Where To See Comedy in Toronto Right Now
Canadians are funny. End of statement. In terms of our cultural exports, comedians are extremely well-represented. From the influential days of “SCTV” and “Kids in the Hall” and the creator of “Saturday Night Live” himself, to the current reign of Samantha Bee, Seth Rogen, Dan Levy and the women of “The Baroness Von Sketch Show” — there’s something in this country’s water that creates legendary, boundary-breaking funny people that take the world by storm.
And where do they get their start? The city of Toronto. Your next favourite comedian is probably working the live comedy scene in Toronto right now. Here’s where you can catch them before their big break brings them to Hollywood and beyond.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is back for its 14th edition, spreading the best of Toronto sketch troupes and stand-ups across the city. This year it takes up a spot in the east end at the Streetcar Crowsnest theatre as well as west end venues like The Theatre Centre and The Great Hall. The festival is a reliable place to catch some big names from out of town — like headliners Sasheer Zamata from “Saturday Night Live” and her first comedy special “Pizza Mind,” and Adam Conover from “Adam Ruins Everything” and “Bojack Horseman” — but the real draw is the horde of homegrown talent, including fellow headliner Scott Thompson of “Kids in the Hall” fame who’s touring a new show as his signature lounge lizard character, Buddy Cole.
Favourite local talents fill the bulk of the lineup, from the legendary Sketchersons troupe known for their Sunday Night Live shows, to the new podcast from Picnicface’s Mark Little and Andrew Bush, “My Gorgeous Son,” to a new solo show from Second City alum Kirsten Rasmussen, “The Kiki,” to the duo Soul Decision with Christian Smith and Kevin Vidal (who’s making time for the festival outside of his current gig in the musical “Come From Away”).
But it’s also an opportunity to check out newer shows, like the medical drama-turned-comedy “Generally Hospital,” the hopeful history sketch show 1623, the show by queer sketch comedians “A Sketch Comedy Eleganza Extravanganza,” and the all-Filipina troupe Tita Collective.
The Second City
51 Mercer Street
The Toronto location of the famous Chicago sketch comedy company has a venerable history of its own, and you can see it on its walls — Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Mike Meyers, Rick Moranis, Gilda Radner, Jane Lynch and John Candy are all veterans of this downtown stage. Candy was even honoured with the recently-opened John Candy Box Theatre for Second City student performances. Since 1973, Second City Toronto has consistently hired and developed the top tier of Canadian comedic talent, and the latest revue is no different — the 82nd Mainstage Revue, with a title to be revealed, officially opens this month. But also on the Mainstage are the all-female “She the People” sketch revue, the family-friendly Second City Improv Showdown, the Second City Touring Company’s “Cure for the Common Comedy,” and the Valentine’s-friendly “Hooking Up with the Second City: Third Base.”
945 Bloor Street West
This underground Bloorcourt venue is the unofficial home of comedy in Toronto, the go-to spot for comedy fans looking for bigger names from south of the border as well as recurring shows from local stand-ups. Comedy Bar and its founder Gary Rideout Jr. celebrated ten years of operation this past November, and a “VICE” oral history documented how Sketcherson members had to manually repair it days before its grand opening, and how a new venue kickstarted a new era of sketch shows that are now staples in the Toronto comedy scene, as well as some epic, long-running gags, like getting Kevin Sorbo to perform after creating an ever-evolving universe around him. Comedy Bar is still a favourite venue for comedians who have outgrown its intimate size, like Maria Bamford, Todd Glass and Chris Gethard. Check it out now for regular favourites like Crimson Wave Comedy, Catch23 improv, and Empire Comedy’s After Hours lineup.
The Corner Comedy Club
163 John Street and 946 Queen Street East
The new wave of Canadian comedy that Comedy Bar kickstarted made room for The Corner Comedy Club, which opened its first location near Toronto’s Entertainment District in 2015. It has since opened a second location in the east end Leslieville neighbourhood. Both locations feature a schedule of local stand-up showcase nights, some of which are themed from raunchy and rude to straight-up weird. “Kids in the Hall” alumni Scott Thompson (you’ve seen his name a few times already) hosts every Thursday night with a surprise lineup of guests, and solo headliners also make stops at The Corner, like the upcoming Rich Vos.
Bad Dog Theatre Company
875 Bloor Street West
For Toronto improv fans, the place to go is Bad Dog Theatre, located a few steps away from Comedy Bar on Bloor Street West. Officially founded in 2003 (with its roots in the early ’80s, with alumni like Colin Mochrie and, yes, Keanu Reeves, from that era), Bad Dog Theatre made its first official home on the Danforth, but were forced out in 2011. Now the company programs unscripted comedy shows, workshops, and courses seven nights a week in its current west end location. Under the artistic direction of Julie Dumais-Osborne, Bad Dog continues to run its signature weekly show “Theatresports,” as well as other programs that experiment with the short-form improv structure, like “D&D Live” (which is exactly what it sounds like), improvised musicals, and Beer League in which Toronto favourites compete in hometown teams, from Vancouver to Montreal to Detroit.