What: Comedy Here Often? Presents: The Pretty Good Comedy Festival
Where: Various venues, including Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad St.), Hermann’s Jazz Club (753 View St.), and Hecklers Bar & Grill (123 Gorge Rd. E)
When: Aug. 20 to Aug. 24
Comedy at the large-venue level has always excelled in Victoria, with everyone from Jim Gaffigan and Jim Jefferies to Jay Leno and George Carlin doing big box-office here over the years.
The community of local stand-up comics has always been similarly strong, albeit on a smaller level. That appears to be changing for the better. Fans can expect to see big changes in the coming months as the city’s vibrant community of local stand-up performers, writers and podcast producers are seeing years of solid work come to fruition. That they are doing so without having to leave home is a big step in the right direction, according to longtime local comic Dan Duvall. “It’s really difficult to make money doing comedy in Canada, and it’s really difficult to get notoriety. Everybody looks south.”
There’s a new wave of in-person and online appreciation for local comedy, Duvall said, which has led to new opportunities — one of which is the first annual Pretty Good Comedy Festival, which gets underway Friday.
Produced by Duvall and Comedy Here Often?, a Vancouver record label and production company, the festiva comes along at an opportune time. Local comedy has been bubbling over during the past two years; seven local venues, including Hermann’s Jazz Club, The Mint, and the Victoria Event Centre, are now hosting regular comedy nights, with more being added by the month. A festival showcasing local and regional acts is definitely primed to succeed, pandemic notwithstanding.
“I don’t see a ceiling right now,” Duvall said. “It’s hard to gauge, because of COVID-19. But there has been a steady climb. I don’t see why it would slow down.”
The city’s longest-running comedy room, Hecklers Bar and Grill, is hosting an all-local showcase on Saturday as part of The Pretty Good Comedy Festival, but the Victoria Event Centre is the primary axis around which the multi-day event rotates through the weekend. All the rooms in the city that contribute to the comedy economy stand to benefit should the festival move the needle in the right direction this week, Duvall said.
“It takes a bunch of people to come together with the mindset of having a community where comedy is the common goal, rather than one’s self. We think there is enough comedy to go around.”
Shortly before the pandemic arrived, Duvall’s podcast, The Hate Locker, was signed to a deal with 604 Records, the Vancouver label co-founded by Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and entertainment lawyer Jonathan Simkin. That led to the creation of the largest podcast network in Canada, of which Duvall is one of the directors, with 38 regular contributors from across Canada and the U.S. Broadcast deals with the I Heart Radio network and Sirius XM have contributed to an increase in profile for a number of local comics, including Bryan O’Gorman and Katie-Ellen Humphries, both of whom now have their podcasts under the Comedy Here Often? banner.
O’Gorman, who runs comedy nights at Hermann’s Jazz Club, and Humphries are among the local talent appearing on stage at the festival. Alberta-born comedian Emily Woods, an event producer who hosts various comedy events at the Victoria Event Centre, will also be on stage at the festival. The 23-year-old Victoria resident is an example of the new wave of performers changing the face of comedy in Victoria. Through comedy classes she teaches, Woods said she is making an attempt to “diversify comedy,” and works with up-and-coming comics to develop skills which can be applied to a variety of forms and mediums.
“I really love the Victoria the comedy community,” said Woods, who spent the previous four years in the United Kingdom. “They are very diverse and supportive and open to new people. I showed up a year ago, and was impatient. But people accepted me right away. The city has been very inclusive for me, as a young, female comic.”
Inclusivity will play a key and ongoing role in the upwards arc of Victoria’s comedy community, Duvall said. “Victoria is a booming comedy town right now. What’s cool is how well this community works together. We get along here. And it’s not like that in every city.”