What are you laughing at?

YYComedy Festival returns with a star-studded line-up

chris-gordon-4If the news is any indication of the state of the world right now, it doesn’t seem like there is much to laugh about these days. Conversely, a good laugh might be exactly what we need.

Unbeknownst to many, Calgary has a hidden wealth of comedic talent, and five years ago, the YYComedy Festival was created to showcase some of this talent.

The original line-up  mostly focused on comedians with a tie to Calgary. It has since evolved, and this year features big names such as Janeane Garofalo, Brent Butt and The Kids in the Hall alumni, Dave Foley, Scott Thompson and Kevin McDonald.

“We took the opportunity to launch the festival to bring back and celebrate the comedians that live here and work here, and to bring back comics who had started their career here,” said Cory Mack, one of the co-founders of the festival. “And because there’s so much great comedy out here in the west.”

The festival’s headliner, Brent Butt, of Corner Gas fame, is, of course, the epitome of great western Canadian comedy. But the veteran comedian doesn’t buy into the idea of Canadian humour.

“I don’t know what that is. Russell Peters and Norm MacDonald are very different. The Kids in the Hall and Air Farce are very different,” said Butt. “If you look at all the individual acts, they’re all hugely different, and I don’t see anything that ties them all together.”

Butt  believes that even Canadian audiences themselves are different.

“I always say that two crowds in the same city, on the same night, could be more different than doing a show in Victoria, and then doing a show in Halifax. Every time you get a group of people together, a clump of individuals, it comprises a different animal, and you have no idea what it will like or want.”

Local comedian, Chris Gordon, who will be headlining Late Night at the Plaza during the festival, doesn’t necessarily believe the argument that there is a specific Canadian style of comedy either.

“Funny is funny, but sometimes a local reference will throw people off,” said Gordon. “I don’t want to write something that’s very, very Canadian, because if I’m talking for ten minutes about Tim Hortons, I’m not going to be able to take that anywhere in the States that will make any sense.”

If the concept of Canadian comedy does exist, it isn’t known for pushing the envelope into offensive territory.

“Growing up, I never watched Canadian comedies and television because I found it hokey and cheesy,” said Gordon, whose soon-to-be-released album is titled, Black Female in a Gay Wheelchair.

“I like the challenge if something is not supposed to be talked about; I like talking about it and getting away with it. But comedy lies on the fringes of the things we’re not supposed to talk about and builds tension that can be broken by a telling a joke.”

Butt, while known for his wholesome sense of humour, said he never goes out of his way to create clean comedy.

“I never said I was going to be clean,” said Butt. “I’ve had notions of just doing a tour where the whole idea is that I’m going to be filthy the whole show.”

Despite the novelty of an offensive comedy tour, Butt said he’s just a fan of authentic comedy.

“If you’re coming at it with any goal other than to make people laugh, if you’re just going out there to shock, or offend, or make waves just to get your name known, those are all the wrong reasons to be doing stand up.

“A lot of the smartest, funniest, most clever people I see working the clubs today aren’t going out of their way to offend anybody, they’re just doing what they do,” said Butt.

Regardless of your own sense of humour, Mack believes YYComedy Festival offers a chance for Calgarians to catch a glimpse of this city’s talent, as well as its world-class headliners.

“I think it’s fun to have it in your own backyard,” said Mack. “It’s good to have folks who are celebrated around the world to be in Calgary, to bring the best in North America here to celebrate, and celebrate the comedians already here.”

YYComedy Festival runs from Sept. 26 – Oct. 1 at various venues throughout the city. For tickets or more information, please visit: www.yycomedy.ca

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