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Odd man out

Pat Thornton leaves the world of sketch comedy behind for solo adventure

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2015 (721 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For Pat Thornton, one is not the loneliest number. But it might be the funniest.

The veteran Canadian performer spent the better part of a decade performing in sketch troupes, both live onstage and on television, before shifting his focus back to standup comedy, the form that lured him into the business of being funny in the first place.

Pat Thornton

Pat Thornton

"When you're watching a sketch troupe, you don't know if everybody's doing the work, or if some people are just passengers," says Thornton, who is bringing his decidedly solo standup act to Winnipeg for the inaugural Oddblock Comedy Festival, which runs Aug. 27 to 30 at a handful of venues on south Osborne Street. "In standup, it's all you -- you can take chances that you wouldn't take when you're working with other people. You can try anything.

"In standup, I can just talk out my stuff until I like it -- you can't do that in sketch, because somebody else has a line to say... I started doing standup first, and then standup took a back seat to sketch for a very long time, and then about four years ago I started thinking, 'I don't know if I want to be in a sketch troupe when I'm 40,' and I thought maybe it was time to figure out how to do this by myself."

Thornton, who might be best known these days for his work in the shot-in-Winnipeg sketch-comedy series Sunnyside, made the transition from solo performing to troupe-oriented humour a dozen years ago after seeing the legendary Groundlings perform in Los Angeles.

He was a founding member of the Sketchersons, a company that has been a mainstay on the Toronto scene since 2004, has toured extensively around North America and won the Canadian Comedy Award for best sketch troupe in 2007. Since leaving the group, the 38-year old has appeared in such TV comedies as Satisfaction, Working the Engels, Spun Out and Royal Canadian Air Farce, as well as co-starring in the web series Space Janitors and Everyone's Famous.

His comedy style is decidedly unconventional, favouring offbeat stories and references and unexpected twists over the more traditional setup-punchline style of standup. That makes Thornton a perfect fit for Oddblock, given its organizers' emphasis on presenting "alternative" comedy.

"Labels suck, but I think what might make someone think of me as 'alternative' is that I happen to be really, really fascinated with joke construction," he offers. "For me, (comedy) comes in different layers -- it's not just 'What do I want to talk about?' it's more, 'What unusual and fun way can I find to present that joke?'"

Thornton will take part in at least seven shows during Oddblock's four-day run, beginning on Thursday, Aug. 27, with Chantel Marostica's Pal Parade (9 p.m., Park Theatre, tickets $20). He says comedy fans are in for an interesting experience at this new festival -- which takes place in six venues crammed in a single block on the east side of south Osborne Street -- because the roster of comedians assembled by the event's organizers has a shared interest in following the least-straight but most-interesting route to the punchline.

"They say that a comedian's job is to say the second thing that comes into your mind," Thornton explains. "I think a lay person says the first thing that comes to their brain, a comedian says the second, and an alternative comedian will say the third thing."

Having shot two seasons of the Citytv series Sunnyside in Winnipeg, Thornton has had a chance to sample the local standup scene and says he's impressed by what has evolved here during the past half-decade.

"I first came to town a few years ago -- 2008, maybe -- and there were only a couple of (comedy) rooms and maybe five or 10 comics who were working steadily," he recalls. "And now it seems like it just exploded -- one of the guys here told me that it's just taken off in the last five years, and now there's really a lot going on.

"I really love the way this new (Oddblock) festival is organized. I'm excited to be getting on the ground floor of something like this."

You can sample Pat Thornton's comedy at http://wfp.to/x2B.

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Read more by Brad Oswald.

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