“McGill is pretty dry when it comes to comedy,” said Bring Your Own Juice’s (BYOJ) producer Abbey Hipkin, after the final performance of their three-night live show on March 17 at the Mainline Theatre.
BYOJ, a self-proclaimed “ground-up” sketch comedy troupe, and McGill’s only sketch comedy troupe, shattered that assumption with witty, topical, and sometimes absurd sketches that ranged from recreating hipster soft-boys of the Mile End to Guy Fieri’s wife giving birth. With sketch comedy, audiences should always be braced for the unexpected, and Saturday’s performance did not disappoint—the night’s biggest surprise was a large bag of (hopefully) fake cocaine exploding over the cast and stage, lingering in the air for the next three sketches.
BYOJ works against some of the restrictive structures of comedy groups themselves. Being “ground-up” means that the writers are also actors, marketing directors, producers, and stage managers. It’s a welcome break from the traditional behind-the-scenes role of writers, and, as the coordinators attest, it creates a stronger bond between the cast members.
“It takes away the idea of a character or something belonging to one person,” Olivia Berkowitz, marketing director and cast member, explained. “It’s all about family.”
This sense of family comes through in BYOJ’s performance. There’s no one star—the cast is an ensemble in the truest sense. Sketches with only a few cast members, such as two Greenpeace lobbyists taking a vacation by actively hurting the environment, have the energy of the full cast. Larger group sketches—including one in which a passionate bone broth aficionado accosts Arby’s employees and customers—don’t feel overwhelming or saturated. The diversity of material comes from the cast’s wide range of comedic influences, from Monty Python to Vine stars. The show works because the cast all bring their own own ideas, and the inclusive writing means that each member has a moment to shine.
One standout example was Cole Otto’s Paul Ryan character, participating in an all-Paul edition of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, awkwardly strutting while a panel of all-Paul judges (Ru, McCartney, and Rudd), gave sassy critique. Each character was hilariously realized, and while one might claim the spotlight for a moment, the sketch was held up by the whole cast’s improvisation.
Another similarly ensemble-oriented sketch centred on an over-the-top Oprah copycat named Orpah, played by Tristan Sutherland, who may or may not have kidnapped Gayle King in an attempt to become the queen of daytime talk. Again, the sketch highlighted one player and character, but would have been much dryer and more tedious without the contribution of a studio audience played by the entire cast, planted in audience seats. Asking questions such as “Did you murder Oprah?!” and asking for “Orpah’s Favourite Things” gave Sutherland’s character depth and humour while also showcasing a more understated, but equally funny, assortment of “audience” characters.
Each sketch and bit felt organic, arriving at the jokes smoothly and feeling fresh despite rehearsals and past performances. Some jokes took pointed jabs at McGill’s health services—“It’s 7:45! The clinic will be booked until October!” were clearly meant for students, while others relied on universal experiences, such as a girl who knows so much about Europe after her semester abroad.
BYOJ writers have gone on to perform at Just For Laughs here in Montréal and Toronto, winning the Homegrown Comics Competition, and the ensemble entered the Montreal SketchFest this year. Comedy brings together not only the cast, but the audience as well. The shared laughter and experience is easily forgotten in a world in which we can watch Youtube videos with headphones on, isolating ourselves for entertainment. Having many styles of humour helps even more, because there’s something for everybody in the jokes. If McGill is a comedy desert, BYOJ is its much needed oasis.