Levi MacDougall performs his standup comedy routine at Nite Owl, Calgary during the Sled Island 2017 Music and Arts Festival.
© J. Ashley Nixon
Saturday night was comedy night in Calgary for the Sled Island Music and Arts Festival as Nite Owl turned around their downstairs bar to make it nice and cozy. There were chairs to sit on. Even tables to put your beers on and books to read from the Library! I had to go back to the shelves on the stage and take a quick look at Chaos and Order by Stephen R. Donaldson. I thought it might help my understanding of the slogan on the t-shirt (Order from Chaos) worn by heavy metal band Sigil’s vocalist, the night before at Dickens Pub. I didn’t get in too deep as the punters were coming downstairs. I went over to the comfy sofas by the door, sat down and had a chat with a comedian and a comedienne as I was getting my cameras organized. Carina Morton, from Edmonton, was hosting the night and Tranna Wintour was hanging out with the other acts, Levi MacDougall, Marty Topps, Nour Hadidi and Bobby Warrener.
We got talking about what it takes to get into stand-up comedy and dealing with hecklers. Carina started doing stand-up about three years ago and has become a stalwart of the Edmonton comedy circuit, including appearances at The Underdogs of Comedy and running comedy night at the Express Alehouse. She’s “never really got over the nervousness of live performing but deals with it by not eating and drinking lots of water. In between introducing the other acts, she told some funny stories, including one about International Women’s Day and another about the calorific value of sperm. Good guidance if you are thinking of going on a diet.
Tranna Wintour stands up to the hecklers
Tranna Wintour, from Montreal, who declares herself to be a love child of Barbra Streisand and Andre Agassi, never really planned to get into stand up. But it happened because she has “always had this performance energy in me and for the longest time I didn’t know what to do with that, or what shape it would take”. She discovered that stand-up could bring together storytelling, music, and comedy and “that’s what I’ve been looking for my whole life” So, like most comedy acts, she got up and did an open mic session and it fired off from there.
We talked about heckling and how she manages with it on stage. She saw this as a bit of a Catch 22-you want to get feedback and audience participation, but then, you don’t want to get abused or put off by some rant or rave about your sexuality or something. When it does happen, she said “there is this split-second decision about how you handle it” and added, “Something that doesn’t get talked about a lot in comedy, especially for performers who are LGBTQ minorities or racial minorities is that sometimes on stage you don’t get heckled but you get hate speech directed at you…. Dealing with hatred from an audience member is a very different thing from heckling. A few times when I have had to deal with that myself, I really haven’t found a funny way to deal with it. I think it just has to be called out and shut down immediately.”
I asked Tranna how she strategizes on stage in that split second when you have to decide whether to engage with a heckler or shut them out? She said it depends upon the nature of the heckling “just how extreme it is, what they are heckling about, whether it comes from someone who is drunk or someone who is sober. There are so many factors and it really is a split-second decision.
Although it hasn’t happened often, when it does, she finds that “It always catches me off-guard. But I try to shut them down with a quick, funny insult and hopefully that shuts them up, and just move on.”
Tranna berated (in nice fashion) the audience when she came on stage “It took me two hours to get ready for you tonight, so I’m going to need a lot more than that!” She got her deserved applause and moved around in her big high heels with stories about Lady Gaga and the audience’s favourite divas. Fun stuff.
Nour Hadidi, a Toronto-based comedian has been featured on television and is a writing contributor to CBC Comedy. Her routine began with a splendid story about Americans confusing the basketball player, Michael, from the country (of her birth), Jordan.
Nour also performs and hosts The So Fresh’ n’ So Clean Comedy Show, part of Toronto’s only clean standup comedy show.
It’s unlikely that show opener Bobby Warrener, from Sylvan Lake, Alberta would get on that clean circuit, given his rude stories about texting girls and getting the spellings wrong. It makes you think twice about Ranch Dip.
Marty Topps came on stage prepared for a work out in his specially cut, body-part revealing, TapOut-like outfit. Gyrating across the stage with his Roland mini keyboard, his set included a song about relations with dolphins. Hilarious musical comedy!
And so the funny journey wound its way through to the headline act, Levi MacDougall. Hailing hazily from “some part of Canada” (it might well be Calgary?), this comic, writer and actor who has made numerous television and film appearances, began his set with a concern about being miscast. “When they asked me to do comedy at the Sled Island festival, I was a little surprised as I consider myself as a cowboy poet”, he said.
The cowboy theme came up repeatedly, with references to looking for wheat on stage and making horses laugh plus a funny one about his shoelaces. The best was his duo with Marty Topps providing Vangelis-like chords on his Roland as Levi went through a long tale about feet prints.
Hilarious stuff across the night from all of these comedy performers and a great contribution to the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival.
For more photos of live entertainment in Calgary, please visit my photo website, J. Ashley Nixon.