Newfoundland foursome garner most laughs at gala

Justin Brake
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Comedy review

If the St. John's Comedy Festival Gala on Sunday evening was any indication of the city's interest in stand-up comedy, we should be laughing for a long time.

With roughly 1,600 in attendance at Mile One Centre's Molson Theatre, a lineup of some of Canada's best talent, and CBC cameras taping the show for an eventual television broadcast, the festival's main event appeared to be a staggering success on all accounts.

Shaun Majumder

If the St. John's Comedy Festival Gala on Sunday evening was any indication of the city's interest in stand-up comedy, we should be laughing for a long time.

With roughly 1,600 in attendance at Mile One Centre's Molson Theatre, a lineup of some of Canada's best talent, and CBC cameras taping the show for an eventual television broadcast, the festival's main event appeared to be a staggering success on all accounts.

Newfoundland actor Bob Joy hosted the show, which also featured Mike MacDonald, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch, Debra DiGiovanni, Tim Nutt, Jennifer Grant, Al Rae and Newfoundland newcomers John Sheehan and Jonny Harris.

Festival organizer Peter Soucy's alter-ego, Snook, came out dressed in scrubs to mimic Joy's "C.S.I.: NY" character, Dr. Sid Hammerback, after the host was introduced.

He took care of some "housekeeping," including thanking the sponsors, including CBC, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, "... and The Telegram," he said. "Typos, no extra charge."

All performers were well-received but the Newfoundland contingent - Critch, Majumder, Sheehan and Harris - seemed to garner the most laughs with their island-mainland comparisons and tales.

Sheehan's routine, in particular, had the crowd in stitches for the better part of his 10-minute set.

He told the story of a mainlander he met in Ontario who asked him if he was happy to be away from the drinking and fighting in Newfoundland.

"My first impulse was to punch him in the head," Sheehan said, pausing for a moment. "But I figured I'd spill my beer."

The former member of Gander theatre company "Acting Up Entertainment" closed his set with a five-minute re-enactment of a series of drunken phone messages he left on a buddy's voicemail and left the audience raucously cheering for him as he left the stage.

Al Rae, who facilitated the two-day Comedy Workshop leading up to Thursday night's Open Mike/Parody Night, Tim Nutt, Jennifer Grant and Mike MacDonald rounded out the first half of the show.

MacDonald, known for his comic genius, was so-so in his routine and lacked the enthusiasm present in some of his best performances.

Nutt, a veteran of the Canadian comedy club scene and a fan favourite at last year's Just For Laughs Festival, was frank when he first addressed the crowd, "I'm looking forward to going home, so I can stop pretending I know what everyone's saying," he joked.

In the second half of the show, hometown boy and "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" cast member Mark Critch had those who could relate to his discovery that "food didn't only come in cans" in an uproar.

"There are only three ways to die in Newfoundland," he said, on the topic of unhealthy foods. "Heart attack, stroke, chip-fat fire," he joked.

Harris, introduced as one of the first and most successful "third generation" Newfoundland comedians to emerge, was likely the youngest performer of the night, a characteristic that accompanied his series of fart and relationship jokes which went over well with the audience.

DiGiovanni, voted Canada's Best Female Comedian at the 2007 Comedy Awards and top 10 finalist on the fifth season of "Last Comic Standing," delivered an energetic, non-stop routine of topics ranging from her weight and self-image to the unique relationship with her cat as a result of being lonely.

The only comic to give Sheehan a run for his money was Majumder, whose on-screen success in Canadian television is unmatched by any other second-generation Newfoundland comedian, with five seasons of "22 Minutes" under his belt, hosting gigs for 15 "Just For Laughs" television specials, and a slew of other TV program appearances.

"There's a reason why some of the funniest people in Canada, if not the world, come from here," he began, attributing the humour to Newfoundlanders' gift for storytelling.

Majumder's set ran about 15 minutes or so and sent the comedy festival out in appropriate fashion, reminding the crowd that Newfoundlanders experience success on the mainland, but that they don't ever lose that Newfoundland sense of humour and ability to tell a good yarn.

In just its second year, the St. John's Comedy Festival has reaffirmed its place in the Canadian comedy festival market by planting seeds that have the potential to grow into something more than a local event.

The clever amalgamation of Newfoundland's unique comic talent with some of Canada's best is a sure way to ensure long-term success.

If you missed the event, don't be so foolish next year.

Organizations: CBC, Molson Theatre, Province of Newfoundland and Labrador Gander theatre Comedy Workshop

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, St. John's Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Earl
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    I was able to catch most of the previous nights' shows at the Bella Vista. They were absolutely hilarious. With this event growing in size each year, next year promises to be even better. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for next year.

  • Judith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    I was visiting St. John's for a holiday and took in the comedy fest Sat nght at the BellaVista...absolutely hilarious...a must see for upcoming yrs! Great talent and most enjoyable evening. Am still laughing at the jokes!!! Congrats!

  • Earl
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    I was able to catch most of the previous nights' shows at the Bella Vista. They were absolutely hilarious. With this event growing in size each year, next year promises to be even better. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for next year.

  • Judith
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    I was visiting St. John's for a holiday and took in the comedy fest Sat nght at the BellaVista...absolutely hilarious...a must see for upcoming yrs! Great talent and most enjoyable evening. Am still laughing at the jokes!!! Congrats!