Fundy Fringe Festival Wrap Up

If you are reading a blog post on JonForward.com, I assume you are aware that I was a part of the Fundy Fringe Festival last week (Aug 19-23rd 2015 for the historical record). It was a great experience, so I thought I would post some thoughts.

There we a lot of new experiences doing this run. Prior to this, I had only done sets longer than 10-15 minutes twice. The first time was for the Hoveland live show during the CBC Comedy Coup contest and the second time was at the first Epic Comedy show at the Pub Down Under this year. I have lots of material, but I didn’t have much experience transitioning between my bits. It was a big step to work out a 30 minute headline spot.

The way the local scene is currently not really set up for a set this long. Around here, it is mostly 7-15 minute spots for the vast majority of the local acts. Then there are the 60+ minute sets for headliners. Those spots usually go to out of town touring acts. From what I understand, in most markets, they have a “middle”. If those spots were available, that’s probably where I’d put myself on a show. There’s a host, maybe an opener doing a shorter set, a middle and then the headliner. I probably have at least an hour of material, but not all good stuff. The 30 minute set I did on this run was all pretty polished.

Aside from a couple of new lines here and there on my older bits, the newest thing was my “horror comedy” bit. That was fun to do, but it’s hard to tell how well it went over since there aren’t really supposed to be many big laughs. It was more about creating a mood. I am a pretty big horror fan and I wanted to write something along those lines. There are a lot of funny horror movies, but not many “scary” stand up jokes that I’ve heard … I guess I’m a trailblazer. I wanted to write the stand up equivalent of a horror comedy. It took me awhile to figure out what that would look like. I spend a week watching movies for inspiration …. Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Dead Alive, Slither, The Thing. Fans of those movies can probably spot the ideas I lifted from them (or was “inspired by” or “paying homage to”). The master stroke was the idea of telling the story with the lights out and a flashlight pointed at my face from below … campfire story style. My wife helped me come up with that. It is a pretty gross story and the flashlight thing really helps create the tone and sells it. I’m not sure it would work out well without that bit of theatrics. The Fundy Fringe was a good place to try that as most comedy shows can’t really do lighting cues (thanks to our tech, Joe).

It took a couple of nights to figure out which jokes I had time for and to figure out how to get from one to the other. Five shows in five nights is a great way to work it out. Unfortunately, there isn’t a big enough market around here to do several shows every week. That’s a pretty important thing to be able to do if you want to get good. My best stuff is the jokes that I have done the most times. Each one gets better each time it is performed in front of a good audience. Even if I lost money on the Fringe Fest shows, it would have been worth it to get to work out a really solid half hour set … even if I might not get many opportunities to break it out. At least I have it in my back pocket should the opportunity arise.

Speaking of money, this was the first time I’ve put on a show that had my own money on the line. It cost money to apply to the Fringe, more once I got accepted and then a little bit on getting some nice posters printed. Fortunately, we made back the investment and then some. It wasn’t a huge payday or anything, but it was nice to be able to pay the other people on the show and keep a bit for myself. Given the amount of work we all put into planning, writing, promotion and performing … we probably made less than minimum wage, but we had a good time … priceless!

Adam and James from Hoveland (with a special appearance from Rick Gold) hosted the show. I always like working with those guys and they really made the show special. Having some sketch comedy stuff on the show was great. Funny is funny and I like mixing styles. I want people in Saint John to get a taste of all of their comedy options. No one particular comedian or whatever is going to be to everyone’s taste. The more variety we have in the comedy scene, the bigger the audience we will have. I was a little stressed out in the lead up to the show because it was all still coming together right up until the last minute. Given the strict timing I wanted for the show to have … I was worried that they would run long and that the lost time would come out of my set like during the No Jokes Barred anniversary show. It all worked out great and I am happy with how it turned out. They have a really funny webseries on YouTube. Everything is up on their website, so check out Hoveland.ca if you haven’t seen them before. Special thanks to Adam for also working on the poster and the promo video.

Trevor Muxworthy from Fredericton also did a set each night of the Festival. He is one of my favourite comedians to work with. As the fearless leader of the Fredericton United Comedy Collective (FUCC), he runs a monthly show at the Wilser’s Room in Fredericton the first Thursday every month. The first time I did one of those shows was January 2014 and it was a big step forward. Before then, I had mostly been doing stand up at music open mics. This was one of the first times I did a show for people who came to see comedy on purpose. Having to stop for laughter on a punch line is very different than my prior experiences. Trevor is a great comedian and has always been supportive. He was a hard act to follow and I was glad to have the added pressure to do a good job.

The Friday and Sunday shows during the Fringe were two of the best shows I have ever done. Every one of us on stage nailed it and the audiences were awesome. The other three shows were good too, but the audiences were hard to get big laughs from. During the first two shows, we were still working things out and it probably showed. As comedians, a sober audience is always tough to crack. Drunk people laugh more I guess. I’m not sure what happened on Saturday. It was still a good show and audience, but not a “great” one. It probably felt worse than it actually was just because it followed the amazing Friday night show. I wasn’t sure how the 5pm Sunday show would go, but it ended up being the best one of the run. Trevor in particular was on fire for that last one. It was the best I’ve ever seen him. He must get invigorated by strangers seeing him shirtless.

As good as it all went, I still kind of felt like we were the red-headed stepchild of the Festival. I’m not sure how it compared to other shows, but it felt like attendance from festival volunteers and other performers was pretty sparse. One other show, which shall remain nameless, made a big thing about being “by far, the most offensive show during the entire festival”. Not that it is a huge badge of honour or even the goal, but they didn’t come close to us. There were a lot of jokes about hilariousness of two men performing sexual acts together. I find the gay panic stuff offensive, but probably not in the way they intended. They conceded that it might have been a tie with another show (not ours). The other show was also less “offensive” than ours, but it was at least more maturely offensive. At the end of their show, they incorporated a bunch of other show names into it, but no No Jokes Barred. Maybe the 4 min tease we did on the Tuesday before the shows kicked off didn’t make enough of an impression.

To be honest, I didn’t really take the “Big Tease” very seriously. I didn’t have any full jokes I could do in 4 minutes, so I tossed off two of my few short ones … and flubbed my opening line. Next, I brought out the Hoveland boys. They argued a bit in character and had some funny answers to the Fringe Trivia question. It wasn’t terrible, but it might have sparked more interest if we had given more of a preview of the show instead of just telling people what they were in for. Show, don’t tell. Lesson learned.

The last three shows were filmed. Once it is edited, it will go up on the internet. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I am glad that I have these shows on tape. It was a really great show and I want people to see it. It will also be a great thing to send people if I am trying to get booked on a show. On the other hand ... I don't really like the idea of people who just didn't feel like coming out to the show having free access to it online. I'm getting pretty tired of hearing “No, I'm not going to the show, but do you have any videos online?” I don't care about losing their $10 at the door. Anybody who wanted to go, but genuinely could not afford it could have been let in for free. I care about that one extra empty seat they could have filled. That's one less person laughing. You like like it better in person! Come fill my void with your laughter! If watching online is really the only option you have, I am glad to bring some joy into your life ... watch and enjoy. If you could have come and just didn't feel like it ... you can watch it online too, but you should poke yourself with something sharp for the duration as penance. You could also send me a recording of your laughter so I can play it for myself when I'm sad ... cash works too.

What about next year? I don’t know if I should do another stand up show or something else. The one man show monologues seemed to do well. Maybe I could do one of those. I have stories about teaching I could probably put together. I still haven’t figured out how to make them work as stand up, but maybe it is more suited to this kind of a show. That could be a clean set for me … wowsers. Maybe the Fringe Fest could legitimize it enough that I could shop it around to the school districts to see if I can get some of that big money giving my talk to teachers on their professional development days.

That doesn’t seem like it would be as fun as yelling into a mic at some fancy theater people about slamming my possessed dick in a car door. We’ll see ….