There used to be comedy in Whistler. Some of us don't remember but it's true. They were funny days, by most accounts. They were seven straight years of hilarity. Comics would perform at Buffalo Bill's and people would laugh merrily, frown disapprovingly or not show up at all.
The latter group eventually dominated because for the last few years Whistler has had no comedy! None. Zip. Whistler has been a rather somber place because of it: the town where laughs come to die.
Okay, okay, that's not even close to true but the town's performing arts scene is basically absent and, thus, kind of a bummer. Part of any robust performing arts scene is the stand-up comedy option and thankfully the Sea to Sky will see more of it starting this fall.
Funny First Comedy, brainchild of stand-up veteran Carter Hortie, has four comedy shows scheduled at Chances Casino in Squamish over the next four months. Hortie also has his own headlining gig at the GLC in October.
"I'm going to push for Whistler," Hortie says. "I have a few rooms right now that I'm looking at. Within the next few months I'd like to have something going there."
Hortie knows the Whistler scene well, having performed here many times over the years. Several booking agencies have come through Whistler and failed to create a sustainable comedy culture because, he says, "Most of them were charging too much money."
He plans to change this by charging less money for the same caliber of talent.
"We deal with the best stand-up comedians across Canada," Hortie says. "A lot of people think that only Yuk Yuk's can do that but we can do the exact same shows for way less money."
Funny First is, in a lot of ways, set up as an alternative to Yuk Yuk's, which he says tends to alienate its comedians. He knows from experience.
"Yuk Yuk's tries to bully (their roster comics) around and say, 'You can't play other places if you're going to be one of our comics,' but it never really takes," he says. "It's like an un-punishable offense. Like what are they really going to do?"
Hortie has set up Funny First Comedy as another option and as a way to advance stand-up in Canada. By taking only 25 per cent commission, he says he can charge less money for tickets - an attractive prospect for any consumer - while offering the comics the same rates as Yuk Yuk's or any other booking agency, which means top tier talent may soon find its way into Whistler.
For the foreseeable future, it's all about Squamish. This week's headliner is Erica Sigurdson, best known for her witty retorts on CBC's The Debaters and all those child-beating jokes.
"Well, I don't talk so much about hitting kids anymore," Sigurdson says with a laugh. "That one sometimes blows up in my face. They're like, 'Nope, we're not going there.' I'm like, 'Oh God, here we go. You know I'm joking, right? You know I'm not actually hitting a child.'"
Of course, her humour isn't all about kids and their undeserved lashings. She jokes about work, marriage and so on - the everyday world and how weird it is. What other way is there to explain what any comic does?
"It's funny because, as writers and performers, that's what we do, come up with ways to describe things. But describe ourselves? We're like, 'duuuuuuuh...'" she says.
Sigurdson started in comedy in 2000, performing at amateur nights in Vancouver for a year before landing her first paid gig. Eventually she landed regular gigs at the Urban Well, the now-defunct Kitsilano comedy club run by Corner Gas 's Brent Butt.
With Butt's help, she performed at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Halifax Comedy Festival and various others, which were broadcast by the CBC. And as is the case for Canadians hoping to make a comfortable living in comedy, she finagled a spot on the roster of comedy writers for the network while maintaining a career as a headlining stand-up comic.
"I've been able to keep a roof over my head and take a trip a year. It's not as secure, of course, as having a regular day job but I hate waking up in the morning," she says.
Sigurdson headlines at Chances Casino on Tuesday, Sept. 27. JP Mass opens. Show starts at 8 p.m.
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