Sketch comedy may seem more familiar in a visual format like Saturday Night Live, in which outrageous props and costumes are part of the jokes. But Mouth Beef, the debut album by local sketch troupe HUNKS, makes the listener the set designer. Somehow, imagining a frantic friend looking for a hiding spot before a surprise party, a sexy Gordon Ramsey or a praying mantis dancing at Mardi Gras may be even funnier than watching them on screen.
"You don’t hear enough sketch albums,” Dana Smith, a member of HUNKS, says. “There are so many sketches that work with purely audio and some that even work better that way.” Smith is one of four members of HUNKS, along with fellow writer-performers Rory Fallis, Tim Gray and Matt Nightingale.
The album was recorded in front of a live audience before the COVID-19 pandemic, something Smith has seriously missed during the lockdown.
“I miss the intimate rooms where you’re talking to the crowd while performing – and the laughs, especially when it’s a new joke or sketch,” Smith says.
The album feels intimate. Members of the audience get up on stage to read a heartfelt testimony during an intervention. Gray remarks that an audience member didn’t need to laugh that loudly at a particular joke. It’s almost like being back at a comedy club.
The laughter, crowd work and occasional slip-ups on <i>Mouth Beef</i> are a reminder of what comedy was like in the interactive and unpredictable “Before Times” prior to when COVID-19 kept audiences at home.
If Mouth Beef is a time capsule of live comedy from before COVID-19, then Alex Ateah’s Experiencing Discomfort is a testament to being resourceful and creating despite the pandemic.
The Winnipeg-born comedian wrote all the jokes on her album before COVID-19 but recorded the album alone from her Toronto apartment during the lockdown. Ateah introduces herself at the beginning of the show, pretends to joke around with the “audience” and sings about doing the worm during her “entrance” onstage.
Ateah added recordings of laughter at the ends of jokes but also unconventional sounds like booing, crickets, ominous music and scraping knives. It's goofy, a little awkward and pairs perfectly with Ateah's deadpan demeanour.
“I had more fun when I started adding sound effects,” Ateah says. She admits that recording an album alone without audience support felt a little weird at times.
"I went with intuition and what sounded funny, and booing is so funny," she says. "I got to play around a lot with it."
Ateah’s album revolves around therapy, movies she will not be seeing and the best and worst music festivals to get an STI from. She hardly mentions COVID-19 throughout the album and admits it's been difficult to write new jokes during the pandemic.
“I’ve just been feeling, in general, not very funny. That’s why it’s been so nice to (make this album) and not write anything new and to have a project to work on,” she says.
Published in Volume 75, Number 25 of The Uniter (May 20, 2021)