By Sharilyn Johnson – Third-Beat.Com – November 26th – 28th, 2011

Part One: Catch 23 & MANTOWN

      Greg Proops kicked off his three-day stand at Toronto’s Comedy Bar last night, teaming up with his Whose Line Is It Anyway? castmate Colin Mochrie to “kick everyone’s asses” in the weekly Catch 23 improv competition.

      At least that’s how the Facebook invite billed it.

      Seems like a pretty sure thing, right? The other teams were no slouches (Bob Banks and Gary Rideout Jr. competing as The Movie Twins, and Kurt Smeaton and Kayla Lorette as Perfect Night), but certainly, nobody was going to beat two of the most famous improvisors in the world.

      Even Catch 23 judge Norm Sousa confirmed the bias right off the top: “There’s a team I like, a team I hate, and the team that’s gonna win.”

      The problem is, you can’t plan improv.

      The Catch 23 format is a four-round competition between three teams. Each team is allowed a total of 23 minutes to complete their four scenes, and is given a score for each scene. Half of the score comes from the audience votes, and half comes from that night’s judge — in this case, Norm Sousa of the Sketchersons.

      The scores were kept tight in the first half, and everything was going according to expectations. Proops and Mochrie delivered a scene about two undertakers who ended up in a brief argument about a seemingly accordion-style casket. Yup, that’s how it’s done. Even after Proops insulted Sousa’s sweater, the scores were high.

      It wasn’t until the third round that everything went off the rails.

      Host Brendan Halloran showed of his newly-acquired gold-embossed business card from Mayor Rob Ford, and for the “host challenge” round of the competition, “phoned” Rob Ford for suggestions. Oddly, the phone never actually rang, and Ford’s voice sounded suspiciously like it was coming from the tech booth. Weird. (Also, apparently the mayor sounds like a hybrid of Cartman and Jay Leno.)

      After a back-and-forth that revealed Ford’s penchant for eating mayonnaise while masturbating, the newly-coined nickname “Mayoraise” left Halloran and the audience laughing to the point of near-tears.

      Banks and Rideout were given the suggestion of the gay pride parade, which became a scene about two different sponsor floats. It’s safe to say it didn’t go particularly well. But anyone who knows Rideout knows that he doesn’t care much for on-stage failure, and he demanded they get a mulligan on the scene.

      The audience gave a new suggestion of “wrestling”, and Rideout left Banks on stage to stall while he sprinted out of the theatre for reasons unknown. He returned dressed head to toe in John Cena fan gear, which he just happened to have with him (lots can be said about that). What followed was a four-minute advertisement for a community centre solitaire tournament, in the style of WWE trash-talking interviews. It was a beautiful redemption, but not enough to keep them in the running.

      The team of Smeaton and Lorette cemented their position as the main contenders when they were given the suggestion of “the 1%”. Smeaton mimed video game playing, and exasperatedly delivered the blackout line “oh, I just crashed an actual plane”. Nothing further needed in that scene.

      That meant they were left with nine minutes for their final scene, an eternity by Catch 23 standards. But they left the audience stunned by creating a fantastical world of magic and potions and good and evil. It the designation of “best Catch 23 scene ever” from Sousa and a perfect score, technically putting them ahead of their celebrity rivals at the end of four rounds.

      It was a fascinating conundrum. Sousa called for a 90-second playoff round between Smeaton/Lorette and Proops/Mochrie, in a veiled effort to stick to this show’s original narrative. But it was too tough to justify anyone other than Smeaton/Lorette as the victors.

      On to the second show of the night: MANTOWN, the improvised frat party.

      Drinking games and improv; what could be better? After an all-female opening group (who I hope called themselves Ladyville, or else my memory has failed me) attacked the stage with vaginally-inspired scenes (true: tree bark can haunt your ladybits), Proops and Mochrie returned to play with the boys (Bob Banks, Adam Cawley, Rob Baker). Driving to a party, fighting about Journey, and Mochrie carving a guitar out of soap… it was over way too fast. Or maybe we just blacked out from the drinking games?

Part Two: Stand-Up Saturday

      More Proops? You got it!

      After participating in the insanity of Friday night’s Catch 23 and MANTOWN improv shows, Greg Proops went solo to do what he does best: quick, biting, intelligent standup to two near-capacity houses at Comedy Bar. Like he says, he really is the smartest man in the world.

      “You will graduate from this show,” he promised.

      Indeed, they were the best history and sociology classes ever.

      Proops does a third go-’round at Comedy Bar tonight with a taping of his podcast, The Smartest Man in the World, followed by hosting duties for Sunday Night Live. Both are close to the sold-out point, so get crackin’ on those reservations.

Part Three: The Smartest Sunday Night Live In The World

      Readers, I’m going to admit something to you: I was worried.

      Late on Sunday afternoon, the Sketchersons rehearsed that week’s Sunday Night Live sketches at Comedy Bar, as they typically do. But in the place of host Greg Proops were stand-ins from the rest of the cast – which is very atypical. The man of the hour was fulfilling duties elsewhere, and wouldn’t arrive until it was time to record his Smartest Man in the World podcast.

      I’m not so hot at math, but I knew this meant that he’d only have an hour with the script, between the recording and the start of Sunday Night Live.

      Proops is one of the smartest, quickest performers out there. But c’mon: how do you memorize and rehearse several sketches in that amount of time?

      The obvious answer: be Greg Proops.

      The one where he’s haplessly suffering through a Francophone game show? Nailed it. The one about a serial-killing improvisor, on the run from the law after strangling his scene partners to death? Sold it beautifully. The one about the guy who has a medical affliction that makes him constantly appear to be playing the improv game Helping Hands? Didn’t miss a beat.

      I felt a little less guilty for having doubts when, one by one, castmembers admitted to me afterwards that they’d been just as needlessly concerned as I was.

      As for that Smartest Man in the World recording? I’ll keep this post spoiler-free, but tease you with this: Occupy Wall Street, and Justin Bieber. It’s a great episode, so watch for that soon in your iTunes.

Original Articles Can Be Found Here, Here, And Here

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