Tom Papa, Ali Siddiq, and Beth Stelling craft standout laughs at JFL NorthWest comedy festival

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      At various venues from Thursday to Saturday, March 1 to 3. Continues until March 10

      Comedy is thriving, and the JFL NorthWest fest reflects that fact. In small, independent rooms, established comedy clubs, and theatres of all sizes, crowds came out in force for the event’s topnotch and diverse first few days of programming.

      The diversity was not just in the current sense of gender and cultural background. There was also a refreshing range of standup styles, from mainstream to alternative, clean to raunchy, short-form to long-form.

      It’s impossible to hit all the shows, but careful planning can allow you to get to a lot of them. I managed to get to eight shows in four nights, opting for comics I’d never seen do full sets before. There’s not enough space to mention them all, but three really stood out: a jokesmith, a storyteller, and a perfect combination of the two.

      Tom Papa is a traditional standup who’s been at it for years. He often plays theatres, as he did when he headlined the Just for Laughs Comedy Tour at the Orpheum on his last visit to town, back in 2007. This time, however, he was at the intimate Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club. No matter the venue, he’s a killer, and he didn’t disappoint at the Friday late show. Despite his sometimes cranky take on diet and exercise, cruise ships, zip-lining, and breakfast in bed, his overall message to the masses was positive. Throughout his 63-minute set, he sprinkled in words of wisdom and encouragement: enjoy life, find a person to love and keep, we’re all the same, and a simple life is a good life.

      Hanging on to the mike stand for the duration, he still commanded the attention of the room through his sure-fire and experienced delivery, whether doing his well-crafted material or kibitzing with the crowd.

      Houston’s Ali Siddiq ambled onto the stage at the Biltmore on Saturday, taking his sweet time to set up a chair next to the mike, before sitting his butt down and quietly announcing, “I really don’t tell jokes; I just sit here and talk.” He was wrong on both counts. Maybe he didn’t do conventional setup/punch-line stuff, but there’s no denying his words were intended to get maximum laughs. And they did. He’s definitely in the storyteller vein, but even without the obvious jokes, he was hilarious. His easy delivery covered a range of topics, from race to dislike of sex with pregnant women to relationships, to learning to fight from his diminutive mom. And he ingratiated himself to the Canadians by taking shots at his own country.

      Beth Stelling.

      Beth Stelling’s set at the Biltmore on Thursday was fantastic. The Chicago product, now living in L.A., had amazing rapport with the sold-out audience without interacting with them. She was enjoying herself and, in turn, we were hanging on her every word. The trend in comedy is personal storytelling, and sometimes that can get a little self-indulgent, but Stelling incorporated solid joke-writing into her stories about her sex life and childhood.

      And a special shout-out to Chris Griffin, Jane Stanton, and Sophie Buddle, Vancouver comics who opened for the three. In fact, all the Vancouver comics I saw last week—Erica Sigurdson, Maddy Kelly, Katie-Ellen Humphries, Simon King, Ryan Williams, Graham Clark, Ivan Decker, Chris Gordon, Efthimios Nasiopoulos, and Gavin Matts—proved they easily belong on stages with better-known acts.