Tokyo-born comedian Aiko Tanaka is one of the visiting performers featured in this year’s Yukon Comedy Festival, in both Whitehorse and Haines Junction
Ricard Eden makes no apology for putting the focus of the Yukon Comedy Festival on the performers as much as on the audience.
“We obviously want to bring up talent that residents are going to want to see and we want to make our ticket price affordable, but our festival is really focused on the performers,” Eden said.
“If we treat them really, really well, that means everyone is going to get a better show and that means we’re going to get more exciting performers who are willing to give us a break to come up here.”
When Eden arrived in the Yukon three years ago, he had several years of performance experience under his belt, but had only “dabbled a little bit” in standup comedy.
“Comedy’s a thing I had a lot of passion for for a long time. It’s a thing I’ve always really enjoyed, but my first sort of arts love was in music,” he said.
“I was a touring musician for a long time and a thing that occurred to me was that I’m better at giving other people the spotlight than taking it myself.”
As a professional marketer, Eden has cultivated various friendships in Canadian comedy circles, as well as in comedy networks in places such as New York and Los Angeles. Still, it was the breadth of local comedic talent that drew his attention when he was thinking of various options for initiating a festival of some kind in his new locale.
“Comedy was always a through-line for me, so I started introducing myself to the local community of comedians and seeing them perform. As somebody who’s lived all throughout Ontario and has travelled much of Canada, I had never seen the strength of talent that already existed up here, with such a small population,” Eden said.
“I knew it was something that deserved more spotlight, so that’s kind of what gave birth to the festival.”
A few years ago, he and local comedian George Maratos co-founded a not-for-profit group called the Yukon Comedy Collective, which led to the inaugural Yukon Comedy Festival in March of 2018.
“We didn’t call it a Whitehorse Comedy Festival for a reason. We wanted this to span the entirety of the Yukon. We’re a new festival, so we can’t go too big, but last year we brought some of our L.A. comics out to Dawson City and that was a really fun experience.”
This year’s event will run from Thursday, March 14 through Sunday, March 17 at three Whitehorse venues, with a Sunday show at the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction.
“I’m excited to see how that community will respond to this kind of comedy. I like doing these little experiments and seeing how it works out. This may mean we can do it more in other years,” he said.
“I think it’s important that we should be constantly experimenting and trying new things with this festival, so it doesn’t become stale in any way.”
At the same time as the Haines Junction performance, Filipino-Canadian comic Ron Josol will be doing a separate show at the Old Fire Hall, in conjunction with the Canadian Filipino Association of the Yukon (CFAY).
“We’re trying to be a diverse festival and we’re for everybody, so here’s a dedicated show for this community,” Eden said.
“We’ll see if that works and if it’s great, maybe we can do more stuff like that in the future. Maybe we can partner with more associations and different types of community and keep ourselves diverse.”
Both the Sunday shows are ticketed separately from the Thursday to Saturday main events. At noon on Saturday, there will be a free podcast event with Jon Gabrus, host of the L.A.-based High and Mighty podcast. Eden believes both the remoteness and a small population work to the festival’s advantage.
“It’s not every day that there’s something to do like there would be in a city the size of Toronto. So we’re able to take a little more risk, knowing that people are interested in risks,” he said.
“They’re interested in seeing performers that maybe they don’t have any information about, but they’re willing to take a chance and come to see them.”
As the festival’s artistic director, Eden’s goal is to book up-and-coming performers from places such as L.A., just before they become household names.
“I try to get the performers right before they break, performers who are going to be getting deals. And we definitely had that last year with Dave Merheje, who now has a Netflix special. Same thing with Dino Archie.
“So I try to make sure we’re right on the cusp, so that we get these really exciting performers that people go, ‘wow, they performed here before they really broke big.’”
As well as providing stage time for local comics, as hosts or opening acts in each of the festival shows, the organizers also make a point of providing opportunities for them to rub shoulders socially with the outside professionals. This effort has already borne fruit for Whitehorse comic Jenny Hamilton, who recently recorded a CD for Rad Land Records, a new comedy label created by L.A. comic Kyle Clark, who sought her out after seeing her perform in last year’s Yukon festival.
For more information about this year’s lineup, including times, ticket prices and venues, go to YukonComedyFestival.com.