WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THE HASHTAG AND #SAVEPICNICFACE

TO TAKE A MINUTE and not talk about Korea for once in eight months, I’d like to write up a little anecdotal evidence about why exactly Picnicface deserves to be a Great Canadian Cultural Export, rather then the stale leftovers of a Corner Gas entree. Here’s the thing: the folks in Picnicface are genuinely funny and genuinelier nice. In show business, from what notably little I understand of it, this is is a rare combination.

I started doing stand-up roughly halfway through my first year at Halifax’s University of King’s College. I had already gotten my tiny foot in the doggy door of King’s culture by writing for campus publication The Watch (under then-editorship, coincidentally, of Picnicface’s Evany Rosen) and decided to write monologues that were funny and not trust fickle actors to fuck them up. I was, some months in, recruited by a King’s alumnus to organize and host a comedy night to fundraise for our small uni’s iconic campus bar, The Wardoom. Having at least some vague acquaintance with Ms. Rosen and not anyone else in the troupe, I sent an email in the hopes that they would help make this fundraiser not shitty.

To have agreed would have been one thing. But I recall, and retain to this day as proof in the depths of my gmail inbox, the individual emails sent in by almost all of Picnicface’s eight members, sent from their personal email addresses. I remember receiving them one at a time, scattered throughout the day – “Oh, good, Brian’s on board. Oh! So is Cheryl… and Kyle… and….and…”

For a newbie comic several years their junior, the feeling can only be described as “awesome”.

One might argue, justifiably, that in 2009 they weren’t anywhere as big as they are now. They had no Comedy Network TV show, no Collins Canada book. They had Powerthirst but not yet Roller Town, their festival-hit feature film. They could afford then to do a fun little campus show for no money and a spot of free beer.

 

But they didn’t have to do it so damn well. It’s been nearly four years and I still remember Kyle’s bit about handjobs, and Mark’s full minute spent on something involving a shark in a vending machine. The crowd went fucking mental. They were really funny, and not once – this is important, now – not once did they break their humble attitudes, grow impatient, act rude or be divas. I have on many accounts reason to believe that their homegrown style of comedy, their fans-first attitude and their social media savvy all conclude that their egos have not inflated to the size of Russell Peters’s.

I’ve since watched nearly every video they’ve produced, albeit my Korean living situation has made watching their TV program range from “difficult” to “impossible” (though I just noticed they’ve uploaded some episodes onto YouTube), and if I may make this sentimental (fuck you, it’s my blog), they’ve been at times extremely comforting. I don’t often get homesick, but we all have our spells; watching Evany in a fake beard and Bill run all-too-convincingly like a girl draws me closer to the country I will always call home. Certainly, if nothing else, it makes me proud to be Canadian, no matter where in the world I am.

And that, in under 600 words, is why it’s worthwhile to #savepicnicface.

WELCOME TO ROLLER TOWN

OF THE 15 ROLLER-SKATERS circling the Olympic Community Centre, almost every one has fallen down at least once. The guy in racquetball goggles and a red tie-dye tank top might be the most adventurous, but the newly formd Halifax Roller Derby Girls are clearly the most skilled; there’s a white-and-blue afro wig, a heavy-set gentleman with a thick white beard and a dead-ringer for Breakfast Club bad boy Judd Nelson. Watching from the sidelines is writer-director Andrew Bush, looking awfully tired, but still able to notice how much fun these skaters are having. “They should just open this up every Sunday,” he says. But he corrects himself: “Actually, we’re shooting next… Oh my god. Oh my god.”

“The roller derby is definitely on its way back,” Doug prophesizes. “Maybe this will do its part in bringing some roller-skating back.”

Check it out, as usual, at The Coast.

NEVER SAY “NO”

THEY SAY HISTORY is written by the winners—but if it’s improv you’re talking about, history isn’t even written at all.

True to its form, the King’s College improvisational theatre scene seems to be made up as it goes along. Though we have an impressive team—“KICASS”, which supposedly stands for something like the “King’s Improv Collective, Association, Society and Syndicate”, though nobody knows for sure—even the most veteran players have a foggy recollection of how things started.

And then there’s this weekend’s Atlantic University Improv Championship (AUIC), hosted by King’s: nobody on the team knows how it began; it’s no one’s job to organize it; and one of this year’s official judges is best known as the seven-foot-tall immortal giant in the 2006 Spartan blockbuster, 300.

“You can try to be clever, but comedy is basically jingling keys in front of a baby.”

But despite campus-wide notoriety and a zest for weird poster design, KICASS audiences waver each week. One week’s performance will get a 40-person showing, while the next will be down to five.

“It’s hard to convince people [to come out],” says Josh Tibbetts, fifth-year KICASS member and former society president. “It was hard to maintain a group of people who’d… remember it. People would just sort of forget.”

He thinks the team is not getting the recognition it has recently begun deserving. KICASS has struggled at the AUIC every year until recently—especially in 2006, when King’s hosted and “came in dead last,” Tibbetts recalls with a grin.

“We used to be better at weird ideas than actually selling ourselves to the audience,” Tibbetts says. “You can try to be clever, but comedy is basically jingling keys in front of a baby.”

Last year, however, the team placed first. You can find their plastic wrestling belt sitting in the campus bar’s trophy cabinet, with masking tape over it, reading, “Awesome at Improv”.

Tibbetts, along with several others, transformed what used to be simply “The King’s Improv Society” from a small campus workshop experience to the AUIC-winning performance troupe it is today.

It started seven years ago. After the stone-faced, tie-wearing KSU executive of 2002 rejected then first-year, now recruitment officer Terra Duncan’s proposal for an improv team at King’s, she finagled the King’s Theatrical Society to allow her to pilot an improv workshop one night. It was a success, but that was as far as things went.

“[The KSU and KTS] didn’t think that was something that anybody at King’s would be interested in,” Duncan recalls.

“Even if it was just a group of us in a room in the basement, just doing it for no real reason, and just making ourselves laugh… That was enough for me.”

The pivotal moment came in her second year: during a KTS showcase of their upcoming season (a lost tradition, it seems), Duncan performed a “desperate monologue” wherein she stripped off her clothes to reveal a superhero costume and fell to her knees, banging a shoe against the floor, begging the audience to “just give improv a chance, just once.”

“That intrigued people,” she says with a smile.

In the coming years, the team would grow in popularity and size, eventually becoming the weekly performance troupe it is today.

“It’s become more close-knit than it used to be,” Tibbetts says, “which is something I really like.”

The team’s skills will be put to the test this weekend, when the AUIC games return to King’s on March 14 and 15, in Alumni Hall at 8 p.m.

While Tibbetts hopes for a large turnout, he’s grown tired of postering the school with ads and creating Facebook events. More than anything, he’s just happy to perform.

“Even if it was just a group of us in a room in the basement, just doing it for no real reason, and just making ourselves laugh… That was enough for me.”

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Originally published in The Watch, the King’s College monthly magazine, in December 2008.