Whale of a time

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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Annual St. John’s Comedy Festival kicks off June 20

Many people will tell you there’s no sense of humour like that of a Newfoundlander. We like to laugh, and we like to laugh hard. We also like to laugh at our own, apparently.

Six years into the St. John’s Comedy Festival and the local acts are still perhaps the most popular on the bill, even when the lineup includes performers like Louis CK and Dan Aykroyd.

It could be the material — people appreciating things to which they can relate — or it may be that no one else can quite “get” our sense of humour exactly the same way.

“I think people just like the flavour of humour,” explained Pete Soucy (a.k.a. Snook), one of the festival’s organizers. “People here love all kinds of humour, but there’s something about your own backyard that really works well here. There’s an ease of communication between the comedian and the audience that others perhaps don’t enjoy.”

This year’s comedy festival, set to take place June 20-24, has a lineup of local natives that won’t disappoint: Trent McClellan, Jonny Harris, Snook, Cathy Jones, John Sheehan, Dave Sullivan, Steve Cochrane and Paul Warford, among others.

Of course, there’s an all-star list of C.F.A.s taking part, too: CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, Nikki Payne, Gavin Crawford and Mike Bullard.

Many of the comics are ones who’ve taken part in the festival in years past, and went over particularly well with audiences. McClellan, a Corner Brook native now living out west who has taken part in the festival for the past three or four years, has proven to be a great find for the event, Soucy said. He’ll be appearing a number of times this year, and will conduct a two-day workshop for emerging standup comics. The workshop, which can take 12 participants, usually fills up fast, with each participant invited to perform a five-minute set on stage at the TaDa! Open Mic Night.

Payne, a Nova Scotian with Newfoundland roots, best known for her lisp and her appearances on Much Music’s video on trial, has an aggressive, no-holds-barred style of comedy that was a hit when she appeared at last year’s festival, and Soucy said she was one of the first on this year’s bill.

Bullard is also a St. John’s Comedy Fest alumni.

“He went over extremely well, and we never really gave him an opportunity to let him do what he does best, which is hosting,” Soucy explained. “He hosts for a living and has for a long time.”

Standup comic Bullard hosted his own Gemini Award-winning late night talk show, “Open Mike,” for more than 10 years, and is also a well-known radio host.

At this year’s comedy fest, Bullard will host The Telegram Talk About Funny show at the Delta hotel. Similar to an event held for the first time last year with Mark Critch, the talk-show styled event will see Bullard, with the help of a live band and a couch, interview McClellan, Jones, Crawford and maybe a couple others. The comedians will each get a chance to do a set.

Bullard will get his chance to be on the other side of the mike the next night, during the Black Horse Talk About Funny show, hosted by Ghomeshi. That show will also feature Payne, Harris, and another special guest or two.

“I’m really glad we can throw in someone like Jian Ghomeshi, who’s well-known and has a good national profile and is extremely connected to comedy as well,” Soucy said of the CBC Radio presenter.

Soucy considers the festival’s Standup Spotlight show to be the heart of the entire event.

“That’s when we get our five headliners in one show, and it’s where you get full sets, uncensored,” he said. “You can sit and have your drink and it’s like a comedy club, with really good comedy.” Bullard, Crawford, McClellan, Jones and Harris will be featured.

This year’s festival will be a mini-reunion for a few of the acts: Jones and Crawford worked together on CBC TV’s “22 Minutes” until Crawford left the show last year; Harris, Sullivan and Cochrane are three of the four founding members of Newfoundland Dance Party sketch comedy troupe. The other member is musician Phil Churchill of The Once, which has a busy touring schedule this summer.

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Soucy said the St. John’s comedy festival was started in 2007 by Terri Andrews and him, after the idea had been thrown around for years. It started out as a three-night, five-show event with the likes of Lorne Elliott, Irwin Barker, Steve Patterson and the “22 Minutes” cast, and quickly grew to a multi-show, multi-venue, high-profile festival, with comedians from across the country vying to participate each year. The festival took place in 2010 and 2011 as the New Screech Comedy Festival, named for the festival’s title sponsor, but has since reverted back to its original name.

Comedy fans might notice there’s no stand-alone headline act this year, and there’s a reason for that, Soucy explained.

“We’re trying to figure out if having a big show like that has an impact on the rest of the shows or not. What we’re thinking might work better for us is to have big shows like that at a different time of year, because it’s a limited market and there are only so many audience members to go around,” he said. “We’re aiming for full houses at every show; that’s what we really want to do.”

Soucy said two events outside the festival are already in the works, one for the fall and one for the winter.

Tickets for St. John’s Comedy Festival events are on sale now, and can be purchased at the Holy Heart Box Office or by calling 579-4424, or online at www.stjohnscomedyfest.ca.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: CBC, Delta hotel, Newfoundland Dance Party The Once Holy Heart Box Office

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Newfoundland

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