Author’s Note: This article is a companion of the piece which appears in Print Issue #7 of The Phoenix News’ 2022-2023 run with the same title. Though you can read this article on its own, I would highly recommend you read the print segment as well for a better understanding of what comedy is and what it means to the comedians I interviewed. Happy reading!
I’ve been an avid consumer of stand-up comedy for the past few years because of the wonders of technology allowing comedians to post their material on social media and YouTube. With comedy easily accessible online, audiences around the world have boosted the careers of small-time comics [synonym for comedians] with big dreams.
Yet, stand-ups have always been a hot commodity. It’s easy to think of celebrities like Seth Rogen, Jim Carrey, and Michael Keaton as actors, but they all started as stand-up comedians.
Nowadays, comics are still getting opportunities left and right. Think about how Pete Davidson, who started out on Staten Island stages, ended up on SNL and on Kanye West’s (now-deleted) Instagram posts. How stand-ups like Ali Wong are now starring in big-time Hollywood flicks and making out with Keanu Reeves. Even my personal favourite comics, Ayo Edebiri and Julio Torres, are now featuring in critically appraised shows like The Bear and Los Espookys (both of which I highly recommend) to show off their acting chops.
Stand-up has always been a ‘single-player’ hobby for me. Whenever I queued up sets on YouTube or Spotify while I vacuumed my room, my brother would always yell at me from across the hall to stop laughing louder than the vacuum. But one day, after searching up ‘events in Kelowna,’ I found out about Open Mic Stand-up nights at Dakoda’s, the local comedy club.
After class, I mentioned to my friend Tosin that I was interested in attending the event and writing an article about the comedy scene in Kelowna. By sheer coincidence, Tosin was also a huge fan of stand-up and vehemently agreed that attending together would make the experience twice as fun. After all, laughing alone in a corner wouldn't have been my ideal night.
We arrived a few minutes into the first set [the collection of jokes one comedian performs]. Sitting down closest to the door, as to not intrude, we perused the menu but ended up taking more than fifteen minutes to the ever-so-patient server’s confusion.
We just couldn’t stop laughing to focus on the food options. Though we eventually got homemade yam fries, which was extremely satisfying for our appetites; I highly recommend them!
Throughout the show, I learned about the ‘magic’ of living in Rutland and the surprising amount of hard drug users in Kelowna. One of the best jokes of the night, in my opinion, heavily relied on whether or not the audience had prior knowledge that The Little Mermaid was written as a metaphor for its author’s closeted homosexuality. I laughed a lot at the clever misdirection of the joke as it referenced the live-action casting’s controversy; it’s uncommon to hear jokes about racism and queerness that aren’t offensive! But many others awkwardly sipped their beers as the punchline was delivered.
That’s the interesting thing about stand-up. Every night is unpredictable. Depending on the audience, a comedian might succeed or fail with the exact same joke. That’s something absolutely necessary to remember if you’re trying out stand-up, or any art form that’s consumed by the public: sometimes it’s not you, it’s just about finding the right audience!
The process of learning how to do stand-up well was one of the things I discussed with Dave, the host of that night’s Open Mic – one of many events held by his company, Kelowna Comedy, which operates out of the backroom at Dakoda’s Sports Bar and Grill.
Lois Chan: So what are some ways to get better at stand-up?
Dave Kopp: Getting out there is the only way! The best comics are the ones who are going to bomb, because you want to take a risk. You could kill with old material—but who cares? You gotta kill with new material, or at least try it! Then you record it, keep track, and think, ‘three out of five jokes killed, so I’m gonna work on those three,’ then bring them into your next set.
It’s about writing material but also learning the skill set.
Comedy is the only art I know where the better you get at it, the easier it is. To someone who’s really good, people are gonna think ‘Oh, he’s just up there talking,’ but it took eight years to get there.
I also had the chance to ask Sarah Cipes about her advice on developing comedic talent. While she’s a research assistant and student at UBCO by day, Sarah has also been gracing stages across Kelowna for three years in spite of debilitating PhD work.
Lois Chan: Would you say comedy is an innate talent? Can anyone be funny? What makes someone funny?
Sarah Cipes: I think you can learn to be funny, but I think you need to really love laughter. It’s a strange idea, but I’ve met people who don’t. If you grow up in a household that values sincerity, comedy might not be your forte. Also, childhood trauma or mental illness help.
That sounds like a bad joke, but spend time at the comedians’ table at any bar and you’ll find a bunch of kids who were bullied in high school, desperately looking for approval, and are now having the time of their lives.
LC: If you look at comedy as an art form or ‘trade,’ as some people call it, how would one train in comedy; how do you get ‘better’ at it?
SC: Comedy is much like any other art form: consume it, read about it, practice it. Work on your jokes at home, film yourself, and record yourself when you’re on stage (get over the sound of your own voice, you’ll be hearing it a lot). If your skin is tough enough to listen to yourself bomb and pick out your mistakes, then you can do better next time.
The most important thing is time on stage and finding your own style. I’ve seen a thousand dudes in their early twenties who think they’re Anthony Jeselnik. If you don’t have anything new to bring to the table, maybe find a different form of writing. Jokes are harder than you might think.
If you’re thinking about checking out Kelowna Comedy’s stand-up events, five shows are held a week: open mics on Thursdays, where anyone can come to perform their material, and headliner shows on the weekend from 6:30 to 8:30, which includes a charity showcase on Friday, and a wine-tasting on Saturday. Thursdays are free to attend; weekends are not. So, if you’re looking to have a budget-friendly night of enjoyment, check out the Open Mic when comics test out their material. If you got some money to spend and don’t want to sit awkwardly while a comedian bombs in front of the audience, check out the pros with their tried-and-true material on the weekend!
One week from the Thursday that I attended Kelowna Comedy’s Open Mic, I ventured over to BNA Brewing downtown to check out Inspired Word Cafe’s Open Mic and Slam Poetry event. Since it was October 27, costumes were encouraged in pre-celebration of Halloween!
When I arrived, I noticed that Erin Scott was in attendance as a co-host for the night, along with her partner, Cole. I was familiar with Erin because they taught my first-ever Creative Writing course at UBCO. I have wonderful memories of my Poetry and Nonfiction class, many of them punctuated by Erin’s witty humour and dirty jokes.
To kick off the night, performers came up one by one to share a handful of poems they wrote for the Open Mic. While some were seasoned artists, other performers were sharing their work for the first time. Erin and Cole made a point to ask newcomers how it felt to get up in front of the mic. Each one, with brilliant smiles, affirmed that it was amazing. It was apparent that the fear and nerves that come with the vulnerability of sharing your art dissipated with the audience’s cheers, whoops, and finger-snapping.
Once all the Open Mic performers had their three-to-five minutes of fame, we moved onto the slam portion. I got the opportunity to judge (since I stuck my hand up with the enthusiasm of a know-it-all in kindergarten) alongside four other attendees. We were each given a mini handheld wooden scoreboard to flip out a numerical rating for each piece.
The diversity of the poets’ styles and subject matter ranged from rhythmic raps about horses, to flowery visualizations of heart-breaking love. But what really stood out to me were the pieces that strayed between the boundaries of spoken word and comedy, which is an art form Erin focuses on in her work.*
The comedic spoken word pieces ended up garnering many laughs from the audience, and the highest scores from me. The craftsmanship of making a poetic joke asks the audience to pay attention to how the punchline might hit while in the flow of an aesthetically satisfying beat. It reminds the audience that art can be fun!
If you’re someone who enjoys poetry and artistic forms of expression, check out Inspired Word Cafe’s events by browsing their website inspiredwordcafe.com and following them on Instagram @inspiredwordcafe. You can also find Erin’s work on her website erinhscott.com or on her Instagram page @erin.h.scott.
After attending these in-person events, I’ve found that there’s a certain euphoria that permeates the room when you’re laughing in unison with strangers from all over the city with completely different life experiences. In that moment, when everyone's losing their breath over a joke, you’re all in agreement on one thing: there are reasons to smile. Comedy gives you the chance to take your mind off of all your stress, troubles, and the ten upcoming tests that you need to study for.
Comedy is an easily accessible, relevant, and engaging art form that anyone can participate in, whether they want to be a performer or listener.
As we drove home together after attending Open Mic at Dakoda’s, Tosin told me that she’d love to try out stand-up one day. Reader, my hope is that after you attend a comedy event too, you might feel the urge to share with the world (starting with Kelowna) all the jokes that you have to brighten up someone’s day.
*You can read about Erin’s experience with comedic stand-up in the print version companion to this article in Issue #7.