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COMEDY

Take the Money and Run
SHANE MacDOUGALL

On Feb. 2 of last year the Canadian comedy community suffered a huge loss when Tim Sims, one of the country's funniest talents, died of AIDS related causes at 33. A stand-up comic, improv master, sketch comedy wizard, fringe actor, comedy director and teacher, Sims embodied all that was good about comedy.

Comedian Harry Doupe recalls Sims' profound effect on the Toronto scene: "Tim was able to break down the parochial divisions that had built up. Stand-ups had disdain for improv, and improv hated sketch, and sketch hated everybody. But then Tim came along, and he was involved in all these different genres and was really good at them, and people knew and respected him. He really opened the door for people to look at and respect other forms of comedy."

In a fitting tribute, Sims' widow, comic actor Lindsay Leese, established the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund to recognize and support promising comedic performers or troupes in the early stages of their careers. The first ever fund award - of $1,000 - will be presented at a gala show on Nov. 3, hosted by Pat McKenna of Traders and Red Green fame, and featuring Doupe, The Second City, The Chumps, Jay Sankey, Eric Tunney and Ron James, among others. Topping off the event will be a video presentation of Sims and his work.

Sims was best known to Canadians as "circle researcher Rory Tate" in the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup advertisements, and Leese recalls that the commercials embodied Sims' ability best. "They shot eight years of those commercials. First they would shoot the scripted version, then they would shoot material that Tim improvised, which was invariably much better. So much of Tim was in those commercials, and he felt really proud of them." (Reese's declined to donate to the fund.)

At Sims' memorial, held at Second City, over $7,000 was raised, an amount which Second City's head honcho Andrew Alexander then matched. Since then, the amount has ballooned through donations and benefit shows, and the fund now stands at $25,000.

"Right now there's no other form of support for comedians, so it was important for me for that the Ontario Arts Council administer the fund, because I wanted comedy to finally come under the umbrella of arts," says Leese. "Canada is known for our comedy but we don't celebrate it. It would be my highest hope to do this every year, and eventually have the gala become a Canadian comedy awards show."

This year's nominees are Nick Carbone, Jack Norman, Jason Thompson and the duo of Lisa Brooke and Shoshana Sperling. All fine comedic talent, but certainly not all of the best in the city. Leese is aware of this. "I'm really pleased with the people who were nominated. There's nobody there who doesn't belong, but I'm sure that there are those who deserved to be nominated who weren't. That doesn't preclude them from being nominated in the years to come."

Talent that I think was overlooked for this first-ever award includes (but is not limited to) Kristeen Von Hagen, Dave Martin, Peter Sawyer and Darren Frost. Sure it's just my two cents worth, but next Sunday I'm chucking that change plus a few bills into the kitty for the Encouragement Fund. Cash better spent on comedy than on peanut butter cups.

SECOND NO LONGER

Tim Sims' memory lives on through the efforts of those he taught. Tragically OHIP, Second City's latest offering, is by far the best show the company has staged in the past couple of years. Albert Howell, Jennifer Irwin, Bob Martin, Jack Moshammer, Theresa Pavlinek and Janet Van De Graaff (all past students of Sims') have done an outstanding job of writing and performing the revue. With this show, Second City has once again regained its status as the best sketch company in town.

Torstar Corporation Torstar Digital