Pete Soucy’s email account, especially this time of year, is often blocked — but in a good way. Soucy (a.k.a. Snook), one of the producers of the Screech Comedy Festival in St. John’s, said he’s fielding requests from comedians from all over the place, wanting to take part.
“I got dozens of emails after the first year, hundreds after the next year and it’s over a thousand I’ll get now, in the run of a year, between festivals. Every comedian in North America, it seems, wants to come here.”
This is the fifth year for the festival, which he said is a natural fit for a province like Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly since other Canadian comedy festivals have been featuring our home-grown talent for years.
In that short time span, it has grown from a small event to a four-day gathering with shows happening at the Majestic Theatre, Bella Vista, Holy Heart Theatre and Re/Max Centre. Comedians such as Gavin Crawford, Debra DiGiovanni and Louis C.K., considered one of the continent’s funniest comedians, have been featured.
This year’s festival will star Dan Aykroyd, with an equal mix of local and mainland comedians such as Mark Critch, John Sheehan, Nikki Payne, Trent Mc Clellan, Steve Patterson, Sean Cullen and Brian Aylward, as well as the Wonderful Grand Band.
Akroyd’s appearance came about through the festival’s title sponsor, Newfoundland Screech, Soucy explained. Akroyd does business with the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. with his Crystal Head Vodka, which is manufactured here.
“He’s been speaking glowingly about Newfoundland and Labrador on the talk shows,” Soucy said. “He comes here once in a while anyway to do some business, so he timed it so they coincide. He’s not going to be here very long, I think perhaps less than 20 hours.”
Aykroyd will perform at the Mary Brown Wonderful Grand Band Show at the Re/Max Centre June 17, as well as at the festival’s most talked-about event: The Telegram Talk About Funny show, to be held later that same night, at the Holy Heart Theatre. That show has already sold out.
The show will be set up like a late-night talk show, with a band led by OZ-FM’s Paul Kinsman, a love seat for guests to sit on, and a host behind a desk— in this case, Critch. Just about every guest who comes onstage — including Aykroyd, Cullen, McClellan, Payne and Patterson — will do a bit of standup and an interview.
Critch is particularly looking forward to the show’s other guest: ex-premier and on-screen nemesis Danny Williams.
“I’m going to really have a lot of fun with him, because he’s not the premier anymore and I can basically say whatever the hell I want to him now. It’s a casual, late-night environment, and he can say whatever the hell he wants to me, too,” Critch said with a laugh. “We’ll get to the bottom of all this hockey business.”
At the end of the show, there’ll be a few songs done Blues Brothers-style with the band, with everyone, including Williams and Critch, taking part.
“There are a couple of surprises in store there, for sure,” Critch said.
As with his appearances on “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” as premier, it didn’t take much arm twisting to get Williams to take part in the comedy fest, Critch said, since he’s up for anything.
“I sent him a message saying, ‘Doing a show with Aykroyd, what’s the chance of you doing it?’ and he said, ‘Yes, b’y,’” Critch said. “Anytime I ask him to do something, he says, ‘OK.’ He trusts me and he knows I wouldn’t try and screw him; that’s not what I’m about. Plus, he can take care of himself, certainly.
“It’s hard to find someone who gets what’s funny about themselves and is able to do it, and also someone who doesn’t try to be funny, but is naturally. Especially when they have good timing and you’re arguing and there’s good back-and-forth.”
Critch is also taking part in the CBC Radio The Debaters show at The Majestic Theatre June 16, in which he’ll debate the seal hunt with fellow local comedian Jonny Harris. Snook will debate the merits of Newfoundland cuisine with comedian Bill McIntosh.
Other festival shows include TaDa! Events Open Mic Night, with Steve Coombs, Erica Sigurdson and host Sheehan at the Bella Vista June 15 and the Black Horse Standup Spotlight at the Re/Max Centre June 18, with Patterson, Cullen, McClellan, Payne, Sigurdson and Aylward.
The festival will close with a family-friendly CBC gala at the Re/Max Centre June 19 featuring short sets by all comics and recorded for broadcast by CBC-TV.
“Some of the people you might not be familiar with, some you will be, but hopefully by the end of the night, you’ll get to know them a bit better,” Critch said.
Critch said he’s not surprised at the speed at which the festival has grown, and puts it down not only to the abundance of local talent, but to the reputation local audiences have for being funny themselves.
“Everybody can do something entertaining here. If you’re at a party, you sing or play the guitar or the fiddle or do something funny, and if you can’t do any of those things, then you’re probably not going to get invited to many more parties,” he said. “Audiences here are different: they’re friendly, they’re smart and they’re open, too. They’re not a stodgy, stuckup kind of crowd. They’re there to have a good time.
“The only problem that comedians here might have is being as funny as the people watching them.”
Tickets for the individual Screech Comedy Festival shows can be purchased online at www.screechcomedyfest.com, by phone at 579-4424 or in person at the Holy Heart box office.