Being Extra gives eccentric Calgarians a stage for their best storytelling tales

There’s always one.

There’s always that one guy or girl at a party who holds court, who can tell a story like nobody’s business, relate a tale of some crazy thing or — even the most mundane event — in the most entertaining and expressive of ways. (We’re looking at you, Chad Saunders …)

Well, take that and put it on a stage in a more formal but still relaxed setting and that’s the idea behind Being Extra, which debuts Wednesday, April 2 at the Commonwealth, with the hopes of turning it into a monthly event and a podcast down the road.

Prior to the inaugural show, one of its producers, Calgary comic Victoria Banner, spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: What is the idea behind Being Extra?

A: This is going to be a storytelling comedy show. It’s basically taking people that are minor local celebrities — someone who has hustle and a game. It’s taking a part of their lives and getting the craziest story from them, and to get them to tell that to an audience that’s going to feel that and may be more forgiving than … a standup audience.

Q: How do you go about picking these people?

A: Myself and two co-producers — one of them is Liam Prost and the other one is Jarett Sitter, and they are other artists around town and we’ve got a big network that we’re almost in awe of … people we’ve come across in our various careers. So the first one is going to be artists and people that we know and we’re impressed by what they’re doing in their own abilities … We’re hoping it’s going to be a podcast and a monthly thing, so hopefully the people that they see (Wednesday) are going to inspire people in the audience to be like, “Oh, I have a really eccentric person in my life and maybe they have a story,” and then we’re going to get the audience to try and pick the storytellers for us for future shows.

Q: How do you know they’re telling the truth? How do you know they’re not just bullshitting?

A: That’s a really good thing to ask. I think that the reward of telling a true story and having people not believe it is way more rewarding than telling a false story and having people being impressed by something you didn’t do …

Q: I’ve seen where you’ve said this is a popular thing in other cities.

A: Yeah, storytelling is definitely taking off. It’s a very post-modern form of comedy right now, because if you remember before the Internet was all just joke pictures that you’d send to each other all day every day you’d get one joke you’d laugh at for eight days. So I don’t feel that jokes — and I’m a comedian saying this — I don’t feel that jokes have the same amount of lasting effect and punchiness that they do. And I think stories and true stories have that, and so many comedians that I’ve met in Vancouver and Toronto and Chicago have all started storytelling shows and to entice people and let the audience know what they’re seeing they all have a theme. So I’ve got a friend in Chicago who runs a storytelling show where everyone tells a story of something that they’re ashamed of, and I know that the CBC is starting up a storytelling show where people tell dating stories, so I just wanted to get my foot in the door and … have the opportunity to have something that’s special and unique but that is also going to be enjoyed by people.

Q: So you’re not going to be telling any stories? 

A: Maybe in the future I will, maybe in the future my co-producers will, but for me this is about giving people that aren’t onstage telling crazy stories about their lives the opportunity to do that in a successful way. I can tell a crazy story about my life any time I want and I can deal with whether a crowd wants me to bomb or not, and so I want to give other people that feeling. As a standup I always feel like I want to be a rock star and every time I talk to a musician they’re like, “No, I want to be Henry Rollins.” So giving everyone the opportunity to be Henry Rollins for me is a thing that I think is pretty special.

Q: Who are the first storytellers?

A: (Among) the first storytellers we have is Danny Vacon, who is someone that I’ve thought about for a long time as soon as I came up with the idea for this. We also have a local comedian named Chris Gordon and he is probably my favourite comic in Calgary … We also have Angela Valiant, who is a radio DJ on X92.9 and she plays keyboard in a new band that’s been tearing it up … and Graham Mackenzie as well, he’s doing the East Town Get Down festival and he’s done some crazy stuff, too, I’m sure.

Q: Have you heard the stories?

A: No, I haven’t. I have no idea what anyone’s going to say. I don’t want to micro-manage, I just want to trust the people that I come across … I honestly have no idea if their stories are going to be good or bad, I just know that they’re going to have an emotional reaction from people, because these are outgoing people that are good at making things that make people happy. All these people make content for people and know how to make people happy, so I have faith that whatever they choose to bring to the table is going be unique and it’s going to elicit an emotional reaction.

We work with the audience before, before the storytellers go up we do a quick little preamble something like, “Hi guys, this isn’t a well-rehearsed TED Talk or anything like that, this is people sharing something that they thought was going to entertained.” There’s actually stuff you can do with audiences to disarm them and get them warmed up to know they’re allowed to react to a storyteller’s story. And that’s another beautiful thing about the medium of these storytellers show is when people come in to a standup comedy show or a magic show for that matter, some people go in to try and prove, “Oh, this person’s not funny,” or, “This magician isn’t actually magic,” but when an audience member comes to a storytelling show the only thing they’re promised is a story, so it’s very difficult to disappoint them.

Being Extra takes place Wednesday, May 7 at the Commonwealth Bar and Stage at 7:30 p.m.