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Toronto Comedy – Dean Takes a Spin on the Wheel of Improv

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Dean Young goes a few rounds, with the Wheel of Improv

for The Scene Toronto

I was going to start this whole thing with an uncalled-for Journey reference, something about how the ‘Wheel of Improv’ keeps on turning, but after my second cup of coffee I reconsidered. Sometimes its good to step back from an idea

Last Tuesday after my usual stop at The Central, I popped into Comedy Bar and sat down with Natasha Boomer & Debbie Calvitto to shoot the shit before their weekly installment of “Wheel of Improv“. The matriarch of Comedy Bar’s resident improv show and one of her newer crowd-favorite players, respectively. When it comes to her show, and her troupe, Natasha Boomer give off a certain ’den Mother’ vibe. There’s a lot of getting people out of their comfort zones, a lot of fostering talent – a lot of letting it all go and acting according to the whim of the great wheel (to borrow on a Hunter Thompson quote)

Debbie Calvitto meanwhile, is a ball of electricity. Onstage & off, she seems to function at peak energy levels at all times – and so far it lends itself to the by-the-second frenzy of a TRUE improv show!

We hug it out, I order my usual pint of Okanagan pale (yes, like just about anywhere in this town where comedy happens, the bartender already knows what I’m going to order. I’m a routine guy) – and we roll tape

DEAN: First thing’s first, when does ’Wheel of Improv’ happen?

NB: Tuesday nights at 9:30, at the Comedy Bar (main stage). It’s 5 bucks – pretty standard in this city for a show

DY: How long has the show been going for?

NB: It moved to Comedy Bar in February 2012, but we just had our 4 year anniversary! It started in the John Candy space at the Second City Training Center, with Naomi Snieckus. 4 years old now

DY: That’s a rare thing, that’s a tough thing to sustain. Even for standup. There are a few of those heritage shows, and of course (Jo-Anna Downey’s) Spirits is the big example, but that’s so rare. And improv seems to be such a niche thing in comparison, right?

NB: Yeah, true

DY: Improv is very participatory too, and that’s a world I don’t really know. I get to flirt with it a bit guesting on pod casts, but not LIVE onstage. I admire it, coming from standup, it’s SUCH a different world to me. Did either of you start in standup before moving into improv, how did that happen?

NB: I did improv first, then standup. And I hated doing standup (laughs) it’s not team based

DY: Yeah improv’s a team sport right? I mean, that’s a shit analogy…

NB: It is though! It’s a team thing

DY: And everyone says you feel like almost “cleansed” after doing improv. You’re putting everything out there. You’re working through shit (differently) every time. Standup, it can go either way, every time you get up there it could be your best night ever, or your worst

NB: You could do the exact same set 3 nights in a row, and get COMPLETELY different reactions! I liked writing jokes, but I think I originally only did (standup) because someone once told me ‘if you want to try for a career in comedy, you have to try it all’, so I did every facet of it that I could

DY: I’ve seen you do storytelling, we were both on a storytelling show here before (Erin Rodgers’ Awkward) but do you ever branch off into standup?

NB: I think about it sometimes, I’ve BEEN thinking about it

DY: Debbie, you’ve done standup off and on too

DC: Yeah, but I’d say the same thing. Coming from doing standup, I found myself telling the same stories over and over again. I’m a more animated person, that’s who I am, so I knew being on stage and getting to act out what (before) I’d just tell as a story, was WAY more fulfilling for me.
DY: You told me in standup you kind of found you were pigeonholing yourself into one specific ’persona’ onstage?

DC: You can be a different person every week, I get to become someone different every week with this

(NB: People don’t always though, not everyone)

DC: Well it is different. Everyone has their own style but sometimes you might have to sing, sometimes you’re doing a scene in French, whatever the case is

NB: Its knowing how to be funny, in a certain way

DY: Is it all up to the wheel? It spins, the crowd spurs you on, and you play with what you’re given? Did you find that daunting at first?

DC: Not at all! I jumped right into it. And this is what I need to be doing (laughs)

(NB: She’s one of the braver ones, to be honest!)

DY: It takes a certain kind of “outgoing” to do this

DC: Because you never know, until you’re up there. And you’re saying/doing things and THEN thinking about it later, “Oh my God did that really happen?” because you’re just so in the moment

“Wheel of Comedy” happens Tuesday nights at 9:30, on the Comedy Bar mainstage.

Comedy purists are probably already in the know – but as a TRUE improv show, audience reaction, response & encouragement is all part of the fun. And that’s the kind of thing that keeps the crowds coming back. Most of the players here, regular ‘Wheel’ show goers themselves

Natasha Boomer is a veteran improv performer and instructor, with a background in improv, storytelling & occasionally standup. She co-created the show 4 years ago, and today continues to build the show, every week at Comedy Bar

Debbie Calvitto, a Toronto native, began her foray into comedy first with standup. After finding a passion (and natural talent) for the improv stage, she joined the troupe of repertory players at ’Wheel of Improv’ in January 2013, at the start of the 4th season. When not on stage at ’Wheel’ Debbie makes special appearances at the weekly comedy show ’KITCH Komedy’. She can be seen co-hosting holiday specials and one-off event shows with Kitch’s showrunner and her frequent comedy collaborator, Natasha Henderson

(Pictured: Natasha Boomer, left photo/center. Debbie Calvitto, right)

Wheel of ImprovDebbie Calvitto

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