Edmonton’s Independent Comedy Scene is Popping

As a comedian working in Canada touring can be challenging. The country is the second-largest on the planet in terms of total area, but has a smaller population than the state of California.

The province of Alberta has a decent run of shows that pay well which is largely a result of its oil-rich economy. While the money is good, the crowds can be less than appealing. Alberta is a very conservative province with a Right-leaning population. Most Canadians would like to think Trump couldn’t win an election in their country, but there’s no doubt he’d find some votes in Alberta.

Which is what makes Edmonton’s independent comedy scene such a special place. An area called Whyte Ave is home to two of Canada’s most popular and respected independent rooms. The Underdog Comedy Show (@ComedyUnderDog) and Empress Comedy Night (@EmpressComedy) are weekly shows that feature local talent and touring comedians coming through town. The shows are consistently sold out and an act as an oasis for liberal-minded thinkers and comedy fans in the heart of the province.

Comedy Records recently teamed up with The Underdog to produce an album showcasing the show and some of its regular talent. Underdog’s producers, Simon Gorsak (@yegSimon) and Brett McCrindle (@BrettMcCrindle) sat down to talk about what makes the show unique and how it’s managed to succeed in such a different climate.

The Interrobang: How would you describe the Edmonton Comedy Scene?

Brett McCrindle: Thriving, diverse and progressive. There is such a wealth of weekly shows and mics that it seems whether you’re just starting out as an open mic’er, or you’re middling and headlining clubs on the road, you can work on or enjoy comedy every night of the week. The crowds are never in short supply and the variety of the comedy community make it so the audiences are just as diverse.

The Interrobang: What makes the Whyte Avenue area unique compared to the rest of Edmonton and Alberta?

Simon Gorsak: Let’s be real, Alberta is a definitely very conservative place, although this neighborhood is a bit of an anomaly. Old Strathcona, or as it’s more widely known, “Whyte Ave” is a very left leaning, little orange blip on the mostly conservative blue landscape of “Oil Country”. No small part of the reason for that is that it has the University of Alberta which has like 40,000 students every year, many of whom reside in the area. As a result, there’s a really fun culture of live performance that is rooted in this area. Live music venues, comedy shows and theatres running 7 nights a week, make it the only place in Alberta we’d ever want to live.

The Interrobang: When did the Underdog Comedy Show start? How did it come together?

Brett McCrindle: The Underdog Comedy Show started in June of 2013 and was founded by me, Simon, and another Edmonton comic named Dion Arnold, who is one of the comics featured on the record. I used to run a live music venue before I got into comedy and had been involved in theatre since I was a little kid. I’d only been doing comedy for a few months when we got the idea, but both Dion and myself were disappointed with the caliber of most of the shows in the city, as well as the size of the audiences we were performing to. Being that I had a background in promoting and live show production, and Dion knew most of the comics, we figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get something going. We modeled the show after another local show called “Dr. Jokes”, 10 or so comics, alternating hosts, small-ish venue with no distractions from the show.

The Interrobang: How were the comedians selected for the album? Who are they?

Simon Gorsak: We were careful not to just put our best friends on the show, haha as much as it was tempting. We wanted to showcase a good variety of Edmonton talent, while staying true to the people who had supported the show the most over its first few years. The acts on the record are all regulars on the show, and some of the funniest people we’ve ever met. That’s another thing that is so weird about the Edmonton scene, it’s just filthy with talented comics. Choosing from among our peers was definitely our least favourite part of the album process. We chose:

  • Ourselves, natch: we are both on the show every week alternating hosting duties with doing sets. Very few comics who aren’t us have hosted this show and it was only ever because we were both on tour at the same time.
  • Dion Arnold: one of the founding members of the show and a hilarious touring wild man.
  • Nadine Hunt: a prolific writer and unifying force in the Edmonton scene. Her draw as performer makes us all want to work harder.
  • Clare Belford (@ClareBelford): The only Edmonton ex-pat on the record, we begged her to fly back to Edmonton for the recording as she had just moved to Toronto. She’s our touring partner and ran the Underdog’s sister show, Empress Comedy Night until she moved away.
  • Jon Mick: the unwitting godfather of Edmonton independent comedy. Everyone on this record owes part of their career to Jon in some way or another. It also doesn’t hurt that he is literally the funniest comic in town.
  • Success 5000 (@Success_5000): Josh Coss and Robyn Slack are a comedy duo whose stylings range from sketch comedy to feature length films and plays. The majority of their notoriety though is as a musical-comedy duo. They’ll be mad that we called them musical-comedy, as they prefer “laugh-core”.
  • Liam Creswick (@LiamCreswick): another stand-up who spends time in the sketch comedy world, Liam is a prolific and hard working writer who has carved out his own nerdy-niche in Edmonton’s scene.
  • Adam Dyck (@DyckJokes): he’s E-town’s favourite son and a hilarious comic. He’s simultaneously the most edgy comic on the album and the most innocuous. Without question one of our favourite writers and performers.

The Interrobang: Who are some of your favourite out of town comedians that have performed on the show in the past?

Brett McCrindle: Canadian comedy legend Mike MacDonald once showed up wearing all black, you know, like he does in your dreams. Ms. Pat has blown the roof off a couple times, as have Ari Shaffir and Jenny Zigrino. Our faves though are probably K. Trevor Wilson, Ryan Ash, Pat Burtscher, our comedy big sister Kathleen McGee, and a legendary X-mas set by Jordan Chyzowski.

The Interrobang: Best part about being a comedian in Edmonton. Least favourite part about being a comedian in Edmonton.

Simon Gorsak: The best part of being a comic in Edmonton is the crowds. Both in audience sizes and enthusiasm, they blow other cities out of the water. They’re so savvy and stoked on comedy. The crowds here are without question the reason for the tight knit community we are so proud to represent.

Brett McCrindle: The worst part about being a comic in Edmonton is the isolation. We’re so far from every other major city that touring is fairly cost prohibitive. There’s also a staunch lack of entertainment industry eyes on our scene.

The Interrobang: Favourite Underdog Comedy memories?

Brett McCrindle: Our friend and genius comedian Pete Morley was so excited to perform one night and went to jump on the coffee table (read: stage), but miscalculated and biffed it HARD. I thought he broke a kneecap. He got up and had a killer set. Some harm, no foul.

Simon Gorsak: Every now and again we have a special theme show and one time we did the Underdog Comedy Show Time Travel Spectacular wherein Brett and I were sent to an alternate dimension and were replaced with our evil twins. We went into the time chamber (read: broom closet), shaved our beards into nasty goatees, changed into ridiculous costumes and tried to sabotage the show.

The Interrobang: What does the future hold for the Underdog Comedy Show?

Brett McCrindle: A lot of people have told us to relocate it to a bigger room, start charging cover, only do booked spots with no lottery spots, etc. Our feeling is that the show is perfect. The show will always be free, we encourage first-timers and have draw spots for rookies for a reason. It’s a show for underdogs. Our performers and fans love the show because of the spirit of community that our room has.

Simon Gorsak: In terms of future hopes? It would be dope if some more comedy royalty dropped in and graced our coffee table with their genius. Mike Birbiglia? Harland Williams? John Mulaney? Jon Dore would be a dream, same with Nathan Fielder, Rory Scovel or Eugene Mirman. Can Interrobang arrange that for us? For serious though? We just want to keep doing our favourite show at the Black Dog Freehouse every Thursday at 9pm.

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1 Comment

  1. Rich G

    January 21, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    The comedians from Edmonton are THE BEST !