Kat Letwin and Nkasi Ogbonnah of TOsketchfest show 1623

This week we spoke with comedy duo Kat Letwin and Nkasi Ogbonnah to find out more about what they are doing and where we can catch their next show.

1623 tosketchfest
1623 – Nkasi Ogbonnah and Kat Letwin

How would you describe your comedy style?

Kat Letwin: Risky, but fun! Like a theme park attraction with a bunch of warnings posted at the front of its line, expect things to get bumpy, but don’t worry: if you’re on this ride with us, we’ll keep you safe. –

Nkasi Ogbonnah: Risky, but fun! Like a theme park attraction with a bunch of warnings posted at the front of its line, expect things to get bumpy, but don’t worry: if you’re on this ride with us, we’ll keep you safe.

Who are some of your influences?

Kat: Brad Neely, Mitchell & Webb (their “Are we the baddies?” sketch is a pure chef’s kiss), Key & Peele, Strangers With Candy. In their myriad and delightful ways, they make the stuff you shouldn’t laugh at funny. It’s like they dig out the jokes that have been buried under Rather Serious topsoil for quite a long time; the jokes were always there, but it takes certain people to find them and bring them to the surface. I like to think that’s what Nkasi and I do.

Nkasi: Mitchell & Webb, Mathew Baynton, Monty Python. Essentially British comedy, I was raised on it. The first time I saw a full episode of a live action American sitcom I was 13. It was the episode of Friends where Rachel gives birth.

Who was your favourite comedian growing up?

Kat: Mel Brooks. I loved Seinfeld (you can read about that here: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/bjxp5m/we-asked-people-what-childhood-moment-shaped-them-the-most), but there’s something in the way Mel Brooks approaches the world that I find quite special. He’s never shied away from tough stuff, but the base of his wit is kindness and joy and thick layers of silliness, all of which are powerful in the face of cruelty and anger.

Nkasi: Patricia Routledge. Specifically as Hyacinth Bucket in keeping Up Appearances. To me there’s something so special when someone can play a straight up horrible human, and make them totally loveable, relatable, and can carry a whole show, without crossing that line of being annoying.

Who is your favourite comedian now?

Kat:Oh, Maria Bamford. What a sweet genius. She did this cool kinda performance art piece during her last tour, where she’d perform her full set to a single audience member the afternoon before her evening show. The location was up to the person who happened to see her Twitter account at the right time and happened to be in the right place and free to meet that day.

That shit takes some wild energy, but what a cool way to get to know other people as you discover yourself. In every town and with every person, I imagine those jokes are gonna afternoon-shift to suit that one person as you get to know them, then later have to evening-shift for a huge crowd. I think it’s a brilliant way to interrogate one’s own material, while also gifting singular experiences to those who want it.

Nkasi: In this very moment, Mathew Baynton. He writes a lot of material that has to do with History. Whether it have strong connections like Horrible Histories or just ties to it like Ghosts. I am a sucker for it. Not only that, but speaking of Horrible Histories, it’s a show for kids, and obviously there’s stuff you can’t talk about or say, because kids, but I so appreciate how it’s written to just be funny. It’s not pandering or dumbing anything down. And because of that, you end up a show that anyone can enjoy. It’s a show I enjoy now but I wish I had growing up.

What is your pre-show ritual?

Kat: I like to grab a beer and stash it somewhere safe, then do a check in with my partner, tech, and prop placement. That last one is important – if I know where my props have to be, then I know the running order of the show, which means I won’t have a mid-run panic in a blackout trying to figure out what comes next. Then, if we don’t have to run lines, I’ll disappear somewhere quiet so I can concentrate on the show and focus. It’s the worst when lovely and well-intentioned people wanna talk before the show and inside I’m screaming “GO AWAY, FOR GOD’S SAKE GO AWAY”, because I need that pre-show time to build myself up for what I’m about to do. Again, those people are lovely and well-intentioned and just wanna be friendly! I’d never say what I’m thinking to their faces, but still: they don’t deserve that kind of harshness, however private and internalized it is on my part.

Nkasi: Red bull(SPONSOR ME!), pace, sit, repeat.

What is your favourite place you have performed? Why?

Kat: The Storefront Theatre (RIP). That place felt like home. It was grungy and beautiful, and I was just as likely to see a theatre practitioner as I was a comedian there, whether in a show or at a party, which is huge for Toronto. Two doors away from Comedy Bar, a block away from Bad Dog Theatre, it became a gathering place. Comedians started putting up full-length, play-esque performances; theatre people started coming to (and occasionally performing in) comedy shows. As someone who has always felt like I was doing the splits trying to straddle both worlds and their wildly different ways, Storefront provided relief.

I distinctly remember Sketchfest 2014, when I was in the middle of a play written and performed by actor-comedians. Because it was so physically close to Comedy Bar and Bad Dog Theatre, I could do a matinee at Storefront, rehearse until 6 at Bad Dog, then perform two evening shows at Comedy Bar (fuelled entirely by the shawarma place across the street). That was a watershed year for me, where I first really synthesized my comedy training with my theatre skills and started finding my voice. It couldn’t have happened without the support of all three establishments.

We didn’t only lose a space with Storefront, we lost an opportunity to change Toronto’s artistic landscape. I still deeply mourn this.

What is your favourite medium for listening or finding new comics/comedians?

The hellscape that is Twitter dot com.

PAY IT FORWARD: Who is another local comic/comedian we should know about?

We’re a big fans of Whisky Kids (Clare Blackwood and Ryan Hughes), who’ll be sharing our bill on March 8th at 9 pm at The Theatre Centre. They’re so smart and such talented writer/performers. When they performed their first full revue at Bad Dog a few months ago, they got a standing ovation. A standing ovation! When does that happen for a comedy show?! (only three times we personally know of)

Tell us a joke.

Kat:…this is why when a stranger asks me what I do, I say I’m an accountant.

Nkasi: No.

Where can we follow you?

@1623theshow on Instagram.

Kat: @letwinka on Twitter / Instagram / online Mario Kart (am currently 2nd place in the Dry Bowser Cup, come at me bro)

Nkasi: @varnishedvalkyrie on Instagram (I used to be a nail blog), @LaNkasi on Twitter (It’s mostly me going off about gymnastics).

 

 

Joel Levy
About Joel Levy 1888 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography