New Faces Toronto: Characters JFL42, Toronto ON, September 21

New Faces Toronto: Characters JFL42, Toronto ON, September 21
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The fresh talents who displayed their best sketch acts at this year's New Faces: Characters lineup were, as a whole, creative in their writing and bold in their performance. While the clear star of the evening was four-time comedy award winner Roger Bainbridge (pictured) each performer in the lineup impressed a packed room at Comedy Bar's cabaret space on Friday.
 
Going first in a showcase lineup is a difficult task for even the best performers, but Kayla Lorette made herself a tough act to follow with her version of "Your Mom's Old Friend From Whom She's Been Trying to Gain Distance But Whose House You Ended Up Crashing At for a Night." Lorette boldly opted to devote her entire time onstage to this character (minus her own brief introductory sarcastic rant about the importance of nuanced female characters in all media), a move for which she earns points, because it paid off. Her spot-on impression of a 50-something woman saying a drawn-out goodnight to you before "hitting the sack" could not have been what it was without the time she gave herself to venture into the bizarre, each new twist outdoing the one before.
 
Accent work is clearly Marshall Lorenzo's strong suit, which he proved with his performances of two feminine male characters having strange emotional outbursts (the first, German, the second, a New Zealander). And while both characters were undoubtedly funny in isolation, his set may have been more dynamic had he opted to only play this type of character once. What he lacked in diversity he made up for in his performance strategy: He started, then ended his set with the same character, a shouting LUSH salesman attempting to scream-sell you products (all infused with meth). An act that can only be interpreted as a play on the chain's terrifying shouty logo and overwhelming smells, it displayed Lorenzo's wit and creativity.
 
While it took Erica Gellert a few minutes to find her stride on stage, once she did, her set became laugh out loud funny. Doing characters based on real-life archetypes we've all seen before — the worked-up alcoholic mother, the "cool" try-hard substitute teacher, the awkward unpopular protagonist in a teen Netflix film — is challenging if you want to do them right, and it felt at times that Gellert's impressions fell flat. However, she turned this around quickly with her last character, a spot-on performance of a socially awkward grade-schooler giving an audible campaign speech for class president. Gellert leans into her own natural awkwardness with these characters, a self-awareness for which she should be applauded, because when it worked, it really worked.
 
Roger Bainbridge's entrance on stage was disorienting. When a tall bearded man came on stage after the actor's introduction and said, "Hi, I am not Roger Bainbridge," a keen Roger Bainbridge (slightly shorter, also bearded, and eerily similar-looking) slowly walked out behind him and opened up a notebook. What ensued was several minutes of utter confusion and hilarity. His first character, a writer performing his script about several siblings who raised each other in the woods and all call each other "papa" caught everyone immediately off guard. Perhaps it was solely out of shock, but Bainbridge's shrill repetitions of the word "papa" made me laugh more than I ever have at a comedy show. He went on to perform two more creepy characters: a father attempting to lure his disturbed daughter out from within the walls of his house, where she's been living and haunting him; and a Hunger Games style wizard-meets-game-show-host quizzing the audience, and punishing a roughed-up assistant with self-mutilation for every answer they get wrong. Dynamic, creative, and boldly unafraid to truly frighten his audience, Bainbridge did the most confusing minutes of sketch comedy I've ever seen, and I loved every second of it.
 
Ending the evening with a package of hockey-related characters, Natalie Metcalfe took each one to hilarious extremes. From the proud Canadian hockey mom who seems to be having an orgasm to the sound of the pre-game national anthem, to the hype girl demanding  greater energy from the crowd before throwing them a free T-shirt (who eventually explodes, screaming "that is NOT good enough!"), Metcalfe's characters are types we know and love to mock, each given a disturbing edge.