By Nicole Cohen
In 1950, it was about comical gags and pipes in the face. In the 1960s and 1970s, political statements were made and world leaders made fun of. In the late 1980s and 1990s, orchestras and bands were replaced with video footage and taped music.
Today, profanity abounds and dark humour is the theme. Although the times have changed, the show has remained the same: RIOT, Ryerson’s annual comedy sketch show written and produced by volunteer RTA students.
To mark RIOT’s 50th anniversary, the cast and crew of RIOT 2000 held a preview show Monday night that gave alumni a trip down memory lane. The free show featured a nine-member cast in skits ranging from the adventures of two cats and catnip to a discussion about tube meat and vaginal secretion. Laced with video footage, lights and music, the show was eye candy for the audience.
RIOT has evolved since 1950, when the first cast put on a show for an audience of 700 in Ryerson’s new Kerr Hall gymnasium. RIOT, an acronym for Ryerson Institute of Technology, originally involved students and faculty from all Ryerson departments.
The first show, with a cast of 200 and a live orchestra, was a musical revue with elaborate sets and intricate costumes. The comedy sketches, as a mirror of the times, featured pies in unsuspecting audience members’ faces and lots of leggy cheerleaders.
Ryerson’s newspaper at the time, The Little Daily, kept track of RIOT’s progress, reporting everything from stage dimensions to ticket sales.
A Feb. 14, 2950 issue described the first RIOT as “eleven ripping, ranting roaring rampages—all rolled into one big run-packed, side-splitting ‘stampede’ spelled R-I-O-T.”
Growing audiences and RIOT cast members moved the show to various Toronto theatres until it settled at Ryerson’s newly built theatre in the early 1960s.
Production problems and student apathy caused the lights to go down on the production in 1976. Then, in 1981, third-year RTA student Edmond Hum dug through the archives, realized RIOT was a part of Ryerson’s history, and revived the show. “People talked about it with genuine fondness,” Hum says. “It was something that was common to students across campus.”
RIOT ‘81 was a scaled-down production compared to its predecessors. Gone were the huge casts, lavish sets, elaborate costumes and school wide participation—RIOT had become a RTA production.
“The crazy people in RTA took over. It was their chance to be ham and break loose,” says RTA professor DANA Lee, who acted in RIOT in the 1970’s when it was held in The FIlling Station, the campus pub that used to be in the Games Room in the basement of Jorgenson Hall. The show had a live band and ran twice a day for six days.
“We reflected the kind of people performing in, and watching RIOT,” Lee says. “We were very political. Over the years, RIOT tends to reflect popular culture while having a few laughs.”
Although it’s now less political, RIOT 2000 still makes social commentary. The show jokes about dysfunctional couples, masturbation, death and the pains of being an adolescent.
RIOT producer and fourth-year RTA student Vanessa Arscott says the writers of RIOT 2000 decided to create an original show that didn’t borrow from the themes of past productions.
With no boundaries on cast members, things got a little wacky. “The show is a healthy combination of slapstick funny and dark, cynical, Dennis MIller kind of trash talk.”
Trash talk indeed. Insults range from “lunar whore” to “you ugly, ugly husband.”
The cast’s convincing accents and ridiculous costumes make up for the minimal stage sets and props. Skits are short and to the point and video clips are reminiscent of Saturday Night Live’s Deep Thoughts and satirical commercials.
The cast and crew have been working since September to turn their craziest ideas into a full-scale comical production.
“Being able to create wacky, dark, really intelligent humour is the best thing about RIOT,” says Arscott, who is glad that she was able to be a part of RIOT history by producing the 50th anniversary show.
“I just hope the RIOT is alive and kicking in another 50 years.”