Marc Hallworth of Vest of Friends: Celebrating sketch comedy in Toronto

I’m at Bloomer’s Café with the nicest man alive, Marc Hallworth! Marc, tell me about Vest of Friends!
Vest of Friends is a podcast celebrating people from the Toronto sketch community. It’s a new guest every single week. Myself and my buddy, Morgan, who’s in Vest of Friends (sketch group) with me, will do a cold open sketch that we provide for the guest, who we love. And, then we get into goofy interviews. We’ll do a sketch brought by the guest. Then we do a segment that’s specific to the guest that week. So it’s all about sketch comedy. It’s half-hour episodes and I edit the whole thing and it’s fun!

Vest of Friends Toronto logo

How did it all start?
It started with our sketch group, Vest of Friends. We started that in 2010. We went to Humber College together. Myself, Reid Brackenbury, Morgan George and Evan Richardson. There was another guy in the beginning, Damian Rudiak. So, we were all working together and all five of us were sharing a house at one point. Morgan, Reid and Evan joined together first to make Vest of Friends. Then, when Damian and I moved into the house, we joined the group. Then, in late 2016, Reid dropped the bomb that he was going to move to the States. So that was kind of a bummer. That was also around the time that we won an award at Toronto Sketch Fest called the “Sketchiest Sketch Troupe Award”, which is peer-nominated.

What an honour! What did you win?
They give you a budget to put on a show. But, we didn’t have Reid anymore, so we did this insane show. Easily the craziest thing I’ve ever produced in my life. It was 50 sketches long and involved members of over 40 different troupes. It had a similar format to the Vest of Friends podcast, where we provided sketches for people. But it was 4 and a half hours long.

Oh my god.
It was nuts. The tech sheet was 12 pages long. There were, like, 72 sound queues in it. It was the hugest thing in the world. Mark Andrada tech’d the whole thing. He’s a genius. And nobody really forgot any lines and we didn’t skip anything. It was great. I can’t believe it worked.

vof stage

How did Vest of Friends develop from 4 guys in a sketch group to 2 guys doing a podcast?
Soon after that show, Evan got a job in the States as well. And it was just Morgan and I. Morgan had to work in the Philippines a lot and wasn’t doing any comedy, so when he got back he was so restless and eager to get to work, which was crazy helpful. We kind of weaseled our way into a lot of stand-up shows. One of the shows we did was Jeff Paul’s show, Dope ‘N’ Mic comedy at The Underground on Wednesdays, and we met a guy who regularly goes to that show, Alex Ross, who has this podcast network called Never Sleeps Network.  And he proposed the idea to us of doing sketch in a podcast form. For me, I thought it was a cool way to preserve all these old sketches that we just can’t do because we don’t have Evan anymore. We’re doing a clean 100 episodes.

And then it’s over?
That’s the plan, yeah. We’re running low on sketches. I mean, we’ve recorded some insane sketches that… probably never should’ve seen the light of day.

Yeah, and it’s also a weekly show, right? Which is A LOT of work.
Right. Yeah, it’s an insane amount of work and I don’t make any money doing it. But, I’ve had a good time! And I’m happy to have an archive of all this great material. Also, I learned a lot about sketch, quite honestly. I learned a lot about comedy. Got to talk to a bunch of cool people, laugh at great stories.

How do you book people for the show? Just run up to them and ask?
Yeah, kinda. Well, I’m trying to keep it as diverse as I can. I don’t want a bunch of episodes back-to-back that are all straight white guys. And single acts vs. troupes, I try to keep that interesting. And since Humber School of Comedy is one of our sponsors, every third week or so I try to have a Humber performer or student on it. And then there’s a lot of people that I’d love to get on, but they just don’t check their messages enough.

You had Colin Mochrie on. That was a great one.
We got Colin. That was fun, yeah! He had an interesting story about the time on Whose Line Is It Anyway? when Richard Simmons came on. [Laughing] They had to edit it down because it was too crazy!

Vest of Friends Podcast with Colin Mochrie, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Photo by Never Sleeps Network

Oh man. Richard Simmons. Is he alive? Is he still missing? I think there’s a podcast about trying to find him.
If that’s true, that’s incredible.

Tell me why you named the sketch group Vest of Friends.
In the summer of 2010, Morgan and Reid bought these vests from Value Village.  So, they took photos of themselves, like, posing, getting drunk. And the photo album was called “It was the Vest of Times, it was the Vurst of Times”, so that’s how that started. And they just thought “Vest of Friends” was a funny name for a sketch troupe. And I remember loving it when I first heard it because I was like, that’s pretty marketable. Can you imagine if you had a theatre space and you can sell custom vests. And online, like on your website. You could make custom vests for fans and stuff.

Did that ever become reality?
No, that would be wicked, though. I’d love to do it.

I’d buy one! You have one customer!
Oh man, okay. Let’s do it. We should totally do that. I gotta figure out the website, though, because I don’t know if you’ve been to recently…

No, actually, I didn’t think it was your domain.
We had that site for a long time. We had a web design guy keeping it updated and stuff, but then he stopped doing it and somebody swooped in and bought it. And the people who bought it were, which is a male escort service. I guess because the B and the V are right next to each other, they wanted to make sure they get all of it. Get that whole keyboard!

Oh, that’s amazing. And also shitty!
Alright, tell me about your favourite episode of Vest of Friends. Or a good episode for new listeners to start with.
Just listen to the Colin Mochrie one. That one’s organized well and it’s structured properly. Sometimes it’s like, you’re so in awe of these people that you’re kind of nervous to talk to them. Or maybe you don’t really know them particularly well so the conversation is not as fluid. And then you get some Humber kids on that are just thrilled to be there and that conversation’s really easy. The Tuques of Hazard episode is a really funny one with Kyle Andrews and Colin North, who are these guys who graduated 2 years after us. I’ve worked with Kyle Andrews in a million contexts, so I just know the guy really well.

Do you listen to podcasts?
Yeah, I like comedy-based podcasts usually. I love Dena Jackson’s show when she’s interviewing comedians. I like Marc Maron’s but I skip his opening 15 minutes. Sometimes interviews are more interesting to me than podcasts. Like Google Talk interviews or something. John Cleese and John Hodgman interviews. That’s the greatest thing. I don’t know if Frances Brian Shaw’s show is still alive, but he had a podcast called Teach Me Things and I thought that was the best idea for a podcast ever. Where it’s just, “You’re special for this reason so, teach me how to do that”. Brie Watson’s Constant Struggle podcast is great too! Everyone’s got something unique to say!

I do like that idea. There’s a similar podcast from CBC called Tai Asks Why, where an 11-year old kid asks adults different things. Like, “What is love?” or something. 11-year old boy questions.
Oh, that’s pretty cute! But, yeah, I like interview ones. Everyone hates the “life story” kind of podcast, but depending on the guest, I’m all ears! I’m really into it.

So you would love Lindsay Mullan’s podcast, Truths Be Told.
Oh, yeah! I almost did it! That one’s great. You’re mining something real from the guest and this person will contribute to your podcast in a way that no one else can, which I like.

Now I have some unrelated silly questions! Ready?
Yes! Great!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Simple as that.
Yeah, in every aspect. Like a well-rounded comedian. I’d love to be, like, a quintuple threat. Funny as a stand-up, funny as an improviser,…

Funny dancer.
[Laughs] Funny dancer, yeah. Funny sketch comedian. I could do a cameo in your movie and nail it. I just want to be good at comedy.

If I say close your eyes and go to your happy place, where do you go?
The first thing that comes to mind is this park in Calgary called Nose Hill. I spent a lot of time there as a high school student. It was right around the time Lord of the Rings came out. You can’t see any city around you, so it’s like the plains of Middle Earth or whatever. Like you’re on an adventure. It’s really quiet out there too. It just smells good.

Do you go back to Calgary a lot?
Yeah, I go once or twice a year. There’s a pioneer village kind of place out there and I work for them. I write plays for them. I fly out and direct plays for them and stuff like that. I always try to do a show when I’m there.

If you could compete on a reality TV show, which one would you choose?
The Amazing Race would be fun. You’d get a camera man and stuff.

Would you do it with Morgan?
Yeah, why not!

Would your friendship last through the stress of competition?
Oh yeah! I can’t imagine Morgan and I would care enough to let it affect us. We would just be laughing at things. We’d get like, 12th out of 14. But he’s super competitive, so maybe, actually, I don’t know.

If you could wade through a pool of something that is NOT water, what would you pick?
You know, one thing I’ve never done… I’ve NEVER played been in a McDonald’s ball pit. I never played with those tubes and the slide and everything. I guess I’m too old for that now.

I played in a Play Place last summer with my nephew. But I’m half your size. I took my socks off and just went in.
Well, yeah, I mean, I’d respect the rules!

Why don’t they have adult Play Places?
I’d be willing to spend… the better part of 40 bucks for that.

If you were to tell me there are two kinds of people in this world, what would they be?
People who do and people who don’t clap during the Friends theme song.

So true.
Last question: If you had one question for me, what would it be?
Have you ever been bitten by a dog?

I don’t think I have! But I am weary sometimes. I love dogs so much and I always want to pet them, but I know some dogs are not so friendly.
Have you noticed that when you see somebody walking a dog, you’ll talk to the dog and not the person?

Yes. Always.
Yeah. Definitely. I don’t care who’s holding that thing.

Let’s plug stuff you’re doing!
Listen to the Vest of Friends podcast!
Vest of Friends is doing Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival and our dates are March 7th and March 9th at the Comedy Bar.
I also produce a show at the Comedy Bar called Drop & Give Me 20, usually on a Sunday, where up-and-comers do 20-minute sets.
If you’re an amateur comic looking for stage time yourself, we got Another Day, Another Laugh which is “show-up-and-go-up” open mic comedy at Another Bar every first and third Thursday of the month. We don’t care who you are! No bumps!

Amazing! I love that you support new comedians. Thank you so much for meeting with me, Marc!
Yeah, man! Thank you! I had a blast!

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