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A night at the improv: The devil made me do it

Demons are no fun. Well, they're kind of fun. But you know that vampires or zombies would be much better. Still, with "demonic" being the genre theme of the night, the comedians at the Bad Dog Theatre Company in Toronto didn't have much choice.

Every other Friday night, the theatre plays host to The Late Late Horror Show, an evening of improvised theatre based on horror movie clichés and the audience's suggestions, which are solicited at various points in the show. While each show has a different genre focus - including "vampires," "zombies" and "slasher" - there are also themes that offer the actors less to work with, like, say, "hillbilly" and, yes, "demonic."

It's a show for anyone tired of sensitive vampires or zombies hungry for brains, or for that matter, with a penchant for the ridiculous.

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It all started with a simple question: What is a daily personal ritual? One guy in the audience suggested putting on his underwear. Another shouted out "Facebook." Thankfully, the actors decided to go with the latter - next thing you know, someone's on stage as a geeky loser who lives with his mom and has just been sent a "friend" request from the devil.





Whenever I go to live improv theatre (which isn't that often) I'm reminded of two things: One, it's usually not that good, and frequently embarrassingly bad; two, I need to go see more stuff like this, because it can also, occasionally, be hilarious.

For instance, watching a man playing the devil convince our young nerd that in order to be with the girl he loves he must first commit suicide by swallowing a hot plate, and then watching as the guy tries to mimic doing so, is funnier than anything I've seen in a long time.

Of course, there's a long history of spoofing horror movies - from Scary Movie to Disaster Movie - and the trend continues with the release next week of the T wilight parody Vampires Suck.

But nothing compares to watching comedians make it up as they go along, live on stage.

In one scene during the Late Late Horror Show, a man and his daughter find themselves staying at a cabin that they discover was built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Of course it was! Anyone who's seen Poltergeist knew that was going to happen. But what about that scene where the devil appears and convinces two men lost in the woods that they need to have sex with one another? What horror movie cliché was that based on?

A serious questions for the performers: Since there are only so many clichés from horror movies featuring demons, the best part of the show was watching the cast scramble to make use of the audience's suggestions. During the cabin scene, the audience was asked to name an animal. The actors may have been hoping for something fearsome like bears or at least something appropriate to the woods. Instead, all they got was a guy who shouted out "giraffe!"

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It was so absurd, so ill-fitting to the context, that not only did everyone sitting in the theatre bust out laughing but so too did the actors on stage. A mop bouncing up and down was produced and an actor said something like, "Look, a giraffe! What's that doing here?" It was quickly disposed of.

Our hero, however, could not be gotten rid of so easily. He may have killed himself by swallowing a small appliance, but he had fought his way out of hell in order to rescue the girl at the cabin. When the devil asked how he had managed to escape, the man replied, "I'm in a relationship and it's complicated!" If they had gone with the underwear thing, he may have had a better joke for this moment. But the crowd, most of whom were in their early 20s, seemed to appreciate the Facebook reference.

Having escaped from hell, the actor still had to save his love interest and her father from the devil, who was strangely fixated on making them perform all sorts of degrading sexual acts. They were all so over the top that the audience couldn't get enough.

Thankfully, it turns out you can get rid of the devil by unfriending him on Facebook. Hey, there's only so much you can do with the plot when it's provided by the audience.

It may all have been ridiculous, and far from polished, but that's what makes improv theatre worth watching. The devil is in the details. And on Facebook. Watch out.

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