May 2019 marks Cory Mack’s 30th year as a comedian.So, clearly, she has not only come across the some of the best and brightest comedians in her travels but also has a keen sense when it comes to recognizing new talent.As co-founder of the YYComedy Festival, Mack has been bringing comedic talent to the city since 2012. This year, the comedians will take over the city from May 20 to May 25. At various venues across the city, the festival mixes and matches talent from Canada and beyond for a diverse evening of laughs.“Our whole thing is to connect Calgary to the world through laughter and our mission is more laughs for everybody,” says Mack, who produces the festival alongside Anna Gustafson. “It’s very much a curated festival. We don’t do applications. We don’t do showcases. We just work really hard to find people who we think would work well together. Really, I would say everybody on this festival is a headliner in their own right. They are really taking the world by storm.”Here are some highlights to look out for this year.
Jann Arden. Courtesy, YYComedy Festival.
Firecracker DepartmentSecond City alumni and a regular on CBC’s much missed Mr. D, comedian Naomi Snieckus now oversees the podcast Firecracker Department, which celebrates women in the industry. On May 22, Snieckus will feature hometown favourite Jann Arden, a singer who has been exercising her considerable comedy skills on her own CTV sitcom Jann as of late. We can’t imagine a more perfect guest for a Calgary crowd. It all happens at the Grand on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Emily Bilton. Courtesy, YYComedy Festival.
LocalsNot surprisingly, the festival gives a good deal of space to locals, or at least expats. This year, that includes Emily Bilton, a comedian, opera singer and drag performer who now lives in Toronto but while she was here founded Calgary’s Twister Sister, the city’s only queer standup showcase. Marito Lopez also lives in Toronto, but the El Salvador-born comedian began his standup career while living in Calgary’s northeast. Homegrown comedienne Allyson June Smith has shared the stage with Samantha Bee and Stephen Merchant, among others, and will be returning to Cowtown from her new home in Manchester. Nigel Lawrence is another expat, currently in Los Angeles but returning for YYC Calgary. Pete Zedlacker, recently part of the Snowed in Comedy tour, is from Wawa, Ont., but currently calls Calgary home, as does local favourite Brittany Lyseng, who was recently a semifinalist in the SiriusXM Canada’s Next Top Comic.
Gracie Allen and George Burns.
VenueOne of the major changes this year is that the historic GRAND will be the main venue for much of the festival. The 1912 building may be better known for its theatre productions these days, but it has a proud history in bringing in some of the biggest comedians to Cowtown in its heady heyday, including George Burns, the Marx Brothers and Jack Benny. Prior to that, it was part of the vaudeville circuit and operated by James Lougheed until his death in 1925.
Derek Seguin. Courtesy, YYComedy Festival.
Laughs en FrancaisCalgary has a healthy francophone population, so why not offer them some laughs as well? Bilingual comedian Derek Seguin will headline Tres Grand Spectacle on May 23 at the Grand, sharing the night with Quebec comedian Abdul Butt, who is the “fake news correspondent” for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and Charles Demers, a regular on CBC’s The Debaters (As an aside, the festival will also present the Debaters on May 21 at the Martha Cohen Theatre. )
Danish Anwar. Courtesy, YYComedy Festival.
Geographic trash talkComedy has no borders. Well, actually it does. On May 23 and 24 at the Grand, Russian-born Canuck comedian Danish Anwar will be hosting Your Hood’s a Joke. The popular showcase features comedians throwing trash in each other’s yards, making an argument about the supremacy of their respective country, province, city or neighbourhood. This year, it will have Emily Bilton representing Calgary’s southwest against Marito Lopez, who will be defending the city’s northeast. Brittany Lyseng will be presenting the relative merits of Calgary versus Sean Lacomber’s Edmonton. American comedian Mike Dambra will face off against Calgarian Malik Elassal for a U.S. versus Canada showdown. Derek Seguin will be arguing for Quebec, while Lisa Baker represents Newfoundland. Baker will also return to battle Erica Sigurdson, who will be trash-talking on behalf of British Columbia.The YYComedy Festival runs from May 20 to 25. For a full lineup, visit yycomedy.ca