From The Kids in the Hall to the Baroness Von Sketch Show, Toronto has long ruled the sketch comedy scene on Canadian TV. But a crew of Montrealers is hoping to change that.
Introducing Absofreakinglutely, a made-in-Mile End series of skits that premières Saturday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. on CBC, and will stream on CBC Gem.
“It’s basically about life in Montreal, but even more so,” said Lori Braun, co-writer, director, executive producer and cast member alongside co-writer David Heti and a rotating ensemble that includes Rodney Ramsey, Lise Vigneault, Brad MacDonald and Heidi Lynn Weeks, among others.
It’s not Braun’s first attempt to bring some Montreal slacker cool to the nation. She was co-creator and co-star of the 2016-18 CBC web/TV hybrid series The Mile Enders, a “coming of middle-age” show about a pair of 40-something anglo hipster friends living and dating in our city’s trendiest microclimate.
“Now it’s just evolved into a sketch comedy show,” she explained. “The idea was to create a sketch comedy show that takes place in Montreal, and takes a look at the issues we’re having.
Braun says the show is about “people in their late 30s and early 40s and the issues people have growing up in the Plateau — everything from dating in your 40s to not getting your s–t together until quite a bit later.”
Braun’s background is in reality TV, which in a strange way allowed her to see the humorous aspects of a reality closer to home.
“I wrote a lot of true crime,” she explained. “There was a lot of natural comedy occurring in the shows I was producing and writing. So I thought, why not turn the camera around and do sketch comedy?”
She calls the première airing next week a one-hour pilot. She hopes Absofreakinglutely will get picked up as a regular series.
Topics range from the Montreal-specific to the universal. The opening sketch features Braun and two friends sitting down on the floor, lighting candles and sharing their deepest hopes in a wish circle.
Margaret wishes for “a slightly larger condo under $300,000, still in the Plateau.”
Jen (Braun) follows by praying for “a handsome guy, who works in finance, is not a sociopath into polyamory, bondage — you have to be really careful when you leave things off the list, ’cause they could come true.”
The tone shifts as Lila wishes her friends were “more well-rounded, empathetic and understanding of real-world problems.”
A date at a painfully hip, locally sourced, “table-to-farm” restaurant takes a surreal Canadian turn with menu items including lichen on a stick.
This being Montreal, there’s a bagel sketch. Titled Bagel Cult, it involves a group of men swearing allegiance to our city’s beloved doughy delight. Montreal construction is also broached, as are civil disobedience and Tinder dating.
In other words, it’s all very Montreal. And Braun hopes that can play in Absofreakinglutely’s favour.
“This is one of the first sketch comedy shows developed and produced out of Montreal,” she said. “Everything at the CBC happens out of Toronto.”
Of course, being a Montreal show means it’s naturally hip — which is great for us, but how will that play in the rest of Canada?
“I guess in Toronto, being a hipster is not as valued,” Braun said. “In Montreal, you can just be a hipster and that’s fine. You can look good while drinking coffee at Olimpico. But it’s a lot of work to achieve that.”
Yet while our city is unique in its laid-back chic, Braun believes a show based here can resonate with viewers nationwide.
“We tried to hone in on more universal aspects, that are also very Montreal,” she said.
Ultimately, Absofreakinglutely is not so much about a city as a demographic — one that just seems to be omnipresent here.
“There’s something about our generation,” Braun said. “It feels like we’re not growing up. We’re not millennials, and not Generation X — we’re in between. I feel like that concept is universal — the Peter Pan complex. We’ve shirked marriage and are waiting until the last possible minute for life to commence.”
A sign of the times, there are also several sketches about life under COVID-19. In one amusing scene, three friends catch up in the street, from 20 feet apart. In another, Braun plays a European social distancing expert with a novel technology to ensure people stay far enough away.
The COVID skits weren’t originally part of the plan, but when lockdown began in March, it was a no-brainer to incorporate the pandemic into the comedy. Braun hopes to further explore the theme going forward, saying it’s ripe with opportunity for laughs.
“Not only are we this strange generation,” she noted, “but we’re this strange generation living through a pandemic. We’re not at all emotionally prepared for this. We’ve been coddled and emotionally stunted. We’re unprepared for anything remotely challenging in terms of a real issue.”
Ultimately, there’s one very good reason Braun believes Absofreakinglutely will work. And it’s something every Montrealer, deep down, knows to be true.
“We’re extra interesting here in Montreal,” Braun said. “Toronto is a bit straitlaced in some ways.”
AT A GLANCE
Absofreakinglutely airs Saturday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. on CBC.
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