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Wendy Rose: Getting famous with 'Almost Baymous'

From left, Evan Mercer, Andrew Tremblett, Stuart Simpson make up Halfhandsome - a comedy and theatre troupe that will be bringing its comedy to the LSPU Hall March 22-24.
From left, Evan Mercer, Andrew Tremblett, Stuart Simpson make up Halfhandsome - a comedy and theatre troupe that will be bringing its comedy to the LSPU Hall March 22-24. - Riley Harnett photo

The Halfhandsome b’ys are a busy bunch. In between juggling roles in the film industry, working with various theatre companies, supporting local shows and maintaining some semblance of a social life, it’s a wonder that Andrew Tremblett, Stuart Simpson, and Evan Mercer can make time for their own company.

The Newfoundland based sketch comedy and theatre troupe turned six this year, and while they remember their early years fondly, they have had quite the growth spurt recently, as opportunity continues to knock on their door.

“We were just dying to do a sketch comedy show. Everything we talked about — ‘Oh, that’s a good sketch, that’s a good sketch’ … that’s just how we talked to each other. But for whatever reason, we never did a sketch show (in university.) Eventually, we just said, let’s do it.”
Stuart Simpson of Halfhandsome

Halfhandsome formed half-accidentally, back in 2012, at Memorial’s Grenfell Campus. Both freshmen at the arts school, Simpson and Tremblett became fast friends, both passionate about becoming more involved in the local theatre scene.

This shared interest eventually led to the formation of a weekly improv group performance. They drew a crowd to the campus bar on Friday nights, pocketing a meagre $50 for their hard work.

“We kind of built this little group between us, and that’s what it was all about from the beginning — a sense of community,” Tremblett said.

These Friday night shows would be the debut performances of Halfhandsome, a name that would live on long past graduation.

Unable to pinpoint the creation of their moniker, Simpson explained that it was born of a conversation about being perfect and striving for perfection.

Halfhandsome is “the idea of not being all done up, but still pulling it off,” he explained with a laugh. “The way we do our comedy, we don’t have loads of money for props, sets, etc. but we pull it off. We make it work.”

“The 18th time you’ve heard the joke, you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s funny. By the 58th time … everybody in the room who has helped write this comedy show, they’re not laughing anymore. You’re going, ‘Is this still funny?’”
Stuart Simpson of Halfhandsome

The group, who relocated to the capital city post post-secondary, proved that while they may not be “all done up,” they’re still able to “pull it off” — as evidenced by their sold-out three-day run of “Almost Baymous” at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in January 2017.

“We were just dying to do a sketch comedy show,” Simpson recalled. “Everything we talked about — ‘Oh, that’s a good sketch, that’s a good sketch’ … that’s just how we talked to each other,” he explained. “But for whatever reason, we never did a sketch show (in university.) Eventually, we just said, let’s do it.”

They got down to business when Tremblett returned from Chicago, Illinois, in mid-2016 armed with new tips and techniques from Second City, an improvisational comedy enterprise.

Mercer soon joined, starting out in the writing room and moving onto the stage, after “writing a bunch of sh*t for myself,” — one of the techniques of sketch comedy writing Tremblett learned abroad. Mercer also coined the show’s title, based on the idea of being famous around the bay — “Almost Baymous.”

Inspired by legendary sketch comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” the group compiled notes on recent events, local news stories, pop culture and current trends, creating humour out of the mundane or bizarre.

Last year’s show touched on topics like online dating, marijuana, sexting, Newfoundland traditions, and more.

“It’s nice to have really biting satire, but after you see that for a while, you want to see the silliest thing in the world that takes you right out of that mindset,” Mercer said, likely referring to last year’s skits about the secretive sex lives of children’s performers.

By mixing regional humour with universal themes, the team created a show that appeals to both locals and come-from-aways.

One of the hardest parts of creating the show was deciding on what was actually funny, as the writers became desensitized to the hilarity of their own jokes after repeatedly reworking their bits.

“The 18th time you’ve heard the joke, you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s funny. By the 58th time … everybody in the room who has helped write this comedy show, they’re not laughing anymore. You’re going, ‘Is this still funny?’” Simpson said.
“Then you get out there, you do a couple lines in front of people, and people start laughing, and you remember, ‘Oh yeah! This is f**king funny! I remember how funny this is!’” Simpson continued. “It’s exhilarating, thinking, ‘Man, we made all these jokes.’’”

Jokingly referred to as “Revue” for millenials, “Almost Baymous” has opened doors for Halfhandsone with Rising Tide Theatre’s yearly Revue show.

This collaboration shows that Halfhandsome is on the come-up, and definitely a troupe worth keeping an eye on in the city.

The group was quick to note that while it is is  trio, the three wouldn’t have made it this far without “a cast of supporting characters,” from across the island, and of course, their audiences.

Halfhandsome will be spreading the love at the LSPU Hall March 22-24, when the second incarnation of “Almost Baymous” opens.

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