Sketch comedy is a curious enterprise. Each vignette provides a small enough template for actors to expand upon a cleverly written joke or scenario but is simultaneously long enough for a weaker idea to fall flat. This is apparent in even the most well known sketch comedy programs; classics like Saturday Night Live and the Second City shows garner laughs and glares in equal amounts. The trick to these programs rests in having the good rise above the bad, and this, I would argue, makes for an enjoyable performance.Now entering its 139th year, Victoria University’s annual “The Bob” opened this past Thursday on a positive note. Directors Jake Howell and Arathana Bowes opened the show by encouraging viewers to “show us your Bobs,” a foreshadowing of the punnery that would envelop much of the program.The show got it right in sketches like “The Edible Woman” and “Willie Shakes’ Bar and Grill.” The latter’s Shakespearian-themed restaurant proved comedic gold, with Nick Duranleau channeling Steve Martin as a waiter who’s had to tell patrons about the “Midsummer Night’s Cream” and “roasted rack of Hamlet” a few too many times. The former, with its gynecological fixations and Freudian bite (the “downstairs crumb catcher” or “hairy basket” housing an unwelcome guest), struck a desirable balance between staging, timing, and pop-cultural mining. It also managed to incorporate a certain Canadian author and Bob alumnus while remaining tastefully offensive, which unfortunately can’t be said about the whole show.This isn’t to say that certain topics are automatically taboo; it’s just that prolonging the focus can churn out groans. The show was not without its share of shifty moments; a sketch about Jesus Christ having a meal with his caricatured Jewish parents and a drawn out section on a self-destructive Taylor Swift jumping to mind. Similar sequences (and there were a few) could have benefitted from trimming, as their central conceit could not sustain an entire sketch.However, for every stumble Howell, Bowes, and their cast encountered, they took steps to correct themselves with good lighting, good staging, and professionalism. 2011 finds an uneven pair of Bobs that ultimately makes for an enjoyable performance. It is admirable to find any show that can have its brighter moments outweigh its faults, and though it often struggles, The Bob won’t make you regret spending that $10.
Showing their bobs
Vic’s 139th annual comedic production is a blast
Balls banned in Toronto school
A Toronto school has banned hard balls, such as basketballs, volleyballs, soccer balls, and even tennis balls in the name of safety.As of November 14, students at Earl Betty Jr. and Sr. Public school in East York are now only allowed to bring Nerf and sponge balls to school.In a letter sent home to parents, any hard balls “will be confiscated and may be retrieved by parents from the office.”The ban was issued after a parent suffered a concussion after getting hit in the head with a soccer ball.With files from the Toronto Star
Canadian tap water potentially contaminated
The federal government is failing in its efforts to protect Canada’s water, leaving tap water susceptible to contamination, according to an Ecojustice report.Ontario and Nova Scotia got A grades for water-protection efforts, but the federal government at large got an F. Despite this, only seven provinces and territories have installed new plans to improve water-protection.Recent progress, the report said, has waned in the decade since Ontario’s Walkerton disaster. Just this week, CBC has reported finding an unacceptable level of lead and copper in the drinking water at a number of Fredericton schools.With files from the CBC
Queen’s scraps fine arts program
Queen’s University has decided to suspend enrolment to its Bachelor of Fine Arts program for the 2012–13 school year. Due to budgetary constraints, “the Faculty does not feel it would be responsible to continue to admit students at this time,” said Associate Dean of Arts and Science Gordon E. Smith. While enrolment numbers are up, the program’s small classes and special classrooms have become expensive to finance. The 107 students currently enrolled in the BFA program have been guaranteed degree completion.With files from The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s
by Omma Cobba
Omma Cobba’s self-titled debut is so blurry and hazy you can barely read the track listing on the back cover. Working between the vague boundaries of blues, folk, and early rock, the Halifax-born Toronto-based band claims to have recorded most of its album in an RV while travelling across Europe. True or not, the reverb-drenched production and trails of echoing vocals do effortlessly evoke the mysteries of the open road.Most songs stick to the thump of a single drum accompanied by a maracca or tambourine, a sparse bass line rendered as a throb, and a few insistent guitar chords. Singer Dan Miller’s vocals provide variety, ranging from an effortless drawl on “Some People Say You’re No Good” to perfect wordless harmonies on “Policeman.”Omma Cobba channel half-remembered twangs and echoes into something filled with sadness and wonder, evoking the morose ballads of Japanese psychedelic group Les Rallizes Dénudés. The result is low-key, relaxed, and shockingly good.
Land & Sea
by Sarah Slean
There are probably a number of people who will listen to Sarah Slean’s new double album, Land & Sea, and say, “My, how much she’s matured.” Which is bullshit. Maturity in music is almost always synonymous with boring. And boring personifies the second half of her latest effort. Sea is crap. There are strings! They sweep! And, hold on to your butts, they swoop. If you like “Moon River,” then the Sea side might be for you. But if you were born in the ‘80s or ‘90s, you probably expect your music to be, what’s the word, interesting. Land is far more lively and, if taken on its own, actually constitutes a good album despite the heinous misstep that is “Everybody’s on TV.” But even then there’s a softness to it, a lack of edge. It’s a little bit like being mauled by a plush tiger. Sure it’s a tiger, and that’s cool, but it’s soft and squishy to the extent that even a song like “Amen,” the album’s best, sounds a little fake. In general, the Land half of the is solid. It’s just that if you like to bleed alongside your music, this is not for you.
After four long years, Feist has a new album out and I’ll give you the bad news first: there is no “Mushaboom,” no “1234,” and there’s not even the trendier, hidden, poppy tracks like “Secret Heart” or “Inside and Out.” Metals is completely new territory for Leslie Feist. As an artist, she is — wait for it — evolving. As disappointing for junkies of indie pop singles as this might be, her development in musical style is better than the alternative; Weezer comes to mind in its post-Pinkerton stylistic Neverland of unchanging themes and power chords. So, she has abandoned indie pop, land of counting numbers and, er, mushabooming for a very moving and emotional album. The mood of each song evokes loneliness and heartbreak, and there is also this earthy naturalistic vibe present as well. This is clearly a work of maturity. The good news in all of this is that regardless of the somber moodiness, after a first listen, you might find yourself singing along.
Varsity Blues … Quidditch?
The Harry Potter sport may have a place at the intercollegiate level
A University of Toronto sports team spent the last weekend of October competing against teams from across the country, vying to be crowned Canada’s best. But unlike their fieldhockey or soccer counterparts, the U of T Nifflers aren’t an official Varsity Blues team, and their chosen activity, Quidditch, isn’t an official intercollegiate sport.U of T finished last at the inaugural Canadian Quidditch Cup, hosted by Carleton University in Ottawa. “[It] sucks, because I feel like if we could get points on our spirit and enthusiasm, we would definitely come in first place,” said Rachel McCann, fourth-year chemical engineering student and this year’s team captain.The Nifflers started with a 0–90 loss to the University of Ottawa. Ottawa won in aggressive fashion, striking Toronto’s chasers with heavy offensive pressure.Toronto scored their first points of the tournament against McGill, the nation’s top-ranked Quidditch team. Despite losing 10–270 in the first game and then 30–180 in the second, McCann recalls chanting with her teammates, “We scored a goal! We scored a goal!” against the stalwart McGill team.Inspired by the success of McGill, U of T is beginning to implement similar game strategies. “McGill keeps their beaters back near the hoops, and they always have bludgers (dodgeballs); so if anyone comes close to their hoops, they get hit,” explained McCann. “They’re like a defensive wall and it works very well.”The Nifflers won their last game against Ryerson in overtime with a final score of 140–90.Despite propping up the standings, U of T walked away with the “Most Attractive Team Award,” first-year student Susan Gordon gleefully explained.Toronto came agonizingly close to ranking seventh in the Canadian Cup. The win against Ryerson was no surprise to McCann who said, “[Ryerson is] quite small so we usually beat them.”“It’s kind of sad,” whispered McCann, giggling a little.Quidditch is a fast-growing sport at U of T. “The team quadrupled in size from last year,” noted McCann, with over 200 signatures on Clubs Day, 80 try-outs, and 50 members for what is technically only a campus club.Despite the lack of official intercollegiate status, the Nifflers’ main competitive opponents are teams from other universities. Beyond the Canada Quidditch Cup, U of T normally competes at the Quidditch World Cup, a competition organized by the International Quidditch Association. U of T is ranked 77th by the IQA, a magical non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sport of Quidditch.Given the team’s growth, the world of intercollegiate sports could one day welcome Quidditch to the fold. Only a gifted divination professor could tell you for sure.Quidditch is as physically demanding as many other “regular” sports. The best players are fierce and graceful. “[When] you think [of] Quidditch, you think of Harry Potter nerds, and you think it’s going to be a dainty little sport,” McCann pointed out. “Every single person would be shocked [at] how aggressive it is.”In “Muggle” Quidditch, chasers try to shoot the quaffle (a volleyball) through their opponent’s hoops, which are defended by keepers. Meanwhile beaters try to slow down the offense with bludgers, and seekers go after the (human) snitch. Players make up for their lack of flying ability by dutifully carrying their broomsticks between their legs.Quidditch is also a spectators’ treat. Theatrics abound, with the golden snitch’s capture ending the match in a dramatic flourish, and scoring the team a final 30 points. The “snitch” has a sock and ball hanging from his or her waist, and is typically played by a cross-country runner. During the Ryerson game, the snitch took off in a car forcing the seekers to jog behind for part of the way.Its roots in fantasy aside, Quidditch has the same athletic integrity as other interuniversity sports. “I always say you don’t have to know a lot about Harry Potter to play Quidditch,” said McCann, who admits that she’s no Harry Potter connoisseur.“If [people] actually played and got hit, they’d know [Quidditch] isn’t a joke,” Gordon noted, listing the catalogue of injuries the team sustained in Ottawa. One player acquired a bruised eye from a broomstick incident, while another had a fat lip after being hit in the face with a bludger.There is no snickering at the idea of Quidditch as an intercollegiate sport, even from those in the Blues management. “I don’t want to validate whether or not a sport is a sport based on whether it’s Varsity,” said Beth Ali, Director of High-Performance and Intercollegiate Sport, her eyes sparkling with warm familiarity for Harry Potter. “I want to validate a sport as a sport based on whether it’s physically active, if the participants enjoy it, if there’s really good leadership, [and] if people are coming together in life-long activity.”Ali recalls watching the Quidditch team practice on the backfield of Trinity College. “They were in the rain and cold,” Ali said. “Tell me that’s not passion.”Ali is cautious about the prospects of Quidditch at an intercollegiate level. “It’s a careful process to make sure that there is truly the capacity [for a sport to become intercollegiate],” she said. “There has to be a process, because resources are involved, and U of T is a very big place, with lots of varied interests.”For their part, the Nifflers are content to remain a free-spirited mélange of students for now; the players have no dreams of Varsity Blues status. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what college you’re in, what year you’re in, your race, your religion, [or] how old you are,” McCann said. “We’re all from U of T and we’re here to have fun.”The Dumbledore’s Army at Victoria College concurs. “The brilliant thing about Quidditch is that it truly is a sport for all,” said Samantha Summers, President of the DA.“It combines traditional elements of athletics with literature and the virtues championed in the Harry Potter series. The result is a sport which encourages competition and personal growth, both on and off the pitch, while focusing strongly on building positive relationships between players rather than animosity.”With the good feelings, and despite the casual atmosphere, Quidditch may eventually have enough of a following to meet the criteria that Ali outlines for intercollegiate teams: “officiating, coaching, player development, facilities, [and] financial resources to operate the program.” Don’t be surprised then, if you open up The Varsity to see the U of T Nifflers with an OUA or CIS banner, and a few bruises to match.
How does a sport become intercollegiate?
Sports teams must start as clubs, before attaining Varsity status and then competing in OUA and CIS programs. According to Beth Ali, there is a “process by which you apply to become an OUA program, which starts with 10 athletic directors signing an intent to enter for a specific sport. And if there are 10 universities and directors that say they want a sport to become OUA [level], then they go into a review process.” CIS-status requires another set of processes.There are three levels of sports in the OUA sports mode: “market-driven, high-performance, [and] varsity clubs (competitive clubs).” There are also regulations that come into play when a sports team gains Varsity status, for example “course load requirements [and] drug education requirements.”