Is comedy important in Canada?
It’s a necessary survival tool according to George Bowser, of Montreal-based musical comedy duo Bowser and Blue.
“We live in a place which is winter six months of the year, where six million people out of a population of 30 million don’t even want to be here, and the rest of us hardly see each other,” said Bowser.
“We’re all crammed into a sort of one-inch strip across the border and we ignore everybody else.
“None of us have quite figured out what’s going on. We just make jokes.”
Bowser, who plays guitar and bass, and Rick Blue, who plays guitar and harmonica, will make their Yukon debut next week.
They are the opening act for the Nakai Theatre’s four-day comedy festival, which begins January 12.
The two-man show comes highly recommended. Incumbent Prime minister Paul Martin told Elm Street Magazine the duo was his “favourite band,” according to their website.
There are competing stories about how the two English-born musicians first met.
It was the late 1970s in Montreal, and both were playing in rock bands.
“He used to stumble into bars and ask if he could jam with me and I allowed it from time to time,” said Bowser from his home in Montreal.
Blue, whose bio proudly states he has appeared on television naked, has a different take on their 1978 meeting.
“He had a gig and I had a P.A. system,” he said, adding that he had just arrived at Bowser’s house and still had his boots on.
As disco swept through the streets of Quebec, the bars cleared out. There was little call for a folk duo.
A new movement was on the horizon, however.
In the 1980s, comedy steamrolled over the country.
“In the ‘80s, comedy was actually called ‘the new rock’n’roll,’” Blue said.
Because they played for a number of years as the house band for a comedy club up the street, humour crept into their lyrics, he said.
Comedy is also “a folk thing,” according to Bowser.
“Folk and country music often are funny. You know, ‘Get your tongue out of your mouth I’m kissing you goodbye.’
“There is a place where music and comedy meet and that’s where we live.”
Mixing gags with gigs became part of the coming-of-age process for Bowser and Blue.
“It’s something that happens when you’re too old to do teenage ritual dance music,” Bowser said. “That happened to me at about age 29 or 30.”
After more than 20 years together, the musical duo has moved from performing in smoky bars to festival stages to television screens across the country.
Their resume includes 12 albums, nine TV specials, two films and six theatrical productions.
Their Whitehorse show will feature original songs and sketches that Bowser and Blue are taking across the country.
Organizing the yearly comedy festival is a mysterious process, according to Nakai Theatre’s artistic director Michael Clark.
While he has experimented with themes in the past, Clark said he doesn’t like narrowing the pool of performers to fit one main idea.
“I now prefer to let the theme emerge … to let the vibe of it emerge,” he said.
Instead, in planning this year’s festival, he focused on comedic diversity, making room for a wide variety of acts.
“I thought we should shake it up a bit and stir things around a little,” he said.
From the “primordial soup” of Canadian talent, Clark booked Bowser and Blue’s musical act, two theatre pieces, a dance troupe from Newfoundland and a number of standup comedians.
The Saturday night show will take a wooden turn with Don Bryan and Friends, an acclaimed ventriloquist who has performed with Eddie Murphy.
Clark hopes this will add a twist to the festival’s traditional stand-up night.
“He costs as much as a whole night of stand-up because he delivers like that,” Clark said.
“It’s a little sordid to talk about how much it costs, but it’s a big part of shipping people in from as far away as Newfoundland.”
The theatre pieces add a darker humour to the festival.
“The nice thing about theatre, compared to just comedy, is that it has more colours in it. It goes into dark places.
“Then, when you get back into the comedy, it’s that much more rich because you’ve been in a bit more dark place,” he added.
“It’s a different texture than someone just standing up cracking jokes.”
The edgiest performances will take the stage at the Comedy Jam, an open-mike session for pieces deemed too risky for the main stage.
“‘Do you want to do anything absolutely crazy? Anything you’ve never tried before? Anything you think is way too out there for a main stage audience? Bring it on,” Clark told performers.
The events will happen at the High Country Inn’s ballroom and at the Convention Centre, from Thursday to Sunday.
Comedy and beer are a good mix, Clark added. Moving the festival from the Yukon Arts Centre to the downtown hotel means comedy-goers will be able to indulge in liquor with their laughs.
The shows will start earlier this year with the first at 7:30 p.m. and the late shows getting underway at 9 p.m.
By bumping the start time up by 30 minutes, Clark hopes to make those late shows more accessible.
“It’s kind of that funky blue period right after Christmas and that’s why we programmed it now, to give everyone a lift into the new year.”
While Bowser and Blue are eager to entertain, they hope Yukoners will give them a hand in their ongoing hunt for new material, they said.
“I’d like to hear some jokes from you guys, to come away with some Whitehorse humour that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Bowser.