Vancouver on the Verge of a Comedy Coup-

 

Vancouver comedian Graham Clark gets by with a little help from his friends. Photo via Graham Clark’s Facebook

Vancouver comedian Graham Clark gets by with a little help from his friends. Photo via Graham Clark’s Facebook

 

With a ‘nobody’s going to get famous’ attitude, BC comics get noticed.

 

By Sarah Berman, TheTyee.ca

 

In Little Mountain Gallery on a Tuesday night, the line between comedy show and hanging out at a friend’s place is charmingly blurred. At this show, billed “Ring-a-Ding-Dong-Dandy,” beer comes out of a picnic cooler, vintage wrestling is projected from a laptop, and buddies-slash-comedians Graham Clark and Ryan Beil offer rolling commentary on everything from boot tassels to Hulk Hogan’s goth phase. Drawing from Clark’s savant-like knowledge of pro-wrestling, the event’s premise is simply to watch old fights and let funny people do the talking.

 

Photo via Graham Clark’s Facebook

Photo via Graham Clark’s Facebook

 

It’s the type of casual jokey atmosphere that was rare in Vancouver a decade ago, but has since become emblematic of the city’s scrappy, experimental approach to comedy. It’s also something Vancouver’s newly re-elected mayor Gregor Robertson wants to guest host (at least according to a recent tweet.)
“When I started, there wasn’t even a comedy club,” Clark recalls of the early aughts in a less funny Raincity. “Yuk Yuk’s had closed or was in the process of closing. There was no club here for a long time.”

 

Since those days, Clark says self-produced nights all over the city have become the DIY glue holding Vancouver’s scene together. He names the Hero Show, Alicia Tobin’s Come Draw With Me and Paul Anthony’s Talent Time.

 

I would add to that list Havana’s Laugh Gallery (a stand-up show Clark hosts every Monday) and The Sunday Service (a weekly improv show by Beil and friends Taz VanRassel, Caitlin Howden, Aaron Read, Kevin Lee and Emmett Hall). “That’s been the big draw for me in the Vancouver comedy scene—everybody is do-it-yourself, always trying weird new forms and new ideas for shows,” Clark says. “It keeps it interesting.”

 

A moving sale at a costume store prompted Clark and his team to ‘flip’ ‘Wilderness Man’ into a ‘Quantum Leap.’ Photo via Graham Clark’s Facebook

A moving sale at a costume store prompted Clark and his team to ‘flip’ ‘Wilderness Man’ into a ‘Quantum Leap.’ Photo via Graham Clark’s Facebook

 

An ongoing contest for emerging Canadian comics proves that glue is holding together surprisingly well. Clark and Beil are on two different teams still competing for $500,000 in production financing and a prime-time slot on CBC. To stay in the ComedyCoup competition, the teams submit a short video assignment each week.
Branded a creative “accelerator,” the ComedyCoup platform looks like a crowdfunding site except with ratings, comments and shares as its chosen currency. Fan votes have whittled a pool of hundreds of competitors down to a top 15, including Clark’s “Wilderness Man” and Beil’s “Heir Heads.” Two weeks before the winners were announced, there were still seven groups hailing from Metro Vancouver in the competition—more finalists than Montreal and Toronto combined.

 

BC represents

 

Much like Vancouver’s live shows, the B.C.-grown video projects offered a mix of heavy-hitters, rookies and some loveable weirdos in between. Stand-up hustler Sunee Dhaliwal co-stars in “Buddy Guys,” while Ivan Decker and Adam Pateman rep the Dungeons and Dragons-themed “Roll for Damage.” All three can be regularly found behind a microphone in this city. Holly Pillsbury’s “Welcome to Tulip” makes light of culture clashes in the small Alberta town Rosebud, where a Supreme Court judge recently ruled on a controversial fracking case.

 

Of course, none of these projects can be understood without the creative networks that keep them alive. There are dozens of writers, cinematographers and producers working each week to make actors like Beil and his co-star Bruce Novakowski look good (or evil, as the case may be).

 

Ryan Beil and Bruce Novakowski in ‘Heir Heads.’ Photo via Heir Heads’s Facebook

Ryan Beil and Bruce Novakowski in ‘Heir Heads.’ Photo via Heir Heads’s Facebook

 

“Heir Heads,” for example, is a product of a years-long collaboration. Writer and director Dylan Innes first pitched his idea to Beil while working together on a TV set two years ago. The premise was simple: two brothers find themselves cut off from their deceased father’s billions until the siblings can make $1 million on their own. Beil says he liked it right away. “If anybody offers me work I’ll say ‘let’s do it,’ because you never know.”

 

“Wilderness Man” was also conceived in part before the competition began. “It was something we had kicking around,” Clark recalls. “Dan [Barham] and Josh [Loewen], they helped me with my website, and the concept of the website was a man-of-the-woods kind of thing. While shooting it, we decided to make a short video of this character.” The result is a relentless stream of wholesome nature-based gags, “as if Pee Wee Herman was lost in the woods for 75 years”—to quote the project’s cutline.

 

“It’s just throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” Clark says of the fast-paced creative process week to week. “With the last entry, we were coming up with an idea and it just so happened I found a costume shop having a moving sale.” The “Wilderness Man” team would spin this windfall into a Quantum Leap tribute, complete with a dozen kooky characters.

 

“I basically bought all the wigs and hats as I could carry,” he says. “That must have been the best day of the owner’s week.”

 

Photo via Heir Heads’s Facebook

Photo via Heir Heads’s Facebook

‘We’re just doing it ‘cause we’re doing it’

All this is to say years of teamwork and risk-taking are paying off for Vancouver’s comedy coup d’état. Even with another round of eliminations on the way, Clark and Beil prefer to riff off each other rather than “roast” their competitors.

 

Coincidentally, the next ComedyCoup assignment asks the top 15 to do just that. A video featuring Joe Rogan and John Dore calls for a 15-way below-the-belt “roastmageddon”—whatever that means.

 

For Beil, this doesn’t particularly fit with Vancouver’s misfit ethos. “Because we’re far removed from places like Chicago or Toronto where there’s a comedy infrastructure, it’s always like ‘Well, nobody’s going to get famous or notice anyways,’” he says. “There’s a lot of cross-pollination, and there’s less jockeying for position, more ‘We’re just doing it ‘cause we’re doing it.’”

 

What Beil is saying rings most true in a space like Little Mountain, where creative folks can be so radically themselves, no material is too casual or too strange. But for whatever reason, I also don’t rule out the getting famous part. This city exported Nathan Fielder’s hit show Nathan For You, and the Seth Rogen franchise before that. Who knows? Beil, Clark and the rest could fair just as well on prime time.

 

Photo via Heir Heads’s Facebook

Photo via Heir Heads’s Facebook