Co­me­di­ans tackle solo Fringe fest shows

As sim­i­lar as standup and one-per­son plays may seem, per­form­ers of­ten find that the in­ti­macy of the­atre brings forth deeper emo­tions

The Georgia Straight - - Fringe Festival -

S> BY GUY MACPHER­SON

tandup comics have al­ways been on the fringe of so­ci­ety, so it’s only nat­u­ral that so many of them would be tak­ing to Fringe fes­ti­vals the world over. To the un­trained eye, comedic one-per­son shows look al­most iden­ti­cal to a standup set. But they are very dif­fer­ent an­i­mals. Ide­ally, the for­mer will in­clude a the­matic through­line and a dra­matic arc rather than just a series of hi­lar­i­ous, but dis­parate, jokes.

“In standup, if they’re not laugh­ing, you’re bomb­ing,” says 43-year-old co­me­di­an­ac­tor Andy Cañete, who brings The Cañete Chroñi­cles to Stu­dio 16 at this year’s Van­cou­ver Fringe Fes­ti­val. “It’s pretty sim­ple. It’s a dif­fer­ent dy­namic.”

The Cañete Chroñi­cles, about the comic’s crazy ex­pe­ri­ences from 20 years in Van­cou­ver after mov­ing here from Chile at the age of 23, is one of many pro­duc­tions from standup comics at the Fringe this year, in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, Efthimios Na­siopou­los’s Dis­en­gaged (Stu­dio 16), Katharine Ferns’s Katharine Ferns Is in Stitches (Per­for­mance Works), Da­monde Tschrit­ter’s The Mes­sen­ger (Cultch His­toric The­atre), Marylee Stephen­son’s Tightrope Talk­ing (Stu­dio 16), and Tim Lee’s Sci­en­tist Turned Co­me­dian (False Creek Com­mu­nity Cen­tre).

In Cañete’s first Fringe show, Porn and Pinochet in 2015, he no­ticed an­other dif­fer­ence. In a bit adapted from his standup act, he talked about the cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment he re­ceived from his par­ents grow­ing up.

In com­edy rooms, it got the re­sponse he in­tended. “They laughed at my pain,” he says. “Then I did it at the Fringe and I got crick­ets. Peo­ple weren’t laugh­ing; they just felt bad. I re­al­ized pretty quick it’s a very dif­fer­ent vibe do­ing a standup show and a one-man show.”

Na­siopou­los, an­other Van­cou­ver-based standup comic, says those “crick­ets” help bring emo­tional depth to his per­for­mances. In Dis­en­gaged, about his many failed re­la­tion­ships, the for­mer Toron­to­nian doesn’t feel the need to al­ways go for the gag.

“It’s not standup at all; it’s sto­ry­telling,” he says. “You’re not writ­ing for jokes every 20 sec­onds or what­ever; you’re just telling sto­ries and peo­ple are en­gaged in the sto­ries. You’re go­ing to get the laughs and emo­tion out of it that way. The story is funny but I’m not try­ing to get laughs all the time. There are more dips, I find, when it’s not standup.”

Noth­ing drives this home like Ferns’s show about “be­ing in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, go­ing to the po­lice, go­ing through the court sys­tem, go­ing through the med­i­cal in­dus­try, all the com­pli­ca­tions of surgery, and how I was failed by sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions and then how I came out the other end and sur­vived. It’s a pretty bru­tal story,” she says on the phone from her home in Manch­ester, Eng­land, a day be­fore trav­el­ling back to the city where she started standup back in 2012. Then she adds, laugh­ing, “Oh yeah, by the way, it’s a re­ally funny show!”

A grad­u­ate of Emily Carr Univer­sity of Art + De­sign, Ferns did her first standup set on a dare while study­ing paint­ing. “I was do­ing four or five gigs a week while I was study­ing for my fi­nal,” she says. “I was paint­ing these hor­ri­bly de­press­ing paint­ings while writ­ing dick jokes at the same time.”

Her the­sis, iron­i­cally enough, was “how lan­guage is lim­it­ing and maybe we need vis­ual lan­guage to express our­selves. And then all of a sud­den, I get on-stage and I have all these things to talk about.”

And Fringe shows al­low her to delve a lit­tle deeper and darker. “There are se­ri­ous, dra­matic mo­ments but there are still a lot of jokes,” she says. “Every­one deals with trauma dif­fer­ently, but the way that I’ve de­cided to do it is by stand­ing on-stage. I think through com­edy I feel em­pow­ered. I think com­edy is a use­ful tool to talk about things that are very dark and very hard to talk about, but it’s ac­ces­si­ble through com­edy.”

Open­ing up in such a pub­lic way is cathar­tic. Na­siopou­los, who broke off two en­gage­ments months be­fore the sched­uled wed­dings, says: “It prob­a­bly took me un­til I started do­ing this show to kinda re­ally put it be­hind me, to be hon­est. I never re­ally talked about it or got into it.”

He claims writ­ing and per­form­ing Dis­en­gaged has also helped him with his standup. In­stead of avoid­ing silent mo­ments, he’s learned to em­brace them.

“I can take my time,” he says. “Now in standup I’m more com­fort­able in adding de­tails and build­ing a story and not wor­ry­ing if the crowd is laugh­ing be­cause I know they’re en­gaged in the way I’m telling it, even if it’s tak­ing me longer to get them to where I need them to go.”

“The big­gest thing for a comic is you don’t have to be afraid of the si­lence,” says Cañete. “That takes a long time to get over.” He also thinks Fringe au­di­ences are just gen­er­ally with him, not against him, as can of­ten be the case in com­edy clubs. “They have em­pa­thy,” he says. “They’re kinda bet­ter peo­ple. They’re nicer. And they have an at­ten­tion span that lasts longer than five sec­onds.”

Dis­en­gaged; Katharine Ferns Is in Stitches; The Cañete Chroñi­cles

Clock­wise from top: Katharine Ferns stars in talks re­la­tion­ships in Andy Cañete re­lates Efthimios Na­siopou­los (Brit­tany Wil­lacy photo).

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