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Uncalled For at Just For Laughs

Posted by Christine / July 11, 2010

20100710-UF.jpg A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand Uncalled For's newest scripted comedy show Hypnogogic Logic at this year's Fringe Festival. Though I had not planned on writing about the performance, as I giggled uncontrollably, raised an impressed brow at the witty, academic references, exchanged smiles with other audience members, and launched the paper airplanes and newspapers provided for us at the actors, I knew that I absolutely had to tell all my friends, family members, and now you, lovely readers, all about it.

Originally an improv club, Uncalled For is currently comprised of John Abbott College alums, Dan Jeannotte, Matt Goldberg, Mike Hughes, and Anders Yates. The group's improv is often inspired by audience suggestions, one another's ideas, as well as other styles and structures of improv they witness. The themes of their scripted shows vary according to the members' current interests.

"In the lead-up to this show, (Jeannotte) was reading a book called The Head Trip, which discusses various different states of consciousness, and that's where we learned about the hypnogogic (also sometimes spelled 'hypnagogic'), which is the state that your brain passes through on the way from waking to sleeping," said Yates. "It's an interesting, quasi-hallucinatory state of mind, and it reminded us of the way that we like to present ideas on stage, flowing freely and morphing from one moment to the next, so we ended up going with it."

The performance was framed by Hughes' role as a person confined to this rather odd, hallucinatory state of being. He is confused, desperately groping his way towards logic amidst the absurd statements and actions of those around him. The dream images are merciless, mocking him at every turn with shape shifting and role-reversal. Loosing grip on not only his identity, but on reality in general, Hughes' anxiety culminates in a scene of panicked fleeing. It is at this point that audience members may partake in his further humiliation by throwing a barrage of newspapers, paper airplanes and frankly, whatever is at their disposal at the stage.

However, the show does not tightly focus on this character, but flows seamlessly from a great number of sketches with character and theme variation. Among them, an exploration of both the authority and fallibility of the English dictionary, redolent of, often rigidly academic, philosophical, postmodern discussions on the ineffability of the world. Another scene satirizes the seemingly arbitrary nature of art. The group places and re-organizes a cluster of chairs or 'installation art,' while attributing deeply intellectualized meanings to it.

"We hope that people will laugh and be entertained (by our performance), but we also like to get people thinking more deeply about the way we all live our lives," said Yates. "We are certainly not preachy in anything we do, but we are very fond of questioning what society considers to be normal and the things that people do every day without thinking about them too much. We basically want to blow people's minds."

Although Hypnogogic Logic is rife with clever, academic references, this content is coloured with Uncalled For's signature, lighthearted, almost impish style. Thus, their performance never alienates the audience because the drier intellectualism is complimented with slapstick or repetitive manic shouting, for example. This is a truly impressive balance to achieve, while appearing so effortless.

And, it seems I'm not the only one noticing Uncalled For's special quality, as they were given the Just For Laughs Best English Comedy Award on June 20th, at the Fringe's annual Frankie Awards.

"We were thrilled. This was extremely rewarding to us, since we had already won the award two years earlier for our show Blastback Babyzap, but it was clear to us that what we had created this time with Hypnogogic Logic was our strongest scripted show yet," said Yates. "Of course we didn't expect to win since we had already received the award so recently, so it was a fantastic surprise. There was a lot of jumping up and down and high-fiving for sure."

Uncalled For's new improv show, which they will perform at Just For Laughs alongside Hypnogogic Logic, is cheekily called How to Run a Comedy Festival. It's a serialized show, meaning that characters and events from one night carry over to the next. However, everything will progress in such a way that each show may be considered on its own, so that audience members who have missed a show will still understand what is going on. Additionally, Uncalled For will be inviting guest stars from the Just For Laughs festival to join them on stage, allowing them to work with new, talented people every night.

Uncalled For will be performing at Just For Laughs every night from July 13th to July 17th at MainLine Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent.

Uncalled For presents: Hypnogogic Logic, will play each night at 7:00 p.m., and Uncalled For presents: How to Run a Comedy Festival will run each night at 11:00 p.m.

Photograph by Jeremy Bobrow. Sitting: Mike Hughes. Standing from left to right: Dan Jeanotte, Matt Goldberg and Anders Yates.

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