Performing sketch comedy is a bit like stepping up to the plate at a baseball diamond — you can’t expect to knock it out of the park every time, but it’s absolutely essential to maintain a positive batting average if you want to make it in the big leagues.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/6/2016 (1727 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Performing sketch comedy is a bit like stepping up to the plate at a baseball diamond — you can’t expect to knock it out of the park every time, but it’s absolutely essential to maintain a positive batting average if you want to make it in the big leagues.

And by that standard, the new CBC summer series Baroness von Sketch Show appears to be earning its roster spot. The first two instalments of its six-episode run are fast, smart and consistently funny, boasting a hits-to-misses percentage that inspires favourable comparisons to some of TV’s sketch-comedy Hall of Famers.

Baroness von Sketch Show, produced by Winnipeg-based Frantic Films and written and performed by Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen, premières Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on CBC with an opening episode that crams a dizzying dozen-plus sketches and sight gags into its out-of-the-gates 22 minutes.

Some of the bits take only a few seconds to deliver a single joke; others run several minutes and deal with more complex comedic ideas. The format tends toward old-school sketch, hitting the laugh and then moving on to a completely new idea rather than delving into running themes or recurring jokes in the way Citytv’s short-lived Sunnyside or The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town have done.

"We certainly love shows like Sunnyside or SCTV that have that bridging-world kind of thing, but we really wanted to approach it like, ‘Let’s do this moment, let’s do that moment.’ We were really into that rhythm," Browne said during a recent interview in Winnipeg, where she and MacNeill were attending CBC’s local new-season launch event.

Browne added that the fact the show was shot 100 per cent on location around Toronto, rather than in studio-built sets, lent itself to the quick-hit form of sketch presentation. 

"Our theme was always relatability and truth," MacNeill added. "We’d always talk to each other about our own experiences, what was true to us, what amazed us in the world and what annoyed us in the world, and what situations make us laugh and cry.

"Even when we were pitching sketch ideas to each other, we would make sure they were grounded in reality, and from there they could spiral into something a bit more surreal or ridiculous. So if there’s a theme, it’s that it’s truth-driven. And then after that, we kind of tried to build a mix tape (of sketches) — there might be a longer one followed by a couple of short hits, then a longer one again... and create a nice rhythm to get viewers through the half-hour."

The series première opens with a brief segment that serves as an excellent tone-setter for what’s to follow — it involves a young couple teaching their son to ride a bicycle, and their reaction to the youngster’s two-wheeled triumph is a perfect U-turn on the usual parental-pride moment — and from there, Baroness von Sketch heaps well-earned chuckles on top of giggles on top of out-loud laughs.

Some of the premises are familiar and relatable — dealing with book-club members who haven’t read the book, wrestling with a stubborn debit-card machine, the frustrations of shopping for a good pair of jeans — while others are a bit more globally inclined — a 2050 summit at which all the world’s leaders are (finally) female, a brainstorming session aimed at finding new ways to market products to women — but the real universal in BvS’s work is that it’s across-the-board amusing.

Canada, and Canadian TV, has a long history of embracing sketch-comedy troupes, from SCTV and Air Farce to The Kids in the Hall and Codco to This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Sunnyside, and the members of Baroness von Sketch feel their arrival might be fortunately timed as part of another new wave of popularity for the sketch genre.

"For us, it certainly feels that way," said Browne. "In Toronto, the comedy scene has definitely gone through another renaissance; when I first got there, in ’88-’89, there was a (sketch comedy) surge, and then if fell off for a while, and then there was another surge, with shows like Sunnyside and (Inside) Amy Schumer... I think there is a resurgence, and what we’re seeing is the networks and the (production) companies putting the resources into it, which is awesome because there are so many funny people out there who deserve to be seen."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @BradOswald


Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

   Read full biography