While the devastating Alberta flood has revealed Calgary’s grit and community spirit, it also has shown how the city takes things in stride with a sense of humour. Witness the over $1-million raised for flood relief in “Hell or High Water” Stampede T-shirt sales (or the kids’ version, “Heck or High Water”). Sometimes in a crisis you need a good laugh. That’s where the city’s vibrant comedy scene comes in.
“Calgary has been a wonderful stomping grounds for comedians” says local actor and comedian Andrew Phung. “It’s very cultural. It’s very young. It’s very inclusive.”
Phung, who was voted top actor this year by the arts weekly FFWD, grew up watching “improv gods” perform at Loose Moose Theatre (its alumni include Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney). Here, he offers five ways to experience Calgary beyond the cowboys:
Loose Moose Theatre Company
“It’s a hotbed of Canada’s best improv. This is its 35th year of existence. For adults, we do mainly improvisation and improv shows. This year we did a show called Kung Fu Panties, which is a full-on action movie with three kick-butt female leads. For kids, we do shows such as The Three Mooseketeers. We do it to engage a young audience, but also so adults will laugh. We were just voted best local theatre.” Crossroads Market, 1235 - 26th Ave. SE; loosemoose.com
Comedy Monday Nights
“Comedy Monday Nights is one of the biggest open mics in Canada. It takes place at a downtown pub called Broken City. What I love is the mix of comedians. You get these comedians that you hear about from L.A. who are touring. You get the middle guys and you get the new guys. Everyone cheers this guy or girl on because they all fear being up there. I love coming back and seeing people develop their routine.” 613 - 11th Ave. SW; brokencity.ca
The Laugh Shop
“It used to be a Yuk Yuk’s. This year they brought in Norm Macdonald and they’re bringing in Tracy Morgan. They also brought in Marc Maron, who has one of the biggest comedy podcasts. Some weeks they’ll bring in someone from Toronto like Debra DiGiovanni and they feature a lot of Alberta talent. They’re just going for it. They run shows Thursday to Saturday.” Hotel Blackfoot, 5940 Blackfoot Trail SE, thelaughshopcalgary.com
“All of the improv companies will do shows the same week. It’s once a month from October to June. And it’s usually led by the Kinkonauts. They do a bunch of shows in the basement of this church. Then all the groups started doing it. So the Kinkonauts do their shows. Dirty Laundry does their soaps. The Improv Guild does their regular shows. We do our shows. We calculated there’s 13 to 15 improv shows taking place from Monday to Saturday that week.” The next Improv Week is scheduled for Oct. 14 to 19.
This interview has been edited and condensed.