Comedian Andy Jones brings his Uncle Val persona to the Rodeo

The concept isn’t new — the blind man who “sees” more than most sighted people dates back to Oedipus and his buddy Tiresias. This year’s High Performance Rodeo presents the classic theme with a distinctly Newfoundland twist when Andy Jones brings his one-man show An Evening with Uncle Val to Calgary. Uncle Val is a septuagenarian who heads to St. John’s for a series of eye operations and brings his rural point of view to the big city. Jones feels that the outsider’s point of view is key not only for comedy but our national identity.

“We look to smaller places to be the storytellers” says Jones. “We’re such an urban culture in many ways we need to have the remove of seeing a different culture. Often if you’re watching a show that’s about Americans you think ‘Oh those ridiculous Americans.’ Of course it’s really you . But that little remove allows you to laugh. Maybe that’s why Canadians are so successful in America as comedians — they have that sense of being the outsider.”

Jones knows a thing or two about being a successful comedian. A former CODCO member who walked off of the television show at the peak of its fame over a censorship issue (“that was a CBC problem not a CODCO problem” he says) he has since thrown his considerable energy into films books and a number of critically acclaimed one-man shows. This is the fourth solo show he has brought to the Rodeo and he has a pretty good idea of what makes this often difficult form of theatre work. “I always want something to happen in the show — lots of variety and taking the audience down as many roads as possible as fast as possible.”

A strong character also helps and Jones’s Uncle Val has proven to be that even in other mediums. His Letters from Uncle Val program was heard on CBC radio and has since spawned a very popular audio book. One of the reasons the character is so strong is that he’s based on an actual person.

“I used this guy who was a very funny kind of dry witty chap who actually died in 1984. His name was Francis Colbert.” Jones and Colbert became fast friends on the folk festival circuit with Colbert even appearing in Andy’s feature film The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood . As the two bonded Andy started doing impressions of his friend right down to his Job’s Cove accent that eventually evolved into Uncle Val. “Some of the observations that Uncle Val makes are actually stories that Francis had told me.”

Jones is careful to place Uncle Val in his time — the ’80s — to ensure the accuracy of his anecdotes. That’s not to say this Newfoundlander “fish out of water” doesn’t have something to say that rings true today. In fact his being from what Jones calls “an older time” gives him even more insight into modern suburban life.

An Evening with Uncle Val also has a deeper significance for its creator. “The show has another whole level about when we started out as performers actors and artists in Newfoundland in the ’70s — what our dreams were and where we’ve ended up. To some extent that’s tied to our political dreams for Newfoundland too.”

Although Jones has no specific plans to carry Uncle Val into other projects he does keep the door open just in case. “If this goes well I could do Uncle Val Rides Again .”