As a kid growing up in the '90s, I was lucky enough to have watched, arguably, one of the funniest decades of television. I probably paid more attention to The Simpsons and Seinfeld than I did my elementary school teachers, and I certainly had the grades to show for it. I was more interested in seeing what quirky characters Adam Sandler and Chris Farley had in store on Saturday Night Live, rather than watching Hockey Night in Canada.
By the time I turned 9, I had already tried stand-up comedy at my school's talent show, I had caught the acting bug, and I was ready to take over Hollywood. However, somewhere between high school to graduating from university in my mid-30s, I lost a passion for performance art, until now.
Now free from the figurative shackles of the university and an anticipated journalism degree, I wanted to write a piece that I am particularly passionate about.
Journalists are like scientists: they need a reasonable hypothesis before they write an article. So, for this particular piece, I wanted to find out if Calgary's comedy scene is relevant, or would you need to move to Montreal or Toronto to get anywhere in comedy?
According to Jeremy Furlong at The Laugh Shop, the answer is no, you don’t need to go elsewhere — Calgary has its own strong comedy scene.
Furlong said that Montreal gets a lot of hype and media exposure because of the annual Just for Laughs comedy festival.
"It's like the Stanley Cup of comedy festivals, but outside of that, I would say that Vancouver and Toronto are the real comedy meccas in Canada," he said.
Furlong produces a monthly show called The Laugh Shop Pro/Am, where first-timers, semi-professional and pro comics drop in and do a grassroots highlight show.
Furlong says his show is a success because of the wholehearted support from Calgarians who attend the shows and the staff who help run the Laugh Shop.
“So, it is a combination of a lot of people doing their individual hustle,” he said. “From the box office, right on down to the wait staff.”
When it comes to Calgary’s indie comedy scene, “there is a middle ground of people who want to see something locally from their perspective, and not everyone wants to go see Kevin Hart or Russell Peters at the Saddledome,” Furlong said.
“Indie scenes in Calgary talk about the same universal topics, but it has a strictly Western feel, and it’s in your own backyard.”
James Moore has been running Comedy Monday Nights at Broken City for over 15 years. Moore says the independent comedy scene in Calgary is thriving.
"What sets Calgary apart from the rest of the national landscape is that we have a comedy community and everyone in it is extremely supportive of one another,” he said.
Amy Edgar and Austin Lonneberg are two comedic pioneers helping to drive the independent comedy scene in Calgary.
Edgar and Lonneberg co-produce and host Crash Test Comedy on Tuesday nights at Vern's pub, which acts as a venue for amateur comedians to entertain guests.
Edgar says Calgarians aren't aware of their arts scene in general, and that is what makes promoting independent comedy so hard.
"The biggest challenge is trying to convince people that entry-level or amateur comedy is going to be good," she said.
Lonneberg added because Calgary is so spread out, it's harder to get people from the suburbs to continually come out to shows in the city's centre.
"Most of the shows are in the Beltline, Kensington and Inglewood, so it's a unique struggle to try and get people in here on a weeknight," he said.
However, independent comedy scenes are good for comedic growth, Lonneberg said.
"These smaller rooms are a space where people can learn to get good at doing comedy,” he said. “And it's fun and cheaper than going to a club like Yuk Yuk's.”
The truth is, if you want to find comedy in Calgary, you just have to know where to look for it.
Moore's Comedy Monday Night is Western Canada's longest-running open mic night.
On Tuesdays, you can check out Edgar and Lonneberg's Crash Test Comedy at Vern’s on 8th Avenue S.W.
If Wednesday is your night, hop on the CTrain over to Kensington for Jupiter Comedy at Oak Tree Tavern.
Thursdays, hit up the Teahouse on 1st Street S.W for your taste of comedic flare.
And, of course, the weekends are jam-packed with comedy events happening around the city at venues like The Laugh Shop, Yuk Yuk's and The Comedy Cave.
- By Peter Brand