It’s the night of the first big snowfall, and that sound you’re hearing is the explosion of standup comedy in Whitehorse.
At the Jarvis Street Saloon, it’s round three of the Punchline Punchout, a competition that pits five teams of comics against each other in five-minute sets, followed by an elimination round of impromptu rants on topics shouted out by the audience.
Make no mistake. These comics are working it.
By the time the show starts half an hour late, this is one noisy crowd. Noisy as in high-volume conversations competing with the performers.
The show’s producer and host for the evening, veteran comic Anthony Trombetta, has an explanation.
“Everyone had decided that winter has begun, so it had that feel of everybody just getting their booze on for winter.”
It was Trombetta and some of the other regulars of Comedy Night at the Jarvis Street Saloon who hit on the idea of pairing more experienced performers with newcomers to the standup scene in a competitive environment.
Their goal was to bring more would-be comics out of the woodwork, and entice bigger audiences to what Trombetta calls “a new leaf on the art tree”.
The first night of the competition yielded a big surprise, thanks to a first-time performer.
“Meagan Lang came out of absolutely nowhere and just walked up to the mic and had a very, very personal, unique style that was very much standup and very much different.”
Lang and her “veteran” partner, Shannon Mallory, took an early lead in the smackdown, which Mallory cinched the second night, when she was paired with Lang’s brother, Graham, in his own standup debut.
Minutes before the third round is set to start, what is going through Meagan Lang’s mind as she waits to perform for just the second time?
“Don’t screw up. Right now, I just want to get off the stage with a little bit of dignity,” she says.
Her more seasoned team captain, Mallory, picks up the thread.
“Well, you’re always nervous, and you always want to be on your toes,” she says. “I’m actually anxious for it to get started. The waiting is hard,” she adds.
Trombetta knows the feeling, even though he’s performed countless times, both in the Yukon and elsewhere.
“It’s pretty frightening, to put yourself up there to perform for people, without the benefit of any sort of fourth-wall kind of thing, or a character to hide behind, or any of that stuff,” he says.
“It’s very instant, it’s very there. It’s pretty overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming.”
This night’s comic fare covers every topic imaginable, from George Maratos talking about his boyhood hamster, Spunky, to Steve McGovern’s complaint about people gloating over what he and his fellow letter carriers have to face in winter.
There are bedroom jokes and bathroom jokes – an iPhone dropped into the toilet while texting. There are jokes about the “fun” of teaching elementary school, and Lang’s fears of what her new Vancouver boyfriend will learn about her when he comes north – including the fact she’s a Yukon Party member.
There’s the odd political zinger, such as Trombetta’s “easy” solution to homelessness, “Like, how big is Liz Hanson’s backyard?” which fetches one of the evening’s best responses.
In the one-minute “rant round”, topics run the gamut from Q-tips to Bell’s Palsy to early Christmas.
When the two judges have tallied up the points, Lang is disappointed that she and Mallory are the evening’s runner-ups, although they’re still on top overall.
“Getting punched out in the first round of the rant is tough to take, but I wasn’t prepared, you know.”
Then her natural competitiveness comes to the fore.
“We’re going to keep on, and I’m confident we’re going to take this thing.”
The standup explosion continues with two more rounds of Punchline Punchout, November 24 and December 8, at 9 p.m.
On Friday, December 2, the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and other women’s groups will host Montreal comic Deanne Smith’s show, Deanne Smith Lacks Focus, at 8 p.m. at the Beringia Centre (admission $10).
That will be followed the next night at Jarvis Street Saloon with a “vagina-friendly” Comedy Contest Spectacular, which challenges local comics to present material that counters sexual stereotypes. Both events are part of the 12 Days to End Violence Against Women campaign.
For those wanting more laughs, the Guild Theatre’s monthly comedy fundraiser will take place December 10. Admission is $5.