If you don't know anything about the Halifax-based comedy troupe Picnicface: shame on you! They're a very talented crew and their serendipitous formation, in my humble opinion, fills a critical need we have as a nation for a new generation's answer to Four on the Floor and Kids in the Hall. They're on the cusp of national success, which I believe is woefully overdue.
Some biographical info is in order. One of the founding members, B.C.-born Mark Little cut his comedic chops as a touring stand-up comedian. In 2004 he met Ontarian Kyle Dooley while serving as an instructor at an Improv Camp. They hit it off and a year later Mark moved to Halifax when Kyle went back to school to study Psychology. They formed Picnicface soon after after adding Evany Rosen to their comedic triumvirate. Soon they were performing regular gigs at regional universities and under-attended clubs but their fearless diligence soon began to pay off.
Soon they recruited Cheryl Hamm who was toiling on the Halifax stand-up circuit. Andrew Bush, who'd already enjoyed success appearing in Street Cents, writing for television and filming his own sketches in Toronto, introduced a video element to the troupe which earned them global exposure. Brian Eldon Macquarrie, Bill Wood and Scott Vrooman followed in quick succession to fill out their ranks.
I'd heard buzz about Picnicface back 'round 2006 when they were consistently packing people into the late, lamented Ginger's Tavern on Barrington Street every Sunday night. As pathetic working drones who had to work at an ungodly hour the next day, I had little luck convincing friends to go out to the shows. According to the word on the street, not to mention countless contemporary articles of the time (http://dalnews.dal.ca/2006/08/29/comedy.html), it looks like I really missed out on something special.
My path crossed with one of their ranks, Andrew Bush, about a year ago completely by co-incidence. Mutual pal Michael Chiasson (who's parenting blog http://brodiedaddy.blogspot.com/ was the inspiration for the foolishness you've been reading) threw a party in recognition of the release of "The Beatles: Rock Band". Being enthralled at the time by the marriage of two great loves (music and video games), there was no way I could possibly say no!
Here's a snippet from that same gathering (which in retrospect kinda looks like band practice for Rod Torfulson's Armada featuring Herman Menderchuck held at a local day care):
I assume Andy and Mike must have know each other from back in High School. It was nice of him to pop in and say "S'up?", despite the fact that he was clearly under the weather at the time. At some point in time during the evening we were fleetingly introduced to one another. At the time I was just starting to dabble in the realm of digital film editing and it took all my will not to pick his brain about the best platform for such tasks. Alas, he soon had to push off and I had my own responsibilities. After all, I couldn't let my fellow "Rock Bandmates" down.
As an afterthought, days later I sent him a friends request through Bookface just to keep tabs on Picnicface and other projects he might have in the hopper.
Fast forward to May of this year. By this time Andrew and Bill Wood have stumbled upon a live comedy Gold Mine: turning the randomized webcam site Chatroulette on it's ear by gathering a live crowd together at Joker's Comedy Club and messing with site visitors in real time by employing a bizarre variety of props, costumes and backdrops. For anybody that loves watching people's reactions to the grotesque and the profane, it's gut-bustingly funny.
In the first week of May, Andrew sent out an open request via Bookface asking for help making backdrops for Chatroulette. I checked my packed schedule and, finding a small window of opportunity available, sent a reply back that I was available to help. Here's how it went down:
I might be able to help with the Chat Roulette backdrops. What would you need done?
"Sweet dude! I don't really know. We're getting together Tuesday at 12 to make some stuff. What we do is create 'sets' that we use to fool other people on chat roulette. We also want to make something for a puppet.
As of now we have a girl's bedroom wall. I want to make something that looks like a bathroom and maybe like a dungeon. Any thoughts?"
A few days later this reply comes through, sent to me and four or five other folks:
"All of you have expressed interest in helping out with some backdrops for chat roulette. Which is aweesome. I'm hoping to get people together around 12:30 tomorrow at my place and just go grab some stuff and make some things.
we need a bathroom, an S&M dungeon (!) and a puppet theatre. Any one would be great.
Despite having a devil of a time finding the place, I eventually made it to Andrew's abode. He buzzed me in, met me downstairs and led me up to Casa Del Bush. Wow, that sounds terrible.
Since I arrived a tad late I fully expected that the place would already be a-bustle with creative types gluing tiles to fake walls or painting murals of Hannah Montana on pastel pink backdrops. Instead it was just me, Andy and his cat. His admittedly awesome cat, mind you, but just his cat nonetheless.
Mercifully, I can talk to just about anybody, especially creative types so I filled the potentially awkward spell with constant questions about his Picnicface videos, his editing suite of preference, the live shows, and Chat Roulette Live!
But eventually the very real possibility that no-one else was going to show up hung in the air like a bat the size of Rodan. In response, Andrew called fellow Rouletter Bill Wood for re-enforcements as we popped over to Canadian Tire to look for supplies.
Mercifully Andrew was looking for backdrops literally no bigger than what would fill the frame of a webcam. Pretty small scale but we still seemed a bit confounded by the logistics.
"What can we use here?" he mused out loud as we wandered up and down the aisles of Canada's signature superstore.
"Hmmmmm, well," I muttered, stalling for time while inspiration hit. "You're probably gonna need a piece of styrofoam so you can just stick on some cheap tiles. Then you can add props like a rod, curtain and a shower head. Maybe a soap dish glued on in the background?"
I leaned in a bit closer so the staff skulking nearby couldn't hear.
"But, dude, don't buy it here. It's way too expensive. Just hit up a Dollar Store and you can get a lot of this stuff a lot cheaper."
So inspired, we fled the store after picking up only the bare minimums. Bill met us in the parking lot and, under his deft guidance, we were on our way downtown. The first stop was an arts supply store on Barrington Street. Andrew dropped Bill off in front of the store to give him a head start as we began the protracted and oft-arduous process of trying to find parking in downtown Halifax in the middle of an afternoon weekday. Cue Mission: Impossible music.
During this time, Andrew spoke quite candidly about the future of Picnicface, his beloved comedic partners in crime, his filmic ventures, career twists and the potential of Chatroulette Live. Frankly, it was a fascinating conversation, especially as a sneak preview for more recent developments.
By the time we got inside the store, Bill had already secured some sheets of styrofoam and an easel to prop the backdrops upon.
"We also need something to make a penis out of," Andrew muttered cryptically as he walked by one time.
"Um, excuse me?" I asked.
Almost as an afterthought he paused and turned back to me.
"Oh yeah, you said you've never been out to the show, right? Well, the thing is with 'Chatroulette', a lot of guys go on there just to show people their junk. Soooooo, every time we see some dude's dick, we add it to the count for the '1000 Penis Challenge'. I think we've already gotten up to about four-hundred sightings already. Up 'til now we've just been using a poster to keep score, but we're hoping to put together something better."
For once I was at a lost for words. Unable to come up with any creative suggestions for an oversized three-dimensional penis-o-meter, I had to content myself with helping Andy and Bill take their purchases to the cash and then out to the car.
At Bill's behest we then hit up a home improvement store on Robie Street, where the industrious and inventive duo picked up some inexpensive yet convincing self-adhesive plastic tiles. After sweeping up a few more apropos props we parted ways and I wished them luck for the show next evening.
Later that day I sent this message via Bookface:
Despite feeling that I was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine today I still had fun.
If anything comes up I might be able to help with gimme some notice and I'll be at your disposal, sir.
Thanks and have a good one!"
"Haha. I had no idea what I was doin either. Thanks though man! Come out to the show sometime! Free. The password is __________."
Well, the following week, I did get out to the show. I happily paid my own way, since I'm a patron of the arts. Even the sort of arts that apparently require an efficient method of accounting for wang sightings as it turns out.
Well, let me tell you right now, the show was 'effin Hi-larious. I laughed so hard my colostomy bag almost broke.
If you're a fan of witnessing the myriad of comical reactions total strangers have to increasingly bizarre spectacles or seeing the pervy actions of people exposed to an entire club filled with hecklers, then you're in for an electrifying experience.
Despite the rigors of their ultra-packed schedule of late, they still do shows when they can. Check it out sometime. They continue to add innovations, guest appearances, puppets (?) and other twisted elements to keep the shtick fresh. Plus, the nigh endless parade of oddities on the other end of the webcam will virtually guarantee that you will see things that question your faith in humanity as a species. In a funny way, that is.
Well, fast-forward another five months and I'm getting a tip from Lauren and Andrew RE: the background casting channel for Rollertown, the first feature film showcasing the comedic synergy of Picnicface.
Wanna premise? As they say (whoever the f#@$% "they" are): a funny trailer is worth a thousand words...
And here's the IMDB Reader's Digest version: "When a roller-skating-obsessed town is over-run by video game shilling gangsters, only one man has the funk deep enough to boogie them back to oblivion."
How could anybody resist getting involved in this?
I immediately created a profile though the Hennessey Casting website (http://www.hennesseycasting.com/), specified that I was interested in a NON-SKATING role and sat back to play the waiting game. Literally just a few short hours later I got a call from a representative there. I confirmed that I was still interested in helping out, wrote down the set address and was told that an email would follow soon with my anticipated call time for the next day.
Just before the Hennessey rep hung up he asked: "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, what size roller skates do you take?" I let a dramatic pause tick by before replying: "Well, theoretically if I could skate it would be size eight. But, as you probably see there, I requested a non-skating part. Which is what this is right? Right?"
"Oh, yeah," he replied. "You'll be fine!"
Suddenly the line disconnected and I found myself trying to rebut a dial tone. Not long after the following email arrived:
"Attached you will find the callsheet for background tomorrow - please have a look to confirm your information & calltime is correct.
Thanks very much for helping us out with this production -we know this is going to be a fantastic movie, and we're so glad to have you on board.
As discussed, you will report to _________ - entrance to basement via parking lot of _________ ____ (look for HOLDING signs) . Please arrive ready for action! If you wear your first choice,and bring along another option you also think is good, then wardrobe can quickly give you the once over and send you off to set.
We will be feeding you guys (we have a BBQ!) - but this is a pretty low budget production, so you may want to bring along some juice or pop or chocolate or whatever you're into that doesn't come off a BBQ.
Make sure you also bring along some thing warm to keep handy in case you have to be outside at some point.
If you are having trouble finding the set, please call _____ tomorrow at ***-****."
For good or ill, I was committed now. And likely should have been committed before endangering my life and the lives of those around me by wearing roller skates.
God help us all...
EPIC: So much awesome entertainment value...(you're welcome by the way)
"Chat Roulette Live's" Bookface page: http://www.hs.facebook.com/group.php?gid=112552062102554&v=app_2392950137#!/group.php?gid=112552062102554
FAIL: I.E. "Why Chatroulette Live works so well..."