George Maratos is a natural comedian.
The 29-year-old Whitehorse broadcaster has plenty of material to work with — from a boisterous Greek family who sends him colourful Christmas sweaters, to a love for late-night mojos from Tags.
Put him at a table with his friend and fellow comedian Anthony Trombetta, and it becomes difficult to get a word in edgewise between the quips and giggles.
On Tuesday afternoon the pair were sitting at a local coffee shop buzzing with excitement about the stage time that they, and other Yukon comedians, will get at this weekend’s Nakai Theatre Comedy Arts Festival.
“I really like Jesus jokes, for some reason,” said Trombetta. “Everything Jesus did was funny.
“The guy had thousands of followers; he must have had some pretty good material.
“He’s coming back, I hear,” Trombetta added, eliciting laughs from around the table.
Drawing on the success of last year’s homegrown talent night, the local comics — Maratos, Trombetta, Mike Ellis, Roy Ness, Kim Hawkins, Brian Fidler and Chris McNutt — will take the Westmark’s stage for two late shows on Friday and Saturday at 9:45 p.m.
Each night the show will be different.
For the past three months, the troupe has been writing and practising nearly two-hours worth of new material for the shows.
They have 15 new sketches, including songs and dancing, that may move the audience up from their chairs and get them dancing in the aisles, said Trombetta.
Want a preview? There’s one sketch about a lonely single mother who tries to pick up the boogey man in her son’s closet, another about a team, much like Siegfried and Roy, auditioning new acts for their show, and there are some local gags inspired by the upcoming Canada Winter Games, said Maratos.
They are all tied together through an ongoing variety show called Dr. Chuck-A-Lotz and the Makes-You-Giggle Gang.
“Think Partridge Family, only we can afford the good drugs,” said Maratos.
The rising profile of local comedians at this year’s festival mimics their success in their own grassroots projects.
Maratos, Trombetta and fellow comedian Mike Ellis launched their own comedy troupe in 2005, dubbed Jump the Shark.
(It was named for the now-infamous scene in Happy Days when Fonzie literally jumped over a shark — a move that essentially told the world that the show’s writers were out of ideas.)
Jump the Shark has played a number of comedy spots at local bars and snagged a few spots in the Longest Days Street Fair, The Arts in the Park performances and at Nakai’s Homegrown Festival.
And, Trombetta, who is now president of the Guild in Porter Creek, has launched a series of open-mike comedy nights that draw nearly 50 people to the theatre each month to see the locals perform.
“When we first started it was like: ‘Oh, cute, the Yukon people are going to do something funny,’” said Trombetta.
But now it seems the sky is the limit for the funny Yukoners.
This will be the first comedy fest under Nakai’s new artistic director David Skelton, who has been in the job since mid-August.
He handpicked some of the lineup from performers he’s seen on stage before, and others that he’s heard good things about from trusted friends.
Skelton also put feelers out locally to see if anyone wanted to perform, and was happy to find a lot of interest from Yukon comedians.
He was also happy to offer them more opportunities to get on stage.
“I was interested in seeing what they can do in a situation where a little bit more was asked of them,” said Skelton.
So Maratos will also open for Al Rae at the arts centre on Thursday, while Trombetta will open for Todd Butler at the Westmark on Friday.
The pairings give the locals a chance to hobnob with the higher-profile comedians.
Since Rae is currently artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and Butler is a 20-year veteran of the stage, both Maratos and Trombetta are thrilled with the networking opportunity.
There’s a lot of pressure because people are paying a lot of money to laugh, said Maratos.
But the troupe is more than up to the challenge, he added.
Then he left the coffee shop and headed to the Salvation Army store to buy a bikini for the show.
The comedy fest continues on Friday evening with stand-up comedian Todd Butler at the arts centre at 7 p.m. and ends with a heavy dose of local talent doing sketch comedy with the Yukon Comedy Jam at 9:45 p.m. at the Westmark.
The “Maniac” John Murphy starts off the Saturday shows at 7 p.m. at the Westmark with what’s billed as an “extravaganza that is not for the faint of heart.”
Afterward, at 8:30 p.m., Ellie Harvey, Diana Frances and Christine Lippa from Leave it to Cleavage explores the ins and outs of being a modern woman.
Then, the locals hit the stage yet again for another dose of homegrown humour at 9:45 p.m.
Tickets cost between $20 and $30 per show, while a festival pass will set you back $111.
They are available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office and at Arts Underground in the basement of the Hougen Centre.