Make ’eM laugh
FunnyFest founder out to change the world
Comedy as a catalyst for social change. As a means of self improvement. As a gift from God Himself. These are not the conversations a reporter expects to have when talking with the founder and artistic director of a local comedy festival on the eve of its annual launch.
Typically, this is a time when most festival heads go into full-on promo mode, as in: Here are the festival attractions and here’s why they’re the greatest thing since barbecued meats.
Granted, Stu Hughes, head of Calgary’s FunnyFest, now in its 11th year, does do a bit of that.
He talks up the top acts his festival is bringing to town today through to June 12 at various venues around the city. Acts such as Brooklyn’s Tommy Savitt, rising Saskatchewan comic Kelly Taylor and aboriginal comedian Paul Kuster.
He proudly pumps up the festival’s regional content, too. Thirtyfive per cent of the 70-plus featured comedians are Albertabased, and, Hughes insists, “per capita there’s more funny” in this province than anywhere else.
But his hyperactive pitch is all over the map and the interview keeps coming back to Hughes’ higher purpose.
“It is a mission” to make the world a better place through the power of laughter, he says.
“One of God’s greatest gifts is laughter,” Hughes says, with the zeal of a Sunday preacher. “It’s a catalyst for mental and physical well-being.
“You can bring people together with laughter and point the finger back at yourself. That’s how you make a successful individual. . . . When are the best moments of your life? When you’re laughing. Did it ever prevent you from getting something done? No. It probably helped you get more done.
“It helps you see the things in life that are important.”
After 11 years at the FunnyFest helm, surviving a number of lean years along the way, Hughes says his greatest challenge remains getting the word out about the quality on tap at the locally produced event.
He has yet to build FunnyFest into an instantly recognizable brand, like Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival.
“Those guys come to town and just because they’re on TV people will slap down $40 to see six comics,” Hughes says. “Why not slap down $15 and see 10 that are as good, if not better?
“We’re not price competing, but we want to make sure FunnyFest is accessible to every Calgarian. That’s part of our mandate, to increase the (festival’s) vitality.”
While he admits FunnyFest still has a way to go, Hughes believes that the event gets closer to his grand vision every year.
“We are trying to become this huge destination, comedy art event. Then we can become a catalyst for social change.”