Your crash course introduction to the Vancouver comedy scene
By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager
As much as people love to complain about Vancouver’s weather and economy, this city has a lot of things going for it. Easy access to world-class nature, an extensive transit system, and one of the best clusterings of musicians in the country, and yet one of Vancouver’s shiniest features is also one that often goes unnoticed: its bustling and constantly evolving comedy scene.
The truth is, we’re spoiled in Vancouver and we don’t even realize it. On almost any given night, you can go out and see a hilarious comedy show for less than a six-pack of your favourite locally-sourced microbrew. And the city’s about to get even funnier for the rest of February, as Vancouver welcomes the Just for Laughs Northwest 2016 comedy festival from February 18–27. While a large percentage of the performers listed come from an international scale (including Lewis Black, Wanda Sykes, and Trevor Noah), there’s a plethora of local talent also sharing the roster.
In honour of the upcoming Just for Laughs festival, I offer to you a crash course of some of the different aspects of Vancouver’s comedy scene by going over some of the different forms of comedy you see, some of the best places to catch local talent, the best comedy podcasts based out of our city, and even how you can get started in comedy yourself.
Types of comedy you’ll encounter
This might be an obvious one for some readers, but there’s a wide range of different comedy to salivate over in Vancouver, including three common types.
Improv: Ignore all the Agent Michael Scarn jokes you may have been exposed to, or the “improv as a cult” plot from last season on Bojack Horseman. Sure, like almost anything, when improv is bad, it’s bad, but when improv is good, it’s unbelievably good. The shortened term for “improvisational theatre,” improv involves a group of performers combining games and scenes with suggestions from the audience. The result is a generally fast-paced, not-always-sensical barrage of comedy that you’ve often had a part in creating. Improv troupes usually include two or more members.
Stand-up: Whereas improv is more group-based and in-the-moment, stand-up usually involves a single comedian at a time performing a “set” of jokes they’ve told previously. There’s an element of spontaneity that comes with stand-up, as comedians have to gauge the crowd as their set goes on and adjust, but often most of the jokes are decided on ahead of time.
Sketch: If you’ve ever seen an episode of Saturday Night Live or Portlandia, you’ve seen sketch comedy in action. Actors take on different characters depending on the sketch and perform in a predetermined way, with a general direction already in place. Sometimes the sketches are performed in-person and sometimes these sketches are prerecorded and released online, but often live shows will feature a combination of the two.
Other: It would be impossible to group all comedy into just a handful of categories—though a large percentage fall under one of the above three—so this fourth category is for all the unique outliers. For example, Paul Anthony’s Talent Time is a monthly variety show held at the Rio Theatre where Anthony brings together an assortment of acts ranging from child protégés to standard stand-up comedians. There are a lot of fun and unique shows around Vancouver.
Best places to laugh your ass off
There’s fantastic comedy everywhere in Vancouver, ranging from concert venues to the straight-up comedy clubs like The Comedy Mix and Yuk Yuk’s, but some of the best and most original acts I’ve witnessed took place outside of those spaces. These are a few of the staple locations in the Vancouver scene, though keep in mind that there are new rooms and weekly nights popping up all the time.
Little Mountain Gallery (LMG): Dubbed an “independently operated art gallery, theatre, and community space” on their website, LMG is one of the most reliable sources of comedy in Vancouver. In the month of February, there’s something happening every night aside from Sundays and Mondays, including Jokes Please stand-up every Thursday and Little Mountain Improv on Tuesdays. They also have hilarious monthly shows, such as Rapp Battlez Wezt Coazt and The Lady Show.
Havana: Commercial Drive cornerstone Havana is a theatre that plays host to a revolving door of plays, but also a wealth of improv, ranging from the long-form Cagematch Improv on Friday evenings to the 10-person free-for-all Streetfight Improv! on Sunday evenings. There is also a ton of other Instant Theatre-run evenings happening at Havana, which you can stay on top of by visiting their website.
The China Cloud: Somewhat hidden on Main Street between Pender and Keefer Street is The China Cloud, another gallery space that frequently hosts musicians, visual artists, and comedians alike. It’s also the home base for monthly regulars like The Hero Show and its spinoff Sidekicks.
Hot Art Wet City (HAWC): While the name itself is almost a reason enough to include this gallery on this list, the impressive roster of regular shows is what seals HAWC’s fate as a local gem. Vancouverite: A Comedy Show has comedians take a humorous look at life in our fair city, Kyle Bottom’s Comedy Bucket combines riffing with audience suggestions (drawn from, you guessed it, a bucket), and new addition Teenage Dirtbag forces comedians to drudge up memories from their youthful years.
Vancouver-based podcasts that bring the funny to you
Not all comedy in Vancouver requires you to leave the comfort of your own home. Avoid crowds and the need to put on a pair of pants by staying in and diving into any of these homegrown podcasts.
Stop Podcasting Yourself: To have over 400 episodes of anything, you have to be doing something right. Since 2008, co-hosts Dave Shumka and Graham Clark have been gracing the podcast universe with their banter and hearty laughter. Each week the pair is joined by an equally funny guest, with topics including, well, just about anything.
Retail Nightmares: Because almost everyone has served a stint in the nightmarish world of retail, “co-ghosts” Alicia Tobin and Jessica Delisle are here to find the humour in an otherwise bleak part of humanity. They are also joined by a weekly guest—usually a musician or comedian—and they all share past retail nightmares, provides advice during the Alicia’s Self-Help Corner segment, and fawn over adorable animals and things through the Puppy of the Week one.
Become a comedian yourself
Thanks to this feature, you’re essentially a connoisseur of Vancouver comedy, but now you’re craving a piece of that laughter for yourself? Every comedian was a beginner at some point, so why not take the comedic plunge and check out one of these companies yourself? Who knows, maybe one day it’ll be your name being mentioned in a college newspaper’s article profiling local comedy.
Improv Comedy Institute: Run by Vancouver Theatre Sports League and located on Granville Island, the Improv Comedy Institute offers introductory courses on things like environment, character, and spontaneity, and more advanced levels for people wishing to further their improv skills. They even have a performance-only Rookie League people can audition for, though we might be getting ahead of ourselves.
Blind Tiger Comedy: Founded by members of two of Vancouver’s most prolific comedy groups, Hip.Bang! and The Sunday Service, Blind Tiger Comedy operates out of Little Mountain Gallery, and offers a range of stand-up, sketch, and improv courses.
Instant Theatre Company: You’ll quickly realize how expensive comedy lessons can be, but Instant Theatre offers an affordable introduction to the world of improv with a once weekly three-week class for only $59 if you get early bird pricing. They also offer stand-up and sketch courses at their East Broadway shop.
Stray advice that didn’t fit in the above categories
Always check before you go: With something as nebulous as comedy in Vancouver, it’s constantly shifting—by the time this article hits stands, it’s entirely possible that some regular shows may have ended. A lot of the more popular shows also sell out well in advance, so keep your eyes on social media and the ’net to avoid future heartbreak.
When is it appropriate to heckle at shows?
Trick question, and the answer is never. Even if it’s a more experienced comedian and they can hold their own against a heckler, that doesn’t make it okay to actively work to sabotage the performer. No one is paying money to hear you talk, so whenever someone’s onstage, make sure the only thing coming out of your pie hole is guffaws.
There are dozens more venues, comedians, shows, and projects that also deserve your love and admiration, but the laws of the word count bind me. My hope is that you don’t take this feature as an exact guide, but rather a jumping off point on your journey to discovering Vancouver’s comedy scene. After all, there’s a bustling community only a bus or SkyTrain ride away.