Anthony Tooton returned to St. John's to document the history of his great-grandfather's photography business, Tooton's, and ended up with a film about Newfoundland comedy.
Tooton has taken some time away from working on the "Tooton Project," a six-part series documenting successful family businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador, to study what makes humour unique to Newfoundlanders in the 28-minute special, "At Humour's Edge!" which aired June 9 on NTV tonight at 11 p.m.
The filmmaker captured footage of comedians from the St. John's Comedy Festival and pieced it together with his own interviews with industry professionals such as Andy Jones, Amy House, and Pete "Snook" Soucy.
The film explores the unique brand of humour that comes out of Newfoundland, and how it acts as a form of escape for audiences and performers alike.
"It's a reminder of where we come from and what Newfoundland humour is based upon through the words of some of the most established performers that we have," Tooton says of the project.
"I had the idea as the title, initially. So, the concept was fleshed out from the beginning. It was kind of one of those light bulb moments where I was like, 'At Humour's Edge,' of course, that makes complete sense. We're actually at the edge of the precipice of humour."
Performers featured in the film include Mark Critch, Shaun Majumder, Sean Cullen, Lorne Elliott, Darren Frost, Johnny Gardhouse, Trent McClellan, Steve Patterson, Nikki Payne, and Snook, with an appearance from former premier Danny Williams.
"I found them to be very unique," Tooton says of the comedians. "In the sense of not only the variations in performance, how different people would play an audience, but also how they approached the stage and what they did behind the scenes. I found them to be the most independent of performers that I had encountered."
Tooton says since the establishment of the St. John's Comedy Festival in 2007, Newfoundland comics have been drawn back to their home province to share humour and laughter with accepting audiences.
"Standup has been becoming more and more popular here," Tooton says.
"So, with the advent of Yuk Yuk's and comics coming in from away, there was a familiarity with the actual craft or art of standup that didn't exist here before."
As a complementary aspect of the film, Tooton paired raw images of St. John's along with the interviews and standup acts, which he says serve to show how often isolated the province is.
"People are aware that they're in the midst of the North Atlantic," Tooton says. "We are the most easterly point, and we have this rich history. But we also have these comedians who are aware of that, who are from away and are either working that into their sets or tailoring their own sets for these specific audiences."
Comedians get excited about returning to the St. John's Comedy festival, Tooton says, adding people behind the festival were instrumental in the making of this film.
"Oftentimes I'd be speaking with the comedians from here who would tell me about how good it is to be here and know that there's a festival. So, I think the St. John's Comedy Festival were really a basis or a conduit for me to get access to the comedians. So without them, it would have been enormously challenging to get the footage that I needed."
"At Humour's Edge!" is a project that Tooton hopes to continue with in the future, much to the same effect of "The Tooton Project."
"It's just amazing to have been able to put something together and have the opportunity to get something broadcast and know that there is that much footage there. That I've created this document which is really an introduction to what I've compiled," he says.
"I see it as something that's going to continue to evolve."