Archive for June, 2009

What I do, when I do it…

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 1 of 7

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 2 of 7

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 3 of 7

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 4 of 7

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 5 of 7

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 6 of 7

The Workshop – June 20th, 2009 – 7 of 7

Hey, so this is footage of a show I did called (duh) The Workshop on (double duh) June 20th.  I taped a bunch of my recent shows to post as part of a festival application (hello, boys!), and figured as long as I was putting one on the internet anyway, I might as well draw your collective attention to it.  I ended up picking this show for three reasons: it got written up in Eye Magazine (see below), it was good times, and everyone else in the cast has (I believe) received a Canadian Comedy Award nomination as Best Improviser (big time!)  Not the same as being there, I know, but for those of you who’ve been curious, this is me in action.  Bon appetit.

(SPOILER ALERT: My camera ran out of memory with literally a minute to go in the show.  So if you make it that far, and want to know what happens, they make out.  Improv!)

And, as mentioned, here’s the article in Eye.  Not so much a review, but fun nonetheless, and I’m very tempted to make business cards for myself with the slogan “sweetly pathetic and entirely misguided.”

Here’s the link:

Work, in progress

And here’s the article In case the link goes away (and, because I can’t help myself, with my name spelled correctly.  Grrr!!!):

Work, in progress

BY Sean Davidson June 24, 2009 12:06

The Workshop
Directed by Bruce Hunter. Saturdays, 10pm.  $10 ($8 for students). Bad Dog Theatre, 138 Danforth. 416-491-3115.

Though it previously made its home at the Tim Sims and at Second City proper, Bruce Hunter’s The Workshop has settled, for now at least, at Bad Dog Theatre. His well-regarded weekly experiment in long-form, sort of a skunkworks on stage, sprung from the classes Hunter used to teach while at Second City and is now part of the Saturday lineup at the improv house, running indefinitely into the summer.

“When I was teaching I always found the classes, the material, was way more interesting as soon as you put people up in front of an audience,” says Hunter, over drinks at one of the nearby bars. “They’re either influenced by the audience or the laughter and they go off in different directions.”

“So idea was to take that idea and run it like a workshop — in the sense that I can say ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that,'” borrowing a method from Theatresports founder Keith Johnstone.

“It’s a very basic way of getting people to discover things.”

The show is an exercise in directed improv, with Hunter perched in the front row, pulling the strings of roughly a half dozen performers on the stage — some veterans, some newbs, always different. It’s his job to connect the dots of the story as it unfolds, and to mess with the heads of his cast.

“Oh, it’s mostly messing with them,” he says, smiling. “It’s about a 60/40 split but then of course I try to tell a story.”

“What’s interesting about it is it allow the improvisers to not worry about being funny, or where the show is going to go. They get to play the characters — to be in the moment. The characters become alive and they become a lot more complex.”

Case in point: Dan Hershfield was centre stage for much of the hour-long show last Saturday, playing a sweetly pathetic and entirely misguided documentarian who re-casts his absent wife (Jennifer Goodhue) with a hard-bitten hooker (Workshop regular Aurora Browne). Drew McCreadie and Adam Cawley also popped up as two heavily accented producers. (Ah, Chinese and German. The world of funny voices would be a poorer place without them.)

The filmmaker theme was set by a shout-out from some audience member who’d presumably been to the Worldwide Short Film Festival.

Another presented an unwelcome comedic challenge when, asked what he’d done that day, answered, “I buried my grandfather.” Youch. And yet, Hunter rolled with it, and seemed to work the somber note into the story, which ended very badly for Hershfield’s filmmaker.

“Sometimes you don’t have to do much,” says Hunter. “The ones I like the best are where everything is flowing and I’m just sort of throwing more coal on the fire, watching it slowly burn up the forest.”


What a month! No. Wait. I meant “What?!? A month?!?”

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Yeah, so that’s a title I wrote when I realized I’d gone a month without making a blog entry.  Since then, another month and more (nearly two, for a total of three!) has passed.  Admittedly, some of the thrill has gone out of this, since in theory, anyone who wants an update on my life can just pick up a phone.  And, of course, though still unique as a snowflake, my life has lost some of that exotic flavor it had when I began this blog o’ mine.  But a writer writes, and hey, I still find my life interesting, so here’s a condensed (hopefully!) version of what’s happened since last I posted.

Passover!  I may have missed latkes, but home just in time for sweet potato kugel!  For those of you not familiar with Jewish holidays, Passover (or Pesach, if you will) is the holiday where the Jewish respect for tradition is pitted against the Jewish love of eating.  The game is played like this: You have to make it through a certain amount of ceremony before you can start eating.  All through the ceremony (or seder, if you will), you are teased with small amounts of what is technically food but in no means satisfies hunger, e.g. salty parsley, horseradish, matzoh.  As the seder continues, those who just want to eat already start testing the resolve of those who want to pray and discuss with a combination of sarcasm and complaining; this process is encouraged through the ritual drinking of wine.  It ends when the person leading the seder gives up and says “Yeeshlehu”, which I believe is Hebrew for “Uncle!”

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as all that.  I just feel bad seeing my father play Don Quixote year after year, trying to engage the windmills in a discussion of the nature of slavery.  But the crowd this year was actually on the respectful side of our spectrum, and the food was delicious (if unleavened.)  Plus the parable of the Four Sons makes me think this particular issue isn’t specific to us, so there’s some miserable company out there to be sure.

Shortly after that, I began my reintegration into Toronto improv society.  As it turned out, Tom MacKay was having a birthday party, so I managed to see most of everyone all at once (Bad Dog folks, at least).  It was nice, and Ashley was there as well, so there was some good transitional reminiscing thrown in for good measure.  And though it took me a little bit after that to start doing shows again, I was well on the way to being back.

Around this time, I also decided to audition for Second City again.  I thought it was just something that people did, and the only real conversation I’d had about it was with Ian and Alice in Miami, and it was mostly them regretting that they weren’t going to be back in time to do them.  So I signed up for them, and then everyone I mentioned it to looked at me like I was crazy and wondering why I was bothering since they already knew me.  So I somewhat went into the auditions wondering if I’d done the right thing, but my logic (or at least the thing I kept repeating to myself so I wouldn’t feel like an idiot) is that if you want to work for someone, and they’re having auditions, you do the auditions.  And that if you’ve got what they’re looking for, the more they see it, the better.  So that was what I was repeating to myself going in.

The first round went pretty well.  Good laughs, good playing the game, good times.  Sadly, the line I most wanted to deliver came during a two-person scene that I wasn’t in, and it took everything I had to hold it inside.  It took place at a police lineup and the cop character said “I play basketball with the force,” and my mind screamed “Like a Jedi?!?”  I include it here because dammit, someone has to laugh at that line or an angel loses its wings.

Brad, Evan’s roommate, was in the audition with me, and knowing that I’d be all distracted until I’d received the callback call (or enough time had passed to know it wasn’t coming), I tagged along with him while he did some errands, and then we went and drank beers on a patio.  Fun times were had, and it was nice to get to know him a little without Evan.  (Not that they aren’t very funny together, because they are.)  And I was nicely juiced when I got the call, which was a load-off.

As for the callback, I don’t know quite how to feel about it.  It was probably my worst audition ever for Second City, but it seemed to be getting a pretty good response, and everyone seemed to be kind of off, so it’s hard to tell.  For the sketch, I was paired with Kevin Matviw, and I had to play his distant, cold, disapproving father (they’re at a ballgame together, the son’s a big nerd.)  Sandy was our director, and he basically told me that the scene was given to me specifically as a challenge; I was really positive in my improv and tend to have that nervous-cheerful thing going on, so the idea was to see if I could play a scene without a smile.  I don’t know how much I pulled it off (against type is against type), but it seemed to go over well.  The improv sets were pretty off, with a few scenes wiped just as they were starting to get interesting, but again, they seemed off for everybody, and again, though I wasn’t necessarily happy with the scenes as scenes or my character work, they were getting laughs, which I guess counts for something.  Hopefully.

A fun thing at the auditions: I saw old friend Ken Lawson, in from Vancouver, for the callback session after mine.  A not-so-fun thing: that was the only time I saw him.  Phone number exchange snafu.  Stupid technology.  Oh well, I got my hug.

Later that weekend, I got a pretty nice boost when I bumped into Doug Morency before a show and he told me he’d thought I was really funny at the audition.  In secular Toronto comedy terms, this is kind of the equivalent of the clouds parting and a hand reaching down from the heavens and patting you on the back.  So whatever else comes of it, I have that.  The show I saw him before was part of the Bad Dog’s anniversary celebrations, The Super Troupes of Comedy.  In one night, I saw Fast and Dirty, the Alumni Cafe, Falcon Powder, and the Williamson Playboys.  It was mind-blowing.  MIND-BLOWING!  And then the anniversary party, which is always a trip down memory lane.

After this, the world became a blur (a slow blur, but still a blur) of hanging out, watching TV (oh, how I made up for lost time!) and reading books, playing a little basketball (Ballers of Comedy, East!), and shows here and there.  Oh, and a smidge of work.  I will do a separate post talking about books and TV, my little bit of public service.  As for improv, the highlights of May (i.e. the shows I remember) include the A Night at the Improv where we made a Tennessee Williams play and I played Handsome Hal, the diamond mine field hand with the catchphrase “I will not be seduced,”  and a Macro Neato which was a lot of fun and will be remembered by me for doing a scene with the great Lisa Merchant that was largely about masturbation.  You can’t buy memories like that.

Towards the end of the month, the family Hershfield celebrated a milestone as father Larry turned 60.  This was celebrated with a big old barbecue, complete with Kelekis hot dogs shipped in from Winnipeg.  And of course, one of Mother’s giant cakes.  It looked like this:

Lots of guests in attendance, a testament to my father’s, well, je-ne-sais-quoi.  And towards the end, there was a sing-along, with his friend Braz on guitar and cousin Shelly on piano, which made him giddy as a schoolgirl.

Then with the guests gone and the house significantly cleaned, Evan and I presented our gift.  It was a presentation that lasted about three hours.  For our gift, we made a compilation video entitled “Larry Hershfield’s Pantheon of Shitheads: 60 Shithead Scenes for 60 Shithead Years.”  For most of our lives (well, pretty much all), we have been schooled in comedy by movie and television “shitheads” shared with us by our father, and so it made sense to us to collect the greatest and throw them all together.  For the record, he loved it, and I’m quite proud of it.  It’s amazing watching it how much of a tutorial in funny it is and how incredible talent is (Jackie Gleason, Dom Deluise…you can’t NOT laugh!).  And, as Larry pointed out, if he ever goes senile on us, we can just put it on replay and he’ll be happy forever.

And so we enter June.  And with it, a new apartment.  It’s a bachelor, it’s in Forest Hill Village (Spadina, north of St. Clair), and it’ll do.  Nice neighborhood, walking distance to a subway station, and certainly nice to get natural light!  Come up and see me some time.

In terms of improv, there was some excitement with my Harold team, Tonight at Noon, which ended with the team being dissolved.  I’m not entirely privy to all the details, but it seems I returned to a team that was somewhat in disarray, and things didn’t really improve.  And they were shaking things up with the night, so it really did make sense.  Ah well, ’twas fun while it lasted, and while the group will be missed, I must confess to being pretty excited about my new team, Mr. Clean.  Of course, June was Hat Harold month, with most teams being picked out of a hat, so we haven’t performed together as a group yet, but on paper, a very fun and exciting team.  And Jerry Schaefer is coaching, so that’s more goodness as well.

Other improv activities of note include attending the Combustion Festival, which was a veritable Vancouver reunion (always nice) and a chance to see those PROJECTproject folks in action, which I always enjoy but rarely get to do, as their regular night conflicts with my regular night (though I hear they’re moving, so hopefully…), being the special guest “star” in a show with teens being taught by Mr. Ted Hallett (they apparently felt “privileged” to play with me, which, let’s face it, is both sweet and funny), and shows a-plenty.  I also taped quite a few of my shows this month (as I have to put together a bit of a reel for a festival I’m applying to), so expect to see one up shortly.  For those of you who might be interested in that kind of thing.

Going back in time now (whoa!), there was an event I took part in that I thought would make a good closing to a long overdue post: The World’s Biggest Guitar Jam.  Alas, it turned into (at best) The World’s Second-Biggest Guitar Jam.  But hey, it was a good time, I got out a good crowd (Dan, Mark, Kirk, Joanna…and indirectly, Brian Chambers), it taught me Neil Young’s “Helpless” (the version we played, at any rate, which sounds right, and is the easiest song I’ve ever learned), and it felt like a happening.  Alas, one thing that kind of sucked (besides missing the record, of course) was that the band that was playing overpowered all the acoustic guitars, which to me, totally defeated the purpose of the exercise.  Even if it had all been white noise, it would have been fun to hear everyone playing at once.  For that song, they really should have just had drums and a singer, just to keep everyone in time.  But what the hell, guitar playing outside, just like a dirty, dirty hippie!

Here’s a link, complete with some pictures of the event:

And here are some pictures of my own:

Can you tell which guy doesn’t play guitar?  I can.

All right, so that didn’t work as the big exciting capper I was hoping for, so I decided to wait until the Chief’s wedding.  Alas, I took no pictures, relying on other people to have done that.  Time will tell if I was right.  But here’s a recap:


  • Arrive at the bus station.  Walk to Molson Residence, where I am staying (“Where nostalgia meets poverty!”)  The walk takes me along St. Denis, up to Prince Arthur, where I cut over to Coloniale, up Coloniale to Pins, down Pins to University, up to BMH.  In so doing, I walk past both my Montreal apartments, and several old haunts.
  • After settling in, a quick trip to Mama’s.  Chicken poutine, baby!
  • Go to McConnell, watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup with some fellow lodgers.  Kind of wanted both teams to lose, but it was pretty exciting nonetheless.
  • Head over to Thompson House for the party.  Lots of seeing people who haven’t been seen in years.  Mute Apricot rocks out.
  • The party over, everyone heads over to BDP (known to those of my vintage as “The Brass.”  We drink until they kick us out.


  • Meet up with Rob and Fiona for lunch.  Schwartz’s, but of course.  Health considerations are decidedly on hold for the weekend, though I do order the medium-cut smoked meat sandwich, which is of course less fat than the fat-cut, and if you order the lean, they slap you in the face.
  • Walk with them for awhile, then cut back, walking around through campus.  Nostalgia good, aging bad.
  • Make myself pretty.
  • The wedding proper.  A lovely affair.  Interesting social dilemma: when people perform music as part of a wedding (not a wedding band, but friends and family) and in a church, do you applaud?  No one did, but I know I wanted to, and I suspect I wasn’t alone.
  • The reception: good eats, crazy dancing.   “Tubthumping” proves a test of endurance, which I pass but just barely.  These people know how to party.
  • Reception is over.  We grab case after case of beer, and head over to Coach’s for an after-party.  We all do fine, but Sam’s Maine and grad-school friends be crazy.  Somehow, when we leave, with the party still going, it’s 4:30 a.m. and the sun is shining bright.


  • Wedding brunch.  I get there a little late, but no one’s left yet.  The hard-core partiers show up with five minutes to spare.  More bonding, some goodbyes, quite a few see-ya-laters.  Hugs with the Chief, Wendy, and the whole Sewall clan.  Must make a point to see more of those people.  Must, must, must.
  • Go see the Uncalled For show at the Fringe.  Hard venue for comedy (at least on a Sunday afternoon), odd because it’s at the Just for Laughs Theatre (their cabaret space), but I enjoyed, imagine when they play to packed houses in Toronto that it’ll be crazy raucous.
  • Wandered around, eventually had a LaFleur’s poutine.  Mmm mmm good.
  • Go to buy tickets for Kelly Zemnickis’ play How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent Third Date?  Bump into her at the Fringe tent area, somewhat ruining the surprise, but actually just having it earlier, I suppose.  Meet her friend Bryce, then the three of us watch the show.  Gold, Jerry, gold.  Drinks with the cast afterwards, am flattered to be vaguely remembered by Paul Constable, a nice end to my last night in Montreal.


  • Decide to go up the mountain, since I’m so close to it and have the morning to kill.  Forget where the short paths are and end up taking a long time to get there.  Arrive at the cross and no sooner have I reached this summit than it starts to rain.  Am I being punished for this most un-Jewish of pilgrimmages?  Perhaps.  Though I manage to make my way down easier than I made my way up.
  • Drag my bags to the bus station, stopping for a bite to eat at Le Commensal (the one on St. Denis.)  Then to the bus station.

I don’t know when I’ll be back in Montreal.  I don’t know when I’ll see some of those people again.   Hopefully soon for both.

And the rest will wait for another post.  Like I said, I intend to write mini-reviews for all the TV I’ve watched and books I’ve read, and I should be posting a show I did recently (complete with magazine article describing it), so for those of you who’ve never seen me perform or never seen me do long-form (or just haven’t lately), it’ll be the next best thing to being there.  Be well.

Oh, and since I like to end with a laugh, and I don’t know what else I’m ever going to do with this, here’s a picture I took of chicken bones in a subway station: