Canwest Comedy Fest

At venues around downtown from Tuesday to Sunday, September 20 to 25

Comedy fans were in heaven last week during the CanWest ComedyFest, here in beautiful downtown CanWest, British Columbia. From the packed big-ticket events like Jay Leno and Steven Wright to the sparsely attended, but artistically more interesting, cheaper theme shows around the Granville strip, Vancouver was witness to some of the best jokesmiths we've ever seen. Now, if we can only find them some better rooms to play. As the coolly understated Todd Barry said at his Friday (September 23) Tom Lee Music Hall gig, in two consecutive years at the festival he's "accumulated 20,000 Cathay Pacific air miles and played to a total of 28 people".

It's not surprising that Yuk Yuk's-the city's only full-time comedy club-was the best venue, with healthy, attentive, and responsive crowds. The Rising Stars series was a great chance to check out some new talent. One of my favourites was Philadelphian Brendan Walsh, who was fearless at Yuk's and Doolin's Irish Pub. Whether chanting "USA is number one!" or claiming that "Ugly girls have no feelings. I saw it on TV," Walsh never once gave the verbal equivalent of a wink. But his sophisticated audience got the irony and he didn't lose anyone along the way.

There was a buzz when Doug Stanhope hit the stage at both the Cellar and Yuk Yuk's. And it wasn't just the buzz he was feeling from alcohol and whatever airsickness drugs he was on. The guy is a comic's comic, but he also managed to hold the laypeople-an especially impressive feat at Yuk's Friday XXX show, which didn't end until 2:45 a.m. With the exception of one walkout and a few nasty drunks, the room sat captivated and laughed hysterically as Stanhope discussed such taboo topics as betting the over in the Hurricane Rita death pool.

The highlight in a festival of highlights was the final Sunday-night show at the Vogue Theatre. Vancouver's unflappable and eminently likable Kevin Foxx proved he belonged with the big boys of Letterman ("Don't you love the hotel minibar? It's like a dollhouse for alcoholics"). Jake Johannsen really got things going in his sputtering manner, talking about a precancerous spot his doctor found ("What the hell is precancer? My whole body is precancer if I'm lucky. We're all predead") and women's-magazine quizzes on men ("I don't know what you need a survey for when the answer is always 'Touch it'?").

The final act of the evening-and the festival-was tall, pale Jim Gaffigan, who said he was Korean before admitting, "I wish I was Korean. Because then my interest in Asian girls wouldn't be considered so creepy." Playing off his looks, most of his jokes were about food. He's trying to live a healthier lifestyle now, he explained, so he's a vegetarian. "But I'm not a strict vegetarian. I eat beef and pork. And chicken. But not fish, because that's disgusting." Throughout it all, Gaffigan whispered what he figured the audience must be thinking: "All he talks about is food"; "That joke didn't even make sense." But of course it did. It was the perfect ending to a near-perfect festival. Artistically, anyway.