From Bob Loblaw to The Bobbers. From Relish to OUTtv. Seems local funny man and bon vivant (I know he will just LOVE me calling him that) David C. Jones and his band of funnies have hit the national stage, or should I say national television, when the group’s own brand of queer comedy improv, Tops and Bottoms, debuts on OutTV in the fall.
Tops & Bottoms will air on Sundays on OUTtv starting on August 30th @ 7:30pm ET/PT.
We had an opportunity to be an audience member during one of the tapings of the show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre a few weeks back. Like a well-oiled machine we were in-and-out of the theatre in what had to be record time as the improvisors battled their way to improv supremacy while keeping the audience laughing. While not everything worked during the episode we watched, the television format is much more forgiving as the not-so-funny bits will simply stay on the cutting room floor. Not only are we looking forward to seeing what the final product will look like we’re hoping the twenty we slipped the producer ensures we get our own 15 minutes, I mean 15 seconds of fame.
We recently sat down with David C. Jones, the brains (and the beauty I suppose) behind The Bobbers to talk about his group, the show and how it came to fruition. Plus we highlight David and three of the other actors that will appear on the show.
Give us a history of Tops and Bottoms and Bob Loblaw/The Bobbers. When did you get started? How did you get started?
I started Bob Loblaw Queer Comedy Troupe when I noticed that I was working in the straight world as an openly gay comedian. I thought it might be interesting to bring this gay cowboy to the gay world. I approached Pearce Visser another openly gay comedian I knew from my days at the Vancouver TheatreSports League and we approached Nelson Wong and then Lee Ann Keple to join us so that we had some diverse voices thrown in the mix. I also started sharing my love of improvisation by teaching classes for an exclusively gay clientele.
That gave birth to Tops and Bottoms the Improv Show which debut at a club called Relish, for a limited six week run.
The organization has now become a non-profit arts company renamed Bob Loblaw Queer Arts Society and the improvisers have been re-dubbed The Bobbers.
How did the Tops and Bottoms television show come about?
I was working for OUTtv on a project called The Afterlife and aggressively pitched them the idea. But even before then I has courting them; COO Brad Danks was a guest judge at our live show as was Nicky Forsman, who eventually became our director.
Tell us about the premise for the show. You mentioned during the taping we attended that it was about breaking stereotypes.
The premise is all the actors are playing gay stereotypes and as they start to play and improvise you get to see they are more than what their first impressions may have lead you to believe. This theme came to me as I had some ‘rough hued’ students (I am an acting teacher at VFS) say their impressions of me changed as they got to know me. I also explored this in my film Laugh At Me.
Five actors compete trying to earn a place at the top in the Gay Squad – performers who aren’t the greatest and funniest get sent back to the comedy closet – back to the bottom. This is all determined by the host with input from the studio audience.
Who are the cast members and how did you go about picking them for the show?
I submited casting choices to Nicky and Phillip Webb (the production manger) for approval. I try to get a nice mix of diversity in ages and genders etc. The casting comes from the talent that I nurture at our live shows. (Ed. Note: see our profile of David and three of the actors below).
Does the fact you can stop and start filming make the job of improvisor any easier?
Getting a chance to do something over allows you to finesse it. Particularly on two shows days when your brain is getting fried by the lights and heat.
How much freedom were you given in putting the show together?
The show is completely my creation – the only feedback I got was a name change – the show was originally going to be called The Gay Mafia and the format we are doing is actually closer to the the stage show of the same name we did last May – but that name is in use in the US for a comedy show there.
In the episode we saw filmed things got a bit raunchy. Did the cast set out to be raunchy?
The cast was dissuaded to NOT be raunchy – they should be clever – did you come on Saturday? That was a show where an actor was actually reprimanded after for being too graphic. As you could see by the audience reaction it is funny when people are just tacky. I call it desperate comedy trying to provoke a reaction rather than earning it.
You go to great pains to tell the audience that the cast has no idea what improv games they will be playing that night. Are we supposed to just take your word for it?
The actors know of the master list of games but are not sure which ones will be in their show.
How does the cast prepare for an improv show? Are there a set number of improv games that you practice over and over?
The actors tend to practice the harder games that require mental gymnastics because like anything – the more you do it the better you get.
How has OUTtv been to work with? How difficult was it to convince them to do the show here in Vancouver?
OUTtv was great to work with and I am thrilled they did the show locally with local talent. They want to do more on the west coast but our laid back nature makes it trying for them at times I am sure.
How many shows did you tape?
We taped six episodes (two a day) with three different casts. Pearce Visser was in all six and Michele Tolosa was in four. All the rest did two. Bay Generoso, Benjamin Garner, Kevin L Smith, Guy Dube, Julia Strech, Mary Shearman, Derek Bedry, Ryan Clayton, Sarah Dawn Pledge and Dave Matte were the other actors.
When will the show air?
One preview episode will air in August an then the show will be Sunday nights in the early fall. They are really liking what we shot and want to order more but things always change in TV land.
Meet some of the Tops and Bottoms actors:
|David C. Jones has been called “one of the funniest minds in Vancouver” by The Vancouver Sun. His charity The Laughter Mission Society provides comedic entertainment for persons living with life threatening and terminal illnesses and their care-givers. David was a care-giver himself. He is an award-winning actor, writer, teacher, and film maker, creating extraordinary experiences for diverse audiences around the world. He’s performed in Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Bosnia, Israel, Egypt, Las Vegas and across North America, as well as on radio and TV. David was listed in The Vancouver Sun as one of the top twenty improvisers in Canada, and nominated for a 2001 Canadian Comedy Award for Best Male Improviser. David is also the driving force behind Bob Loblaw Queer Comedy Troupe.|
|Michele Tolosa was raised in East Vancouver since immigrating from the Philippines at the tender age of two years old. She had been priviledged to win a scholarship at the age of 16 years to AILANTHUS, a junior school for the performinmg Arts with international teachers experienced for classes in dance, movement, voice, mask and film. In 2003, her love for performing comedy moved her to Toronto where she completed her improv studies at SCTV. Shortly upon her return to Vancouver in 2007, she watched the Bob Loblaw Improv troupe perform at RELISH, fell instantly in love, attended David C. Jones’ improv workshops, and the rest is all history….|
|Benjamin Garner came to Vancouver from California to attend an acting school here. Eventually he stumbled upon Tops and Bottoms through Pearce Visser and as he began to explore improv again became witness to the beginning stages of a family being born. That family was the Bob Loblaw Queer Comedy Troupe later to be referred to as the Bobbers. From his beginnings with the group at the Jupiter Café Benjamin traveled with his new family to the Pride Fesitval, The Majestic and many more wonderful venues bringing laughter to people’s lives. Benjamin is living the life of an actor and though it may not appear to be exactly what he had expected his life to be at this point in time, he is following his dreams.|
|Pearce Visser is a actor/improviser/writer, originally hailing from Sherwood Park, Alberta, where he first began his acting training with the Rapid Fire Theatre Company. After moving to the warm wetness of Vancouver, Pearce joined the Vancouver Theatresports League and has been a mainstay Mainstage member for 18 years, performing in the Arts Club Revue’s productions. He has also toured six times with the company, winning a Jessie for Free Willy Shakespeare. Most recently, you may have caught Pearce in the hit series Stargate Atlantis, and the Terry Gilliam film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Pearce brings his experience to Vancouvers’ gay community as a founder of Bob Loblaw Queer Comedy Troupe, host and improvisor of Tops and Bottoms the improv show, live for three years, and for six episodes on OUT TV most recently.|