Baroness Von Sketch co-creator snatches comedy moments from her Toronto 'hood
Jennifer Whalen tells Matt Galloway how she mines the awkward, absurd for comedy inspiration
Jennifer Whalen really doesn't want to get hit by a car.
The writer, performer and co-creator of CBC's hit comedy show Baroness Von Sketch remembers hearing about a study that found a surprising number of writers get hit by cars, likely because they're wandering into traffic while dreaming up the next great novel.
So when writer's block strikes, she sticks to wandering her favourite pedestrian paths in her west-end neighbourhood instead — just to be safe.
"I might get clipped by a rollerblader, but that's about the biggest danger," she joked as she spoke CBC Metro Morning host Matt Galloway at one of her top Toronto haunts — Sunnyside Pavilion, which is off Lake Shore Boulevard south of High Park.
Whalen is one of the four women behind the sketch show that roots out the absurd, sometimes uncomfortable, moments of modern life and turns them into comedy gold. CBC announced Tuesday production will start on a second season in the fall.
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Show's creators all west enders
The show's creators all live in the west end and the show is mostly shot there. Trinity Bellwoods park, Sunnyside pool and the Gladstone Hotel have all served as backdrops for sketches.
Whalen says sticking to the neighbourhoods they know lends authenticity to the show.
"We all live here and we love Toronto, and this is what we knew how to talk about," she told Galloway. "I know the kind of conversations that happen in a specific park."
It's those conversations, moments and trends that Whalen mines for comedic inspiration on her walks through the neighbourhood.
"Sometimes you overhear a snippet somebody said that you think is amazing. I overheard this lady saying to her friend the other day, 'You're just mad because I wouldn't accept your fake apology!'"
"I thought, 'What just happened? What are these ladies talking about?'"
High Park, Roncesvalles and the beach along Sunnyside Park are favourite haunts.
"I love the people watching. Everybody comes from all over the city to hang out here, and I love seeing all of the different shapes, sizes, varieties of people."
A walk through High Park led to a sketch about people who put their dogs in strollers. Another bit of eavesdropping sparked an idea about new moms competing to out-weird each other with unusual baby names.
After Whalen noticed waiters always seem to ask about the first bite of your meal, but neglect to enquire about the rest, she wrote "First Few Bites."
In comedy, the specific is universal
"In comedy there's that thing that when you hit the specific, it ends up being universal. So talking about the weird things that happen at Sunnyside Beach, everyone around the world's gonna be like, 'Oh, we've got our own version of Sunnyside Beach.'"
Though the comedy is universal, the show's point of view is distinctly female.
In a sketch set in a locker room where almost everyone is nude (save for some strategic blurring) post-40 women revel in the freedom of no longer caring how they look naked.
In another sketch a pharmacist chastises a woman's personal hygiene habits when she needs some over-the-counter vaginal cream.
"I think that all of us are sort of drawn to uncomfortable moments and awkwardness. We all have so much angst all the time ... we just heighten that and make it public."
Watch Baroness Von Sketch online at http://www.cbc.ca/baroness