Rye grads picked as top comedy crop

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By Ashely Spegel

The image of a black rose is not one that puts a smile on your face. That’s precisely why two of Ryerson’s theatre graduates were so fond of the concept. Now, they’ve adopted it into a comedic persona.

“Black roses are tragic, dark and genetically modified,” says Hayley Gratto, one half of the up-and-coming duo The Black Roses. “As actors, we take ourselves very seriously, but at the same time we don’t.”

The concept of The Black Roses sprouted out from the minds of Gratto and Chelsea P. Manders when they were sitting backstage during one of their fourth-year theatre productions.

The two had spent three hours acting as flagellants in the play, which required them to literally beat themselves with their fists. In order to ease the pain of their self-inflicted abuse, Gratto picked up a guitar and the two started singing mock folk songs backstage.

“Our classmates would laugh at all the ridiculous things we’d make up and sing,” she said. “From there is when it all took off, and we kept thinking of different things to write and sing about to make everyone laugh.”

After graduating in 2005, the girls continued to work on their skit, writing songs, practicing and performing them to friends and family.

The persona that blossomed from their diligent work was two young, spoiled, serious folk artists who snuck out of their parents’ Rosedale home and onto the stage, where they’d perform naughty folk songs.

“We chose to perform folk music because it’s just so sweet sounding,” said Manders. “Its sound is completely opposite to the crass songs we sing.”

Ironically, The Black Roses’ first gig was at an open mic night at a local folk club in Toronto, and the folk-loving audience was their target.

Not surprisingly, the Roses won them over and they were praised with positive responses. As they continued to work on their act, the Roses felt restricted in the folk scene and moved over to the comedy circuit, where their vulgarity could flourish.

“A comedy audience wants to see you, they want to listen to every word that you say, and you have to win them over,” Gratto said. “The folk scene isn’t like that.”

After months of performing on the stage, comedy scouts began to take notice of the Roses’ crazy antics and original delivery.

Not long after, they were playing comedy gigs around the country, including the Fringe Festivals in Toronto, London and Montreal.

More recently, the Comedy Network, in association with the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund, invited them to perform on its Cream of Comedy broadcast, a one hour showdown between five of Canada’s most promising comedic talents, which will air on Jan. 21 at 10 p.m.

“(The Black Roses) started as a side project, something we did in our spare time,” said Manders. “And now we’re being set up with a publicist to promote us, so we don’t have to!”

But don’t think The Black Roses have had it easy or are taking advantage of their new-found fame. They are dedicated to their act and have done it all themselves in order to get to where they are today. Everything from putting the leaflets into their CD Look It Up Yourself! to building their website, Gratto and Manders have literally worked their way from the bottom to the top.

“A lot of people wait on their agents to get them gigs, but we don’t do that,” said Gratto. “We’re not the type to sit around and wait for things to happen. If we want something done, we’re going to do it ourselves.”

The Black Roses are one of five comedic acts considered the top of Canada’s comedy crop. They will be honoured at the 10th Annual Cream of Comedy Awards, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 18 at Concert Hall, Masonic Temple. Doors open at 7 p.m. Ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.00.

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