From 1994-98, I was a producer, a writer and a cast-member of The Stand-Ins, a high-profile fixture on the Toronto comedy scene, who rose through the ranks of the improv world, evolving into sketch, and ultimately appearing on national television. And while very few of Toronto’s current improvisors, troupes and comics remember The Stand-Ins, they know it’s members from the work they would go on to do in stage, film and television with The Second City, The Bad Dog Theatre Company, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Dan For Mayor, Air Farce, Baroness Von Sketch and even the world of competitive female boxing.
BIG LAUGHS AT BIG CITY
Formed in the fall of 1994, the troupe had big shoes to fill – taking over the stage at the 534 Queen St. West comedy club known as Big City Improv from none other than The Chumps, one of the most respected Canadian improv comedy troupes of the last 20 years.
The Stand-Ins now had something most improv troupes only dream of – a regular weekly venue in an established comedy theatre. Four shows every weekend to play and hone their skills. And very quickly, the group gained in months what other troupes take years to gain – visibility and critical acclaim:
… a cohesive and extremely funny troupe… killer improv… I haven’t been this surprisingly pleased by an improv show in a long, long time… | Andrew Clark, eye weekly, October 26, 1995
… the confidence to see comedy in even the simplest scenario, the calmness to wait for it to happen in the moment, the willingness to take risks… one of the purest, cleanest improv shows to be seen on Toronto’s stages… | Irene Duma, “Call Time”, Sept. 15, 1995
The original 8-member incarnation of The Stand-Ins produced 3 different shows during the 1994/95 season at the cramped, grungy venue at Queen and Bathurst; The No-Scripts Allowed Revue, Pulp Friction, (a Tarantino-inspired spoof) and Stand-In Deliver.
By the end of 1995, however, the dream gig vanished as Big City Improv was forced to close it’s doors, a victim of rising Queen Street rents and the sheer expense of operating a tiny comedy club in Toronto. Still, the troupe had worked hard and earned it’s comedy cred:
…The Stand-Ins’ Big City swan song places them in the top rung of the improv community… The Stand-Ins are for real. | Andrew Clark, eye weekly
FROM THE STAGE TO THE SCREEN…
During the next few years, The Stand-Ins went through several cast changes and performed a slew of dates at places like The Rivoli, Goody’s Diner, Clinton’s, Good Times Cafe, C’est What?, The Tim Sims Playhouse and The Oasis.
They performed at comedy festivals, fundraisers and even made a trek with several other Toronto comics for a self-produced showcase at Club Social in Montreal, driving the distance from Toronto in a constantly over-heating 1986 Nissan Pulsar. (That particular gig attracted exactly 7 paid patrons… quelle dommage.) So much for Toronto/Montreal relations.
With the realities of day jobs, acting gigs and other individual projects and offers taking precedence, the ‘final four’ were thinking that, once and for all, it was time to close the book on the troupe and move on. But as it turned out, The Stand-Ins was one of many hard-working and deserving Canadian comedy troupes to be featured on the CBC sketch comedy series ‘Sketchcom’, produced by Roger Abbot and Don Ferguson of The Royal Canadian Air Farce.
The choices were whittled down from over a dozen submitted scripts, and after several weeks of work at The CBC Broadcast Centre studios in Toronto, 3 of the troupe’s signature sketches made it to air. Here they are in all their glory.