The cast of the Naked Fridays Players rotates every eight weeks
For the past four years, Naked Fridays has been a safe haven for new comics of all kinds to cut their teeth on Toronto’s comedy scene. The show, held in The John Candy Box Theatre, also features the rotating cast of the Naked Fridays Players, a troupe auditioned from the community to do eight-week runs performing sketch exclusively for the show. We chatted with host, Ben Johnson, and producer, Josh Murray, about the show, its players and why Fridays are naked.
So how did Naked Fridays start? Josh: Naked Fridays started from a group discussion of 12-15 people in The Second City Training Centre community that wanted to do a weekly show, and that group slowly became a smaller and smaller group as the weeks went on. After six weeks, there were really only four people still around who showed the drive to make this show a success. They were me, The Second City Training Centre General Manager Erin Conway, Chris New and the original host of the show, Stephen Kew. Now we’re 125+ shows in and we have a solid audience week in and week out and even better, a really funny show. Ben: Most of the time.
Why “naked?” What’s naked about Fridays? Ben: The show is called Naked Fridays because it presents comedy stripped down to its bare essentials. The Second City Training Centre has made some improvements to our space, but essentially it’s just a little wooden stage in a dark room in a basement — and it’s fucking awesome. I mean, we can give [the performers] some lights, Chris can play the piano for you, but ultimately it all comes down to your act. It’s bare bones. Also, sometimes, when there are a lot of other shows happening in the city on Friday night, I’ll be honest, our audience has been pretty bare, too.
Walk us through a typical Naked Fridays show. What can we expect? Ben: The show is always a little different. We try to stick to a format where I do a monologue, then we have music or stand-up opening and an improv act closing with the Players doing sketch in the middle, but even sticking to that format can mean totally different shows each week. That’s the beauty of our show. You don’t know what you're going to see. Ninety-nine per cent of the time — be it a guy with guitar, an improv duo, a magician, some sketch; whatever — it is a fucking awesome show. But I actually love the one per cent that is just horrendously shitty, too. With comedy like this, often made up on the spot, or occasionally booking an act we’ve never heard of because we need to fill a spot, things can get really, really bad. But that’s the beauty of comedy. It’s risk, it’s scary and sometimes it’s shitty. Mostly it’s not though, I promise! In short, if you come to our show, expect a good time. And expect dick jokes. I make a lot of dick jokes.
Tell us about the Naked Fridays Players. Ben: The Naked Fridays Players was an idea of mine for changing things up a bit. I decided to tweak the show’s format a bit and, instead of having three acts each week, opted to have our own troupe that would provide new sketch comedy each week. I happened to mention this idea to veteran improviser Kevin Matviw over beers one night and he expressed an interest in directing the troupe for our show. We auditioned people and put together a troupe and the rest, as they say, is history. Josh: The Players are pretty unique in the Toronto comedy scene. They put up brand new sketch comedy every single week — stuff that’s been written just that same week. And then we run auditions and run an entirely new troupe every eight weeks. Ben: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome actually. I think we originally intended to have Kevin stay on as the director, but he got a job on a boat, and since then we've been rotating directors, too.
What’s one of the most outrageous sketches that’s ever been performed? Josh: We’ve seen a lot. A lot. We showed some videos that definitely bordered on tasteless. I think to pick one would be completely unfair to those sick fuckers who really pushed the envelope. Ben: Yeah. It always a little outrageous. I mean, we have a recurring segment called “Guess that Meat” where we feed meat to blindfolded members of the audience; we like to play “is that Bieber or a lesbian;” we’ve had guests take their tops off... Josh: But we have never seen actual nudity at Naked Fridays. Here's hoping, 2013.
Who would be your ideal guest performer? Ben: Well, part of our mandate is to provide a space to up-and-comers, so our ideal guest is a face-meltingly hilarious comic no one has ever seen before. Josh: We’re looking for stars of the future. We want to offer people a place to really get off the ground. It’s a stage for the people who don't have a stage yet. Our first real show had two up-and-comers who are now on The Second City Mainstage, so we got to be doing something right. Ben: Also, if that guy who played Enos on The Dukes of Hazzard wants to do comedy, he would be my ideal guest performer.
Why is Naked Fridays an important part of the Toronto comedy scene? Ben: Well, we’re sort of intrinsically tied to The Second City Training Centre community, so we definitely exist as an important place for people new to the scene to cut their teeth on a stage, if they want to. And we offer a sort of uniquely non-judgmental space for comedy. But it’s also a space where veterans feel comfortable stopping by or sending us an email to ask for some stage time if they want to try something new or just want to play. It’s a unique space where people taking classes at The Second City might get a chance to open for veterans and everyone is supported by Chris, one of the best musical directors in the city by far, and the audience gets to see it all. Most importantly, the audience is supportive as hell, so it’s always a good time.
Is there anything new being added to the show in 2013? Josh: Every show is new. We have usually one newcomer that hasn’t done a lot around the city, so you never know what to expect. We’re also growing the Naked Fridays Players franchise. We’re on our fourth installment and the current cast is dynamite, writing edgy and hilarious sketches week in and week out. Ben: And there will be more dick jokes.
Who’s up this Friday night? Ben: Not me, actually. I’m taking a night off. We’ve got guest co-hosts! Josh: Mark and Mickey MacDonald are guest-hosting and choosing their own guests and, without divulging too much, there will be some musical puppets. It’s going to be a good one. Not to be missed.
Year started: 2009 Members: Ben Johnson (host), Chris New (musical director), Josh Murray (producer), Andrew Haggith (director). The current Naked Fridays Players cast include Maddox Campbell, Paul Kingston, Monique Marion, Sam Roulston, Eric Minch and Chelsea Szarka. Influences: David Letterman, The Conan O’Brien Show, Ed Sullivan, The Kids in The Hall, Miles Davis, your mother. Next show:The John Candy Box Theatre, 70 Peter St., Lower Level. Every Friday, 9 p.m.