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Conception Bay performers take improv group to NYC comedy festival

Halfhandsome took to the stage in New York City this month to perform in Sketchfest NYC. From left, Stuart Simpson, Elizabeth Hicks, Russell Cochrane, Evan Mercer and Andrew Tremblett.
Halfhandsome took to the stage in New York City this month to perform in Sketchfest NYC. From left, Stuart Simpson, Elizabeth Hicks, Russell Cochrane, Evan Mercer and Andrew Tremblett. - Contributed


One Newfoundland comedy group took their talents to a brand-new stage – and audience — this past week.

Halfhandsome is a sketch comedy group formed originally by Stuart Simpson and Andrew Tremblett during their years as university students at Memorial University in St. John’s. Since then, the duo has taken several others under their wing to make the group what it is today, performing sketch comedy shows to a wide audience of Newfoundlanders.

However, the group’s most recent endeavour saw them take the stage in New York City – the first time Halfhandsome has travelled outside the province for a show.

The group’s claim to fame dates back to one of their first major sketches, titled “Almost Baymous.” It was around this time that Shearstown native Evan Mercer joined up to take part in the production.

“We found that we actually had a little bit of success. We saw a lot of people, especially in around St. John’s, were enjoying what we were doing, so we decided to keep it going,” Mercer said of his origins in the group. When it came time for the group to begin work on the second installment of “Almost Baymous,” Carbonear native Elizabeth Hicks was ready and willing to share her own talents with the group.

“We had recorded some of the sketches we did in that show, and (Tremblett) sent them off to a couple different sketch festivals. When they got accepted into the New York City Sketchfest, they asked me to come along as well,” Hicks said.

New York City Sketchfest is a festival staged by the People Improv Theater in New York. This year’s event was on Oct. 20. It acts as an open call to sketch groups on an international level to submit their material.

About 100 groups were accepted to the event, including Halfhandsome, who were one of the few groups to receive a 45-minute time slot instead of the usual 25-minutes.

“It’s basically a chance for us to see some work from people all over the world – so it was pretty cool,” Hicks said of the event. “For sketch comedy, which is so different on video compared to when you see it live, I think it’s important to be able to go to these kinds of festivals and see other people, and what they’re doing.”

Mercer added the experience was beneficial for the group by allowing them to figure out what did and did not work when it comes to comedy performances outside of Newfoundland.

“It’s interesting to see where our style fits in on the world level. We brought a lot of our favourite sketches, but we also had to make sure it was content that would relate to a more international audience, instead of just a Newfoundland audience,” he said. “(Simpson) wrote a three-piece sketch designed around us, around ourselves, and what the experience was like for us to all come to New York, and what we interpreted it to be like, in a more comedic manner.”

Halfhandsome usually takes a satirical approach to current issues. Mercer and Hicks both explained the group tries to convey a message with each sketch, all while keeping the audience laughing.

“The challenge here was to maintain our pride in Newfoundland and where we come from, while not throwing anything at an audience who might not understand something that’s a little more focused on Newfoundlanders,” Mercer said.

Additionally, they had to consider the Newfoundland dialect, which had the group questioning whether or not certain words or phrases were specific to the province, or if they would be understood by anyone.

“It was tough to find that balance of maintaining our uniqueness, but also making sure the comedy actually translated enough for this new audience to understand,” Hicks added.

Overall, Halfhandsome’s performance appeared to be well-received by the audience, and the group plans to take what they learned in New York and apply it to their future projects.

Although they could not speak too specifically about future plans, Mercer and Hicks said fans of comedy in this province should keep an eye on them, as they have ideas in the works for things for home turf.

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