You’d never describe a Saturday night in downtown Toronto as ‘slow,’ but that’s precisely the word depicting Saturday night’s open mic scene. Professional clubs essentially steal away the weekday amateur room crowds, (both the audience and performers), leaving behind unbooked pros and audiences reluctant to spend $20 on a show. That’s why, tonight, I plan to find refuge in the Crown and Dragon; an oasis amidst the barren landscape of Saturday night open mics.
This weekend lull was exactly why Ryan Horwood, a comedian with ten years experience, started the Crown and Dragon Mic over a year ago. Ryan aimed to give stage time to comics unable to attend weeknight spots. Having originally worked behind the bar, he saw potential benefits for both the scene and himself: he could drop sets between pouring beers (quite the unusual luxury). The show’s format keeps a healthy pace: 6-8 comedians (with two lottery spots) delivering six minute sets and a headliner of 15mins. Luckily, the success of the show has even allowed him to ‘pay’ the comics…even if it’s in the form of a pint and chicken wings (12 lbs to split!) I’d already heard all the hype of the Crown- now I wanted to witness it myself.
Just a two minute walk from the Yonge/Bloor Subway station and I’m already standing outside the double doors of the old-style pub. To my left, I recognize a group of familiar faces (comics) smoking on the patio. To my right, I look through the front window and make awkward eye contact with a trio of old women guzzling white wine. They seem somewhat out of place- not just their clothes (so dated they would surely have been criticized back in 1985, undoubtedly the year they turned 80), but mostly because they stared at me with abrasive judgement. I’m not phased, I’ve heard this room is supportive and eager to laugh. I head inside.
True to the reputation of the Crown and Dragon there were some Toronto comedy powerhouses gathered around the bar. Guys like Dom Pare (Great Canadian Laugh Off, JFL’s Homegrown, CBC’s So You Think You’re Funny), Matt O’Brien (2012 L.A Comedy Fest Best of the Fest, Comedy Now, Headlining Yuk Yuk’s), Julia Hladkowicz (Comedy Network, Sirius XM, Video on Trial), and Ron Sparks (22 minutes, Canadian Comedy Awards) were talking recent and upcoming performances until interrupted by guest host, Travis Albers, who announced the approaching 9:30pm showtime.
The Crown is known as an ‘Ambush’ show, (ie. “Suprise! There’s a comedy show starting in 5!). This works both for and against the comedian; if the audience doesn’t like the act, they’ll simply resume their conversation (interrupted by the show) until the next performer takes the mic. However, their curiosity brings them back to each new comic, effectively providing a clean slate and a fair window of opportunity for a comic to win their approval- so don’t blow it. As headliner Dom Pare suggests, open with crowd work to get them engaged, thereafter it’s just crowd control.
Travis takes the stage and immediately begins his role as MC, capturing the attention of the entire room excluding the three old dragons and their skillful frigid stares. They continuously blather in an octave above regular conversation; their discussion of trivialities pierces the room. Comedians take note and instead shift focus to the rest of the audience. The first comic warms up the room and receives only paltry laughter. Yet, with each new act their response grows more consistent and boistrous. The show’s in full swing yet still the women in the back are annoying everyone. Dom Pare stands near them subtly eavesdropping, giving the appearance he’s watching the show. No one notices… and he’s on next.
As Dom Pare’s name is called to headline Saturday at the Crown and Dragon, the obnoxious primordial woman abandon their roost and leave. If only they could appreciate their fortunate timing; Dom takes the mic and immediately calls them out. He tirades about their mediocre conversation filled with weather, T.V., ‘one-upmanship,’ and superfluous wealth. They were the manifestation of complacent, unmotivated lifestyle- the exact opposite of what a comic chooses to live for. The audience loved it, awarding him with the only applause break of the night.
The Crown and Dragon is home to all comedians, whether seasoned pros or aspiring new comics. Thanks to the keen vision of Ryan Horwood, this room has transformed into the Saturday hotspot aside the traditional club circuits, even earning the reputation as a drop-in for Montreal headliners like Massimo, among others. Hopefully you may even catch a glimpse of past headliners like Fraser Young, Ron Sparks, Mark Little, Eddie Della Siepe, Bryan Hatt, Jo-anna Downey, or Ali Hassan.
So come to the Crown and Dragon this Saturday night… just leave the small-talking drivel at home.
BOTTOM LINE: Great Talent, sound and Set Up. Peculiar ‘Stage.’ Rating B-.
Saturday Night @ 9:30 p.m. - The Crown and Dragon Pub, 890 Yonge St.
6 Booked in advance. 2 lottery spots.
Email Ryan Horwood for a spot: firstname.lastname@example.org