Bellying up to a comedy buffet

FunnyFest delivers everything from wily sketch comics to animal jokes

The eighth edition of FunnyFest the Calgary Comedy Festival is upon us. From now through May 11 at nine venues throughout the city anecdotes will be told punchlines will be delivered and laughter will ensue. Festival executive and artistic director Stu Hughes has seen his brainchild grow and evolve over its eight-year existence.

He is proud that FunnyFest has always done its part to challenge and enlighten its audiences while entertaining them as well. “We’re not going to just spoon-feed people what they want to hear” says Hughes. “The comedy festival has never been about that. It’s about exchanging ideas talking about some deeper issues and getting those belly laughs.”

Through a shift in the tone of many of its shows FunnyFest is looking to expand its reach. Hughes says that for most of its shows” we’re going for more of a PG audience. We want clever — we don’t want blue.”

If you want further proof that we have moved into the era of a kinder gentler FunnyFest you just have to look at this year’s inclusion of children’s shows at both Shaker’s Family Fun Centre and the Calgary Zoo. The zoo performances will feature animal-based material with just a bit of educational content rolled in.

The current festival lineup has more than 72 acts from all over the globe including acclaimed Canadian sketch comedy troupe the Frantics. The troupe includes veteran funnymen Dan Redican ( Puppets Who Kill ) Rick Green ( History Bites ) Peter Wildman ( The Red Green Show ) and Paul Chato who hope to demonstrate the sort of inspired comedic chemistry that landed the quartet their own Canadian comedy series back in the mid ’80s ( Four on the Floor ).

Live comedy fans can also take in performances by that “Canadian guy” Glen Foster who has always been able to provide hilarious examinations of the people places and attitudes of our great but humble nation. Familiar fest faces returning this year include Montreal native Ron Vaudry and Saskatoon’s Dez Reed. Through relentless touring both have built loyal fan bases both overseas and here in Canada.

Two top female comics from Los Angeles take to the FunnyFest stage this year. Laura Park has a dry upbeat style and the ability to create memorable characters while Debbie Lockhart amuses audiences with her knack for examining provocative subject matter in a playful light.

As always FunnyFest is presenting a wide variety of theme shows. These include a Canadian-versus-American comics showcase a battle of British comedians an intellectual comedy evening and an all-things-hockey show.

“We want to make FunnyFest into a world-class event” says Hughes. “One of the vehicles to help us do that will be our FunnyFest television special being taped on May 10.”

Each show of the 11-day festival features no fewer than six performers. For details on shows venues and tickets check out www.funnyfest.com.