Yellowknife’s a funny place

It’s hard to know who to look at when you’re telling 200 people that your baseball coach caught you putting a gummy bear up your butt. (I was a kid, there’s a simple explanation, I don’t have room here to explain.)

Do you look at your wife? No. She’s already said the gummy bear yarn is not one of her favourites.

A friend? You can do better. They’ve all heard this a million times.

A colleague? Possibly. He did after all confess to getting a marble stuck in his arse as a kid.

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In the end the decision is easy – you look at the person who is laughing.

That’s me dispensing what little comedy wisdom I have accumulated over a dozen or so standup performances in Yellowknife. I wouldn’t say I’m a real comedian (does that take a hundred shows? A thousand?), but I have taken my jokes from the dinner party or campfire to the bright lights and terrifying solitude of the stage.

The first time was unforgettable. Pain and then ecstasy.

As I drove to Surly Bob’s sports bar, I considered turning onto the highway and heading to Edmonton. Forever.

I was in a relationship with a girl that was kind of luke-warm about me (now my wife), and so I thought I could leave and just start over in Alberta. For a fleeting moment, running away was a legitimate alternative to standing in front of people who weren’t going to laugh because my jokes weren’t funny.

When I climbed down the stairs to Surly Bob’s, the first person I saw was a friend.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Oh no, I am not,” I said, trying not to throw up.

At that point, I had realized with a clear head and for real that my act wasn’t funny. So I told my friend that I didn’t have any material. Nothing. He stepped up and played the role of nurturer, father…saviour.

“Tell the story about shitting your pants on an airplane,” was his sage counsel.

So I did. And people laughed. Ecstasy.

Some six years later, people in Yellowknife know mortifyingly embarrassing stories about my life (gummy bears, AC flight 8223 and the long walk to the baggage carousel). But I also feel a sense of trust with this community, enough that the anxiety about getting on stage has changed. I still get nervous, but at the heart of this trust is the sense that Yellowknife wants to laugh and knows how. It’s a funny place.

“Funny place” can mean a couple of things. Here, it means we have a sense of humour. A friend said to me that northerners are to the rest of Canada as Canada is to the U.S. Sure, the south has a reality TV crush on us.

But in truth, we’re the observers, looking down over our neighbours and chuckling at their assumptions about our exotic life and their little dogs.

Yellowknife is also odd funny. The world is experiencing a comedy renaissance that we seem to be missing.

There are exceptions: After 8’s efforts to bring steady, quality comedy to town, The Flaming Raven. But down south there are comedy open mics on nights and in rooms where there didn’t used to be. Not here. Not yet.

But I know we’re ready. I watched Yellowknife comedian Alex Sparling come home to perform on a Yuk Yuk’s bill at After 8. It was packed. His humour had its roots in the quirky, sometimes dark, debaucherous, soulful North. He killed. KILLED. And it made me see the potential. Not just Alex’s, but Yellowknife’s too.

So let’s do two things. Let’s hit up some open mics and add a little comedy to the weekly jam rooms. Maybe we roll in as a small group of people who like to tell jokes and laugh at each other. And let’s put together a comedy festival. I’ve watched what Artless Collective’s Dead North film festival has done to support and encourage filmmakers all over the North. So ya, something like that. But for comedy.

The Yellowknife Comedy Festival. Or Chuckle North. Or what? Who’s with me?

You can hear Loren weekday mornings as the host of the Trailbreaker on CBC North Radio One.

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