s such a good singer…
SK And Steve’s beatbox is unparalleled.
SC So that’s another thing I think people like coming to see us for. You’ll stay at a rock concert for three hours on your feet, but for comedy that’s really unusual. We have a lot of good material that people haven’t seen here, so I think it’s a fairly good balance. We purposely chose the quickest and highest energy stuff we could…
If this goes really well, would you consider doing a tour with a band?
SC I’ve been thinking about that ever since we started this show. I think it would be a really special thing, and it suits us.
SK Oh, it would be so great to do that. It would be really cool.
Then the Wonderful Grand Band allusions might even stick…
SC “Disappointing Our Patria” could be the name of our tour. Or “Not Living Up to the Myth”.
JH Or maybe “At Least They’re Trying”
The Dance Party of Newfoundland — Steve Cochrane, Phil Churchill, Jonny Harris, Susan Kent and alumnus Dave Sullivan, will be performing at the Rock House on Fri June 19 (Tickets available in advance at The Ship and at Fred’s Records) and Sat June 20 (Tickets only available at the door). Music by The Mark Bragg Band. $20.