Spreading the Sketch Gospel with Ladystache
Ladystache is the comedic offspring of Allison Hogg and Steph Tolev. When these two procreate, it comes out the bastard child of improv, stand-up and sketch, and it is very funny.
These two Humber grads have been booking shows all over the city, performing at least twice weekly in rooms big, small and sometimes entirely filled with stoners (we’ll get back to that later).
In the last few months, they have made the Comedy Bar home, using a monthly show – appropriately called LadyStache Gone Wild – to hone their unique style.
“We’ve set it up to be a place where we can really try out new and interesting stuff,” says Allison. “We tell [the] audience that, ‘Hey, this is new and we’re having fun with it.’ We’re blending a little bit of sketch and stand-up in the sense that we can comment on [the sketch] after it happens. There’s this kind of looseness with it.”
When they get onstage, the two transform into a true comic team; Allison often playing straight to Steph’s more animated and comically rash persona. Their embrace of the absurd results in an eclectic set of material – one moment you are witnessing a campfire sing-a-long with Bjork, then puppets dancing to Thunderheist’s “Jerk It,” before two old ladies spontaneously combust.
“Our style is over-the-top, casual, and bizarre,” says Allison.
“We do mostly weird and abstract stuff,” says Steph.
Many of their sketches include videos, puppets and – for a touch of class – ‘realistic dicks.’
“We have so many props that have just become extensions of our duo,” admits Allison.
“We are kind of dirty!” Steph adds.
Allison and Steph first met attending the comedy program at Humber College in 2004. You’d never guess by their stage chemistry, but at one time these two didn’t jive.
“Oh I hated her, I didn’t like her,” Steph admits.
“She was largely intimidated by my talent,” Allison cuts in.
“Look, the teachers didn’t like me, they liked her more,” Steph says. “They didn’t think I was funny; I was too weird.”
Allison originally put the group together under the name The Dumb Kunts consisting of four members including Sarah Hilliard and Laura Cochran. The Kunts’ later became the more billable Ladystache after realizing the troupe worked better as a pair.
“I think once we started doing the duo we realized it was just so easy. Everything was always really loose,” says Steph.
“It works unbelievably well as a duo,” says Allison. “It’s just easier with writing.”
Throughout the course of our interview, the two constantly finish each others’ sentences, often flowing into a tangent where their comic alter egos emerge. It seems Ladystache can’t help but perform. They admit they are always working something out for their next performance.
“It helps when we’re hanging out,” says Allison. “We can laugh at something together then figure out how the heck we can do it on stage.”
“We only write for what we find funny,” says Steph. “We’re never trying overly hard to pander to a certain audience. I think that writing for us, as a rule, tends to work. Then you develop a style without trying to.”
Their approach is to write as much as they can and book as many shows as possible, then book some more. They explain that the best place to learn is in front of an audience.
Inspiration for sketches starts with a simple desire to make each other laugh and then push each other into absurdity and, finally, anarchy.
“We just try to make each other laugh,” says Steph. “That’s our biggest thing.”
“It’s probably a little self indulgent,” says Allison.
“Yeah,” Steph says laughing. “We should probably try making the audience laugh first.”
If a new concept makes the other laugh, they’ll write it out. Once. Sticking to a script just doesn’t appeal to them and they believe their impromptu one-liners are often funnier than their written material.
“We try to stick to the lines but a lot of it is just finding out how it works on stage,” says Steph. “Oh, we don’t rehearse either!”
“We book ourselves often and that’s how we rehearse,” says Allison.
This informality could be riskier in the hands of performers lacking Ladystache’s combined talent for improvisation.
“We [came] from improv,” says Allison. “We blend the two probably more than other sketch troupes would because it’s how we started.”
Self-proclaimed weirdos, the two cite influences ranging from Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean to The Mighty Boosh and Snuffbox – the dark BBC comedy from Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher.
“If we were to pitch a show, [Snuffbox] would probably be something close to it,” says Allison. “I guess a lot of our influences are absurd.”
She gives a quick example of a sketch they have been working on.
“Okay, we’ve yet to figure out how to do it,” says Allison. “We start off with a scene – an intense dramatic scene – and then I’ll yell, ‘Cut!’ And we’ll have these puppets come in as the stand-in stunt doubles.”
They two begin laughing.
“We’ll see how it works,” says Allison.
It can be a tough road to succeed as sketch artists in Toronto. There are a small, albeit growing, number of places to perform if you don’t happen to be a member of the Second City troupe.
“Sketch has always been hard,” says Allison. “There just isn’t a place for it like in other cities.”
Not ones to give up and give in, Ladystache has made it their mission to spread the sketch gospel far and wide, not afraid to perform in places normally reserved for stand-ups.
“We do a lot of shows at places that are not equipped to do sketch,” says Allison. “We’ll do it at stand-up shows where people don’t get sketch, but for some reason they’ll book us.”
They have regular shows at The Rivoli (alongside Jape and Vest of Friends), La Revolucion (with Jeff Danson), The Ossington, Humber Comedy Night, The Eton House (with Jo-anna Downey), occasionally the Second City Main Stage, Free Times Cafe; the list goes on.
They credit Gary Rideout Jr. – the Comedy Bar’s owner and artistic director – for making alternative comedy available every night of the week. An opportunity they have made the most of with Ladystache Gone Wild.
A testament to their willingness to perform, they have become the unofficial resident sketch troupe at the Vapor Lounge.
“We don’t even know how that happened!” says Steph. “We’ve gotten to be favorites there. We’re there like twice a month.”
“Sketch troops hate doing it.” says Allison. “I think Vest of Friends is the only other sketch troupe that is brave enough to do it.”
“It’s just a crowd of younger people, super high and watching sketch,” Allison says. “Sometimes they are laughing their heads off, and other times they’re just staring at us.”
At a recent show, the two seemed to do quite well, coaxing giggles and groans from the assembled burn-outs.
“I feel like either way we do well because they are listening; no one is talking, no one is heckling.,” says Steph. “They are all watching waiting to see what happens.”
Last fall, Ladystache joined the all-female She’s Got Shape Tour, alongside Cheap Smokes -another Toronto female sketch duo – and two stand-ups – Julia Hladkowicz and Diana Love – for a tour with performances in London, Toronto, Collingwood, Pembroke, Ottawa and Montreal. It was a lot of work, keeping to a strict travel schedule and coordinating with local comics to promote each night’s show.
The two reflect on the original idea to go on tour:
“We were jokingly talking about [going on tour] – drunk again because that’s how ideas come up and [Julia Hladkowicz] said we should do a tour,” says Steph. “So then I’m like (impersonates being drunk), ‘Yeah, we should get troupes and do stand-up. It’d be great.’”
Allison jumps right in with a brutish-jock voice, puffs out her chest, rising out of her chair.
“Yeah! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Let’s do it!” she says loudly in the middle of the busy coffee shop where we are conducting the interview.
Steph launches right in with her own macho impersonation.
“Yeah! Yeah. We’ll go around the city-” before trailing off. They both fall into a fit of laughter. They resume their original postures, nestle back into their chairs and await the next topic of conversation, as if nothing happened.
The ladies will continue touring this year, returning to Montreal and Toronto’s sketch festivals, and have applied to attend the Edinburgh Free Fringe, L.A. Sketch Festival, with possible stops in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City, where they are contemplating an all-Canadian show for their friends Paul Hutchinson and Jillian Thomas.
The dynamic duo are almost finished writing scripts for a web series they plan on filming this summer. The first season will feature six 15-minute episodes and present exaggerated versions of themselves. One will focus on their irrational hatred of everyday people behaving normally.
“It drives us nuts and for no apparent reason,” says Steph. “Like this guy came in to work the other day with this really long scarf. So I said ‘Hey Allison, do you see that guy’s scarf over there?’ And she goes ‘Yeah, it’s pissing me off.’”
They attended an ACTRA conference devoted to making web series and have recruited Simon Pond, of Jape, to perform with them.
“He’s a very good improviser,” says Allison. “We’ve already written a character around him. He has the funniest voice, and a way of delivering things. He’s already on board and is very excited.”
As the two continue with stories of their tour, a theme emerges. Steph hits the nail on the head:
“I’d say the biggest thing for sketch troops is to work with people that you like,” she says.
It’s obvious that when the two are together, on stage or off, they’re having a good time.
As my meeting with Steph and Allison winds down, I find myself feeling disappointed that the LadyStache experience is going to end. As it turns out, when Ladystache is having a good time, we do to.
BOTTOM LINE: Their chemistry is so natural, it could be narrated by David Attenborough.
Visit them at www.LadyStache.com
See their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/LadyStache