From May 21st-30th, Montreal Sketchfest will be celebrating its tenth anniversary by inviting sketch comedy troupes from all over North America to perform at Theater Saint Catherine. We sat down with Pat Dussault and Al Lafrance of Gary, one of the festival’s Montreal-based troupes, to talk about what makes Sketchfest and the Montreal comedy scene one of a kind.
In speaking to two of the five comedic geniuses behind Gary, it quickly becomes clear that the troupe’s unique hilarity can be sourced back to a single trait that is omnipresent both at Montreal Sketchfest and in the Montreal comedy scene generally: unmitigated artistic freedom.
It was a quest for this freedom that brought Gary together in the first place. Writer Pat Dussault joined forces with Alain Mercieca, Al Lafrance, Rodney Ramsey and Sehar Manji in an attempt to find an outlet for material he had written that was a bit too out of the box for his screenwriting day job at This Hour Has 22 Minutes. The troupe quickly developed a free-flowing creative process were Dussault and Mercieca would bring basic “skeletons” of sketches to the rest of the group, which would then begin to riff off the original ideas and add wrinkles until the final product took on a life of its own. “I’ve got a lot of back-logged ideas and the rest of the group is absolutely amazing at shooting those ideas down,” said Dussault. “I truly believe we’ve hit that ultimate sweet spot between one writer in the driver’s seat and too many cooks.”
Unadulterated creative freedom also permeates throughout Montreal Sketchfest as a whole. “Sketchfest is a place for people who have those one or two sketch ideas in their head that they just don’t know what to do with. We give those people a chance to put their ideas on stage,” said Lafrance. “This is not a self-important festival. It gives troupes a rare opportunity to bring their craziest ideas to life.” Another key foundation of Sketchfest’s artistic uninhibited nature is the fact that it is a festival by comedians, for comedians. “This is a festival for us,” said Dussault. “Bigger festivals are great too, but this is really a place where we can create what we think is funny as opposed to what we think other people will think is funny.”
Dussault and Lafrance are also adamant about the fact that Sketchfest’s ethos truly represents the spirit of Montreal’s English comedy scene in general. Just For Laughs has helped make Montreal a comedy capital of the world, but our city’s comedy scene takes on a much different light during the other 50 weeks of the year. “Montreal has a huge pool of talented Anglophone comedians, but only about 40 people who are interested in seeing comedy year round,” said LaFrance. “There’s no way to make money as an English comedian in Montreal but, in a way, that’s sort of freeing. Dussault added: “It creates an interesting situation in which Montreal becomes this place where you can take more risks on stage and hone your craft without worrying about alienating a large audience.” Both comics agreed that a desire to emulate this lack of restriction was one of the main driving forces behind the inauguration of Sketchfest ten years ago.
There’s no telling what sort of shenanigans Gary and the rest of the Sketch fest troupes have in store for us from May 21st to the 30th. One thing audiences can unequivocally expect, though, is that the comedy will be unbound and unwound.