Founded in 2011, the YYComedy Festival is a not-for-profit organization bringing laughter to Calgary annually. The festival’s curated lineup boasts renowned comedians from across North America and beyond, as well as special presentations and industry panels for those working in — or considering venturing into — comedy.
Celebrating its eighth year, the 2019 YYComedy Festival kicks off Monday, May 20 at venues across the city with a lineup of stellar acts that are sure to make you smile, including Naomi Snieckus (Mr. D), Courtney Gilmour, British comedian James Mullinger, and Calgary’s own Jann Arden.
“Calgary knows comedy, there’s no question. And it’s only gotten better in the last decade,” says Anna Gustafson, YYComedy Festival producer. “We have a very strong comedy scene, and people understand the balance between whooping it up and paying attention to get a joke.”
The 2019 festival marks a new beginning of sorts, with organizers shaking up the usual run of performances to ensure that there’s not only something for everyone, but that everyone has an opportunity to experience first-class comedy throughout the week. “Traditionally the festival has consisted of a number of smaller shows with one gigantic gala on closing night. But what if people aren’t available for closing night?” says Gustafson. “So we’ve taken that star-studded gala and redistributed it out over the entire week.”
Growing out of Calgary’s designation as Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012, the YYComedy Festival now spans several venues, including Broken City and ATP’s Martha Cohen Theatre, with most performances taking place at The Grand.
“We want people in close, where they can see the faces of the comedian — and maybe even get a little comedian sweat on themselves. That’s where we think comedy is at its best,” explained Gustafson. “The Grand is the perfect space — it’s a super cool and luxurious theatre but not so large you can’t feel that connectedness of laughter in a special way. We want to nurture and create new fans of remarkable live comedy experiences and have them trust that we, as a festival, are going to deliver that each year.”
With performances throughout the week, Monday through Saturday, there’s a lot to choose from.
“If I had never been to the festival before,” says Gustafson, “I would look at all the shows and pick one that speaks to me. From Jann Arden being interviewed by Naomi Snieckus, to British comedian James Mullinger visiting Calgary for the first time, Courtney Gilmour and Pete Zedlacher, Elvira Kurt, Nigel Lawrence, and The El-Salomon’s — there’s not a dud in the bunch!”
I’m personally looking forward to the return of Steve Patterson and The Debaters (Tuesday, May 21 at Martha Cohen Theatre) and the Snieckus/Arden interview (Wednesday, May 22 at The Grand). I’ve seen Arden in concert a handful of times and she’s a remarkably natural comedian, entertaining audiences between sets in an unrehearsed, genuine way.
“If I was feeling a little brave I’d go to a late show and see the original territorial roast battle, Your Hood’s A Joke,” Gustafson continues. “Comedians you’ve seen on shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Just for Laughs, Comedy Central and more, as well as familiar voices from CBC’s The Debaters and Laugh Out Loud — both of which are recording at this year’s festival — will be there.”
We certainly are a city of festivals, with more than 90 by most counts, covering a broad range of topics from music, food, film and more, to cultural events, and festivals celebrating more niche genres like anime and tattoos. And after eight years as part of that landscape, the YYComedy Festival is proud of the fact it’s bringing Calgarians together in a meaningful way.
“Calgary is filled with people who are game changers — world and culture movers,” says Gustafson. “We have my favourite combination of things — a big city rooted in what is now a very diverse community. And people in Calgary seem to gravitate to festivals in such a natural way; I call it ‘being together’ culture.”
The 2019 YYComedy Festival runs Monday, May 20 to Saturday, May 25. Tickets range in price from free to $26 and are available through Eventbrite. For more information on performers and events, visit yycomedy.ca.
Shannon McClennan-Taylor is a writer, publicist, and arts/culture junkie with a bachelors in English Lit and a master’s in International Journalism. When not at the theatre, cinema, or record store, she’s probably knitting. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.