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Opinion: Laugh Out LIVE proved me wrong in the best way

L to R: Dave Francis, Rebecca Mason, Arts Whistler events and programs coordinator Suzanne Gibson, Arts Whistler executive director Mo Douglas, and Ira Pettle celebrate the season finale of Laugh Out LIVE.

Going back years now, local entertainer and producer extraordinaire Ira Pettle and I have had a version of the same debate: would a weekly resort show at the Maury Young theatre fly here? 

On the face of it, it would appear we have all the ingredients to make it happen: millions of deep-pocketed visitors looking for something to do once the hill closes, a dedicated and fun-loving local audience that loves to see Whistler culture reflected back at it, and a gorgeous 200-person theatre ready to welcome them all in. 

Admittedly, Ira was always more optimistic than I was about such a show’s prospects. Maybe it’s the cynical reporter in me, maybe it was the years I’ve spent grinding in our decidedly grassroots theatre scene, but I had my doubts. 

And boy, was I wrong.   

Laugh Out LIVE, the 19-plus comedy variety show blending improv, sketch, stand-up and audience games, just wrapped its 15-week run last Thursday at the Maury Young, selling out every single show along the way. Co-produced by Arts Whistler and the hard-working team of Pettle, Rebecca Mason and Dave Francis, it’s clear this Whistlerified cross between Saturday Night Live and Whose Line is it Anyway? struck a chord with local audiences. I got to take in the show both as an occasional guest performer and audience member, and every week, one of the three main troupe members would ask the crowd who had attended a show before, and without fail, at least half the audience would raise their hand. I’m sure the pandemic played a role in attracting ticket-buyers eager for a laugh—one woman who attended 11 of the 15 shows told me it was her “weekly therapy” after months of COVID restrictions. But I’m more inclined to chalk it up to the incredible work ethic and talents of Laugh Out LIVE’s main three-person troupe. Along with being front and centre as the show’s main stars, Francis, Mason and Pettle were tireless workhorses behind the scenes, and virtually every element of the production had their fingerprints on it. As someone who has been producing theatre locally for a while, I know how much work goes into it, and it was their influence that turned Laugh Out LIVE into one of the hottest tickets in town. 

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Arts Whistler’s generous support as well. The local arts organization and executive director Mo Douglas threw their full weight behind the project, at a time when there was so much uncertainty around the viability of running in-person shows. (The four-month run wasn’t immune to the effects of the pandemic, of course: one week ended up being cancelled as cases flared up, and a couple of the shows were held at half-capacity.) Arts Whistler and their staff eagerly took on every whacky idea thrown at them and ran with it. Dress my half-naked body up in a wedding-dress-turned-robe for a show-opening sketch about the world’s worst-run cult? Sure, why not. Help organize a lucrative prize giveaway based around a giant, veiny dildo? Of course. (You, uh, had to be there.) Let us drop 300 celebratory balloons on the stage for the run’s closing show? Absolutely! 

By its very mandate, Arts Whistler has always nurtured local arts and culture, but for the longest time, it felt like Whistler’s burgeoning theatre community was the forgotten stepchild compared to other, arguably more popular artforms: live music and visual arts, primarily. Part of that, in my opinion, is our theatre scene just wasn’t at the level of these other mediums, but after seeing the popularity and high standard set by Laugh Out LIVE, I fully believe Whistler’s live comedy and theatre scene has arrived. I was lucky enough to guest star on both the inaugural show back in December, and the season finale last week, and even in that short time, it was obvious the show just kept getting better and better as the main troupe and its roster of special guests and comedians honed their performances and learned what audiences wanted. 

And if you didn’t manage to make it to one of the shows, well, first of all, you’ve been missing out. But the good news is, Laugh Out LIVE will be back later this year for Season 2, and if its inaugural sold-out run is any indication, things are just going to get bigger and better from here.