Make ’eM laugh

Fun­nyFest founder out to change the world

Calgary Herald - - EN­TER­TAIN­MENT - HEATH MCCOY HmCCoy@Cal­gary­Her­ald.Com TwiT­Ter@VanHeaTHen

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.”

Dean Bick­nell, Cal­gary Her­ald

Stu Hughes, founder of Fun­nyFest, says laugh­ter can be a cat­a­lyst for well-be­ing.

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