This year’s JFL NorthWest is bringing a plethora of big-name comics from down south. Colin Quinn, Iliza Schlesinger, Jim Gaffigan, Trevor Noah, and Sarah Silverman are among the talented mirth-makers coming to Vancouver for the festival, which begins tonight, Feb. 16, and runs until Feb. 25.
But the festival also gives local comics a chance to shine. For example, in B-Sides with Chris Gordon (Feb. 21 at Biltmore at 9:30 p.m.), Calgary’s Gordon and top local headliners such as Graham Clark, Kyle Bottom and Efthimios Nasiopoulos will discuss a comedian’s creative process by featuring the rare and risky jokes they love to tell, then opening up to an audience Q&A.
The festival is also hosting a Best of the West series that features many of the best locally produced shows. Among them are Alicia Tobin’s Come Draw with Me, The Gentlemen Hecklers, Graham Clark’s Quiz Show, and more.
Meanwhile, one of the best-known names on the local scene, Ivan Decker, has been picked to open for both Iliza and Jim Gaffigan. Decker, whom Splitsider once named the Top Canadian Comedian Under 30 (he’s now 31), will also host the Just For Laughs Showcase at the Biltmore Cabaret on Feb. 21 (7 p.m. start, before the aforementioned B-Sides) and Yuk Yuk’s Vancouver Feb. 22 (8 p.m.). We talked to Decker about comedy festivals, scaring Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, and his online dating profile.
Q: When you started out, what did Vancouver have by way of comedy festivals?
A: I started out in about 2008. There was not really a festival per se. There was the Vancouver Comedy Festival, which was quite small. They would just kind of do a couple of theatre shows. They didn’t really get the clubs involved, they didn’t engage the local scene much. They would just bring in a lot of comics from L.A. I remember seeing Ian Bagg, a Canadian comic who lives in L.A., and he was interviewing people in the street, asking: “Did you know there was a Vancouver comedy festival?” And they were all like, “No! The what?” Now, with Just for Laughs involved, it’s become amazing.
Q: A lot of comedy fans would probably go down to Seattle, especially to (annual festival) Bumbershoot, which has a big comedy component. Did you ever play there?
A: We did, actually. There was one year that it was the Northwest Comedy Festival, before Just for Laughs got involved, and after it was rebranded from the Vancouver Comedy Festival. And four of us performed down there, and we got to see a lot of amazing acts. I embarrassed myself by walking into a green room with like Janeane Garofalo and Paul F. Tompkins, saying, “We want to watch the show!” And they’re like, “Who are you? We’re on in five minutes, get out of here!”
Q: Now, you’re opening up for Jim Gaffigan and Iliza Schlesinger.
A: Yes. These theatre shows are so cool to get to perform on. It’s such an enormous environment and the crowds are so fun in those shows. They’re already so excited to be there. The energy is such a different level than I’ve ever seen at a club.
Q: They’re two performers with different comedy stylings. Will you tailor your set accordingly?
A: I don’t know. Hadn’t really thought about it. I think I’ll probably do their material! No, I’ll probably do the same stuff. My style is not really specific to any type of crowd, at least that’s what I’ve tried to plan it to be.
Q: You performed at the Vintage Valentines evening at the Fox Cabaret this week. How was that?
A: It was good. The mayor was there, Mayor Gregor Robertson. He seemed skittish about the fact that I was a comedian. I think he assumed I was going to talk to him but I just did my set.
It was an odd set-up. People will try to shoehorn it (stand-up) in with a variety of acts. So there was music and then a burlesque number then more music then an intermission then another song and then me. When there’s live music at a bar, rarely are people just sitting quietly watching it. Usually there are conversations going on, people are trying to pick up chicks. Especially at a Valentine’s event. It was quite funny, I had to get up onstage and be like, “Hey, anybody want to listen?” It was challenging but definitely not the first I’ve been in that situation.
Q: A couple of years ago, a Vancouver website named you one of Vancouver’s most eligible bachelors, and linked to your online dating profile on Plentyoffish.com profile, which is still up.
A: Is it? I’ve gotta get a PR person or something. I have a girlfriend now. It didn’t really work. I didn’t get any messages from that. I think I got like one or two. It was sponsored by Plentyoffish.com, they put it together. I think they forgot to ask how much money I make. Every other guy on that list was an entrepreneur, or in real estate, or a film producer. They were all millionaires, except me. I had to go to this really awkward mixer, where they were all wearing suits and talking about how much money they’re making and properties and I’m like, “I don’t like the bus.”
Q: Did you meet your girlfriend the old-fashioned way, at a comedy show?
A: Yeah, actually. I did a fundraiser for the MS Society. MS is in my family. It’s a fundraiser I’ll do if I’m available. It’s kind of a fun show, they do it every year. She was there and messaged me afterwards.
Q: That’s perfect. You didn’t have to put in any work. You just had to do your set.
A: Yeah, all I had to was develop a great act over a decade. Spend ten years getting good at comedy, driving to northern Alberta doing jokes for oil-patch workers.
Q: Not to put you in an awkward position, but who are some of your favourite local comics who maybe deserve more attention than they’re getting?
A: I have a few people I love, I get excited when I see them on shows. I consider them to be mentors to me. Graham Clark can not be unmentioned. Charlie Demers is another, Erica Sigurdson, Katie-Ellen Humphries is also I think one of the funniest comedians in town, Kevin Banner, super-super funny. That core group. They’re all sort of the people I came up with. It’s awesome to have them around.
Q: Who is going to be in the lineup for the showcases?
A: It’s the best of the locals doing their best stuff. When you go out on an average night to comedy, you might see people working on new material or working on stuff, or people who are booked on the show because they have friends they can put in the crowd, not necessarily because they’re funny. But in a showcase, these are people handpicked by the festival and they’re being told, “Do your best seven minutes, because if it’s good we’ll bring you to Montreal and put you on television.”
For more info and tickets, visit jflnorthwest.com.