Yukon comics to take on Australia

Despite only having lived here off-and-on for two years, Ashley Saunders thinks she'd make a good mayor for Whitehorse. She's a "really good leader.

Despite only having lived here off-and-on for two years, Ashley Saunders thinks she’d make a good mayor for Whitehorse.

She’s a “really good leader.” After all, when she was growing up in Toronto, she was prom queen – for five years in a row.

Some may say that’s because she never graduated. Regardless, she still proudly wears her tiara.

If she were mayor, she would turn the old Canadian Tire building into a family fun centre, complete with roller coasters, a nightclub, petting zoo, waterpark, and indoor fireworks.

It would be “like, total fun,” just like her, she explains.

But she won’t be warming the mayor’s seat any time soon. Saunders is the creation of Claire Ness, daughter of comedian and writer Roy Ness, and one of four local performers who will travel to Adelaide, Australia in February to take part in the Adelaide Fringe Festival. The annual arts event runs from Feb. 15 to March 17.

Ness, 27, will be joined by Jenny Hamilton, George Maratos and Stephen McGovern. Together, the four performers make up Yukon Gold Comics. They will travel together and market themselves, but at the festival they will perform individually.

They need to raise around $70,000 to cover their expenses. While at Adelaide, they’ll be performing seven shows a week.

The group formed specifically to go to this festival, which is one of the largest fringe festivals in the world, said McGovern. They were invited after Eva Hamburg, an Australian director, watched one of the comedy nights at the Guild last year. She enjoyed the performances and mentioned them to a group she knows who is involved in the festival, said Maratos. At first, Hamilton, Maratos, and fellow comic Anthony Trembetta were invited, he said. Two spots later opened, and McGovern and Ness joined.

Trembetta is unable to travel to Australia with them, although he still performs on comedy nights in Whitehorse, said Maratos.

Each performer brings their own style of comedy to the group. Ness, who is also a clown, does character-based comedy and Hamilton tells stories.

McGovern, 29, has been doing stand-up for about five years, approximately the same amount of time the Whitehorse native has worked as a postal worker. The job gives him time to think of material, and audiences seem to resonate with stories about delivering mail, he said. Neither of his parents have attended his shows yet, he admits.

Maratos, 35, started doing comedy shortly after he moved here from British Columbia 10 years ago. He later studied improvisation at Second City in Toronto. One of the founders of Yukon’s comedy scene, he tries to incorporate improvisation into his stand-up routines and teaches improvisational acting at a youth program in Dawson during the winter.

It can be a hard art form to master, said Maratos, who draws on a lot of his personal experiences for his material.

“It’s like the toughest art form, for me. I mean, it’s not the toughest thing in the world, we’re not removing hearts here, but we’re breaking hearts with our hilarity. No, but to perform, you’re really throwing yourself out there. You’re presenting original material.

“Comedy’s one of those things: everybody thinks they’re funny. Not everybody thinks they can play the banjo or hit that high note, but everybody thinks they’re funny,” he said.

Good jokes are universal. But Ness, McGovern and Maratos have all performed outside of the Yukon and know the territory produces its own kind of humour. And because it’s likely many people in their audiences have never heard of the Yukon, let alone been here, they can use that in their shows, said Maratos.

“They don’t know the Yukon, so that’s kind of fun. We did that even in Toronto where they didn’t know anything, so you could actually throw out these, ‘Like, really, you guys really think that we have polar bears as crossing guards? Like, come on.’”

“The Yukon, it garners this weird response,” explained McGovern. “It’s almost like we’re ewoks, like everyone thinks we’re adorable because we’re from the Yukon – like ‘Oh my God, what’s it like up there?’ And you almost feel like they want to, like, rub the top of your head.”

He mimics a stranger’s concerns: “‘Like, you OK out there in the big world, little guy? There’s so many people. Don’t you want to go back to your house in the trees?’”

Maratos would like to see more comedy festivals in the Yukon.

Ashley Saunders, meanwhile, is looking forward to the beaches and the “hot dudes” of Australia. Her political aspirations in teh North won’t stop her from travelling down under.

“Oh, she’ll go,” said Ness. “She doesn’t have to be here all the time.”

The group has already applied for government funding to cover some of their costs. The comics will be holding fundraising activities throughout the territory over the next few months.

They will perform their show A Grizzly Took My Bebe from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 at the Guild. A comedy act from Australia will also be performing then. The Yukon Gold Comics will also be hosting a Halloween party at the Guild Hall on Oct. 26.

More information can be found at www.yukongoldcomics.com

Contact Meagan Gillmore at