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Kevin Whalen, from left, Etan Muskat, Ashley Botting, Leigh Cameron, Kyle Dooley and Kirsten Rasmussen perform in Second City's How to Kill a Comedian.Racheal Mccaig

How to Kill a Comedian

Written and performed by Ashley Botting, Leigh Cameron, Kyle Dooley, Etan Muskat, Kirsten Rasmusssen and Kevin Whalen

Directed by Kerry Griffin

At Second City Theatre in Toronto

****

Anyone can guffaw, but those that are most aware also tremble, the state of the world being so terrifying. With their edgy-brilliant, line-treading new revue How to Kill a Comedian, the sketch satirists at Second City push buttons and ask the right questions.

Is laughter the best medicine for life's scares and ills? Do we let the prudes and terrorists win? Is it okay to watch The Cosby Show?

Or, can I touch you there and pull your hair? The evening's first scene featured cast members Etan Muskat and Ashley Botting laying down sexual ground rules, a good idea in this Fifty Shades of Grey world.

Biting was okay, as was slamming certain private parts in library books – paperback, please – but other things were not. There's hanky, and then there's panky, after all.

Moving on, the second sketch gathered a white guy, a brown guy and a woman playing a game-of-life board game.

Representing white privilege was Kyle Dooley, who blithely got all the breaks and best rolls. Kirsten Rasmussen's character's never stood a chance. She was the only one allowed to play the PMS card, but then she landed on the spot that was most unfair. When she gained a little weight and her co-workers asked if she was pregnant, she lost two points and was told to hit the gym. And if she cried, she would lose the game.

The action was the most uproarious during a jester competition held by a medieval queen (deliciously and devilishly done by Rasmussen).

The material was perfectly ribald, and if a jab went too far it was off-with-their-head for the offending joker. (A bit about whether one could accept Super Bowl tickets from Jian Ghomeshi drew some of the night's few jeers.)

As suggested by Rasmussen's monarch, the humour of a society reveals its true darkness, but out of the gloom the "phoenix of a chuckle" arises. To stifle a comedian is to kill one, and, with its smashing revue, Second City asks that we not silence the messenger.

Kate McKinnon

At the Randolph Theatre in Toronto

Live from Saturday Night Live, on Monday, it was Kate McKinnon, the animated comedian and ace impersonator who is easily the most famous performer of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, ongoing to March 15.

The Columbia University grad was enthusiastic during her late-night set at the Randolph Theatre, but her observations rarely blew my hair back.

Oh, she got laughs. I'm just not sure she always earned them.

McKinnon is an emerging SNL star, particularly noted for sharp impersonations of celebrities (Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres) and politicians (Hillary Rodham Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel).

For this stand-up appearance – which included droll songs, a slide presentation and a video of herself as a hapless figure skater – she mostly stayed away from her strongest suit.

She did mimic Penelope Cruz, getting a reaction by sending up that multilingual actress's unique accent. Why is that funny? (Is it?)

An engaging performer, McKinnon easily established a rapport with her audience, particularly the ones familiar with feminine hygiene products. As folk-singing Ani DiFranco, she offered a ditty called Tampon Farm.

(By McKinnon's calculation, women spend a full quarter of their lives "trying not to get blood in their pants.")

We also heard a tedious bit on stool samples. Better were her remarks on the sad realities of single people who are married to their cats.

For McKinnon, a visit to the veterinarian's office is bittersweet: She is among friends, a bond among "losers with small lives" who will pay $700 to have their small animals' teeth cleaned.

So, relatable stuff – much more than celebrity parodies could be.

McKinnon could have relied on her stock and trade, but she chose not to, ironically making an impression with that choice.

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