I hated New Year’s Eve when I was growing up.
The enforced frivolity drove me crazy and every emotion seemed fake. After midnight, when the horns had been blown and the noisemakers had been discharged, I would wander around the party muttering to anyone who would listen, “Well, do you feel any different? I sure don’t.”
I swear one of the reasons I got into show business was to have something I could stand to do on New Year’s Eve. Producing comedy shows at my comedy clubs gave me a context for my fun. Then, when Massey Hall approached me to produce a “comedy extravaganza” nine years ago, I leaped at the chance. Surely there was an audience who wanted to laugh – without being totally liquored up – in an august environment, a place that had been a venue for some of the greatest comedians of our time?
This has been a show comics have begged to be a part of, and why not? It’s not just the best gig in the city, it’s the best gig in the country. My problem is to choose from so many worthy candidates. To do my job properly requires me to be a chef for the evening.
Let me explain.
Over the course of the evening I’m serving a multi-course “meal,” and that means I’m taking the audience on a journey. As with any well-planned feast, the courses should not repeat themselves, and all the food groups must be represented.
The main course is the host, who introduces the show and keeps it moving in between acts. The host should be funny and well-known. This year, the host is Gerry Dee, whom everyone knows from his third place victory in Last Comic Standing and his comic sports commentaries on The Score. Gerry has been selling out mid-size theatres in Toronto, so he should be familiar to a large part of the audience.
The headliner is another important course. It’s an important job to end the show – you need to be very good to make people laugh after they’ve seen a half-dozen acts – and this year, Nikki Payne will easily do the job. Nikki has also been on Last Comic Standing, but she’s been making waves lately guesting on a lot of TV shows.
I like to err on the side of intelligence wherever possible, which explains my choice of Glen Foster, also known as “That Canadian Guy.” A veteran of Just for Laughs, Glen is your man if you’re looking for news and social satire in the manner of Jon Stewart or Bill Maher.
It’s important that the evening reflect Toronto’s multicultural traditions, and who better than Kenny Robinson, founder of the urban comedy movement, to do just that? We’ve also got to have at least one woman included, and besides Nikki there’ll be Jen Grant, a Vancouver comic who’s been living in NYC. I like to book one wild card every year, too: if you liked Andy Kaufman in his prime, wait until you see Terry Clement! Rounding out the show and with strong youth appeal are Rob Pue, Mark Forward, and Sam Easton.
And so our comedic “meal” is complete, capped off as the cast assembles on stage to sing “Auld Lang Syne” with the Jaymz Bee Combo. It’s the after-dinner mint, and I hope to share it all with you at Massey Hall this New Year’s Eve.
Mark Breslin is the founder of Yuk Yuk’sand Producer of the annual New Year’s Eve Comdey Extravaganza at Massey Hall.