When comedians try out new material they usually do so in front of a small audience to avoid potential embarassment. Joke or Choke, the new comedy competition series on CTV Extend, takes the idea of developing new material and flips it on its head by putting comedians in front of a large audience AND a bunch of cameras AND a judge who is an accomplished comedian himself. Produced by Insight Productions in partnership with Howie Mandel (Deal Or No Deal, America’s Got Talent) and Bell Media, the half-hour stand-up comedy competition show takes four of Canada’s funniest comics and pits them against one another on stage in front of a live studio audience in a no-holds barred comedic throwdown.

What started as a stage show in Toronto now hopes to find a bigger audience with a TV-ready version. The pilot is available RIGHT NOW on CTV Extend and is hosted by Jonny Harris, judged by Mark Forward, and features comedians Steve Dylan, Amanda Brooke Perrin, Daniel Woodrow, and Fraser Young.  We chatted with creator and Second City vet Craig Brown and host Mark Forward about the show and what’s it’s like for the comedians to perform under such circumstances:

What were the challenges (if any) in taking it from the stage to in front of the cameras?

Craig: The main challenge was time. The stage show was around 90 minutes long (sometimes over 2 hours), whereas the TV version is 23 minutes. We had to cut down the performer’s time, the amount of judging Mark did and the overall screw around nature of the stage show. Luckily for us, the TV version still has that stage version feel, just tighter and more focused.

How was Mark chosen as judge?

Craig: I knew Mark from the comedy scene in Toronto and he was always a guy who wasn't afraid to say what he actually thought, so that right there was a huge factor. Originally, I thought the judge would rotate every time we did the show to keep it fresh and draw new people. But as soon as Mark and I did the show for the first time, we both knew we had something unique. Not only was he very insightful with his criticisms, but he could also destroy people with his comments while making it fun and playful at the same time. Mark agreed to become the full-time judge after that first night.

Mark, what makes you the ideal judge?

Mark: Rugged good looks probably? I think I have experience enough in comedy to have an opinion on how others do it. But again, it’s just my opinion, comedy is subjective. Oh, and I also have a big mouth and I'm not afraid to say what I truly feel.

Is it more fun to judge comedian you know and have seen before, or a complete stranger?

Mark: I'd say it's easier to judge someone I know only because you never know how some people will take being criticized. But overall, I judge everyone the same.

Each comedian is given topics to write jokes on a week before the show. How much debate goes into choosing the topics?

Craig: Not much debate goes into choosing the topics. I generally look for something relatable, something topical and something 'scandalous'.

What advice would you give to a comedian who is going on the show?

Mark: Just have fun. As much as I'm "judging" people, it's mostly just a fun and different showcase for comedians. I don't feel any of us take it seriously, (the writing and performing excluded). I just mean the whole idea. It's just fun. And the comics that take it that way usually perform the best.

Craig: Don't take it too seriously. And by that I mean for sure put work into your jokes (because this is going to be televised and people will be seeing it), BUT have fun and let whatever Mark says to you slide off your back. We always equate the show to a celebrity roast. It's supposed to be silly and loose. If you don't like what he says, say something back OR kiss his ass so he goes easier on you the next time.

Mark, what would you say to someone who thinks you’re too tough on the comics?

Mark: Hmm. I'm sorry, but I don't care. It's my opinion. No one made them sign up for the show.

Being comedians yourselves, how difficult would you say it is to write and perform new material in such a way?

Mark: It's very difficult. It takes time and hard work to get jokes to sound the way you want them to, with the words and phrasing that get your point across in the funniest way. Secondly, you don't really know what will fly and what won't. You could be opening with your best joke and not even know it, making the rest of the set even more difficult!

Craig: It's extremely difficult to write 60 seconds of funny in a week. Not only are you unable to try your material before performing it on Joke or Choke, but you're writing jokes based on topics that were given to you. So you may be a comic who could care less about 'twerking', but now you have to write a minute of funny material on it. You also have to be funny fast. You don't have the luxury of charming the audience before you really get into the meat of your material. 60 seconds doesn't seem that long, but when you're up there, trying brand new material for the first time and no one is laughing, it can feel like 60 minutes.

Would you ever dare to Joke or Choke yourselves?

Craig: I would totally do Joke or Choke and I would for sure bomb. Just the idea of doing the show terrifies me, but that's part of the fun.
 
You can watch Mark try his own jokes on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson tonight and in addition to the pilot, fans can visit CTV Extend to catch Joke or Choke extras from comedians Eric Andrews, Matt O’Brien, Pat Thornton, and Christina Walkinshaw. The first batch of extras will be available beginning Tuesday, July 22, followed by additional content on Tuesday, July 29, and Tuesday, Aug. 5.