RIFFING ON LATE NIGHT FOR BIG LAUGHS

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by Julia Belluz 

Imagine a former Ryerson student producing his version of the Late Show with David Letterman — except younger, more eclectic, and all Toronto.

That’s the vibe the mostly twenty-something audience felt last week at the El Mocambo.

The night marked the premiere of the Big Norm Show, presented by the Riff Raff Street Rat Festival. One of the event’s producers, Che Kothari, a former Ryerson photography student, called the performance a “street-level variety show.” Translation: a fresh answer to the glut of variety and talk shows crowding the late-night airwaves, complete with a live band, musical guests, comedy acts and even cue cards to tell the audience when to laugh or be quiet.

Norman Alconcel, the 22-year-old host of the show, said the event was called the Riff Raff Street Rat Festival because “we wanted to bring random street personalities, bring them together, put them up and let Toronto know who they are.”

These familiar faces included Phat Khat, Jorgie Porgie, Frankie Foo Ska Band, Sick Sound Syndrome, Masia One, and Fritz Helder and the Phantoms — performers you may recognize from local media or the bustling street corners of the city.

The idea for Big Norm came about one Tuesday night out at Andy Poolhall, a bar Alconcel, Kothari, and their friend, Jaime Wilson, frequent.

Wilson presented the other two with a written proposal for the show, suggesting that the boisterous and funny Alconcel host. Sensing they had a unique concept, the group pooled their resources and went to work: Alconcel wrote the script, and Kothari and Wilson acted as the show’s producers.

But the three innovators aren’t driven by profit or fame. They put Big Norm together because they wanted to bring exposure to hard-working people in the city.

“All these people have amazing talents, but it’s so hard to break through,” said Kothari, who organized numerous events last year when he co-edited Ryerson’s magazine-turned-multimedia outlet, Function. “We’d be the link they need to have an avenue of promotion.”

Rodney Morgan, who goes by Fritz Helder on stage, also went to Ryerson. The 24-year-old theatre grad’s outrageous performance in the Big Norm Show was modelled on a “rock star, talk-show performance gone wrong — like an Ashlee Simpson-type Saturday Night Live thing.” Morgan writes all the music and choreographs the dancing for his group, Fritz Helder and the Phantoms.

“Above all, I’m really about projecting that feel-good emotion on stage,” Morgan said. “My goal is always to produce work that’s well- rounded — visually, art direction, dancing, everything.”

Morgan, like Kothari, is adamant that the city needs to be a more active participant in its own cultural revival. Through his work, Morgan hopes that he will be able to inspire positive change.

“My ideal Toronto would be a place where no matter what scene you’re in, that there’s dialogue and exchange between the different cliques in downtown Toronto. We need to help each other out.”

Virginia Tran, a 19-year-old makeup artist from Scarborough, pitched in by selling tickets at the door. She said she got involved with the show because Torontonians have new energy to offer.

“We’re just a group of people who want to make the world a better place and make this city known for its great souls,” Tran said. “Bringing awareness to Toronto, showing these different types of people, this is the kind of energy we have to offer.”

The proceeds from the show will be used to produce a high quality DVD of footage from the evening. Kothari, Morgan and Alconcel plan to pitch the show to various television stations.

“The dream is that (the show) will go on the Comedy Network around nine o’clock every Thursday,” Kothari said. Big Norm would be hosted in different places each week: a house, a kitchen, even a street corner. And it would target city folk between the ages of 16 and 35.

“After filming tomorrow night, we’ll edit it with Norman and a couple other people, and pitch it to some TV stations. At the same time, we’ll be writing grants so that if no one bites on it, we’ll make it happen,” said Kothari. “If they can’t do it, we will. It will happen.”

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