There’s no shortage of comedy at the Fringe Festival. If you walked blindly into any of the 110 shows, there’s a decent chance it would be comedic. In other words, that’s way too many to draw attention to here.
There’s a more manageable number of solo shows by comedy performers you might see around town in other contexts, such as sketch and improv shows.
The creator and host of The Hero Show, Cameron Macleod, debuts I Had Sex Until My Heart Stopped, at Studio 16. Improviser extraordinaire Gary Jones’s Ask for Details will be at the Rio Theatre. Standup (and ex-con) Mark Hughes presents Tragedy + Time Served = Comedy at Studio 16.
Street performer and standup Sharon Mahoney’s The Lion, the Bitch and the Wardrobe plays Performance Works. Ryan Gunther, another standup (who worked at a Fortune 500 company for 15 years), brings Leash Your Potential to Studio 1398. Seasoned standup and slam poet Richard Lett returns to his hometown of 25 years with Sober but Never Clean at the Rio.
And Fringe vet, sketch performer, and TV star Morgan Brayton is back with a new show at the Cultch called Give It Up.
We’re used to seeing Brayton disappear into her characters in her previous solo Fringe shows, or with the 30 Helens sketch troupe, or at the monthly Lady Show at the Biltmore—a spinoff, of sorts, of her OutTV chat show, Morgan Brayton & Other People. But Give It Up is a departure for her. This one is autobiographical.
“I started looking at the characters I’ve created over the last year or so and this theme emerged,” she told the Straight over pizza and beer on Main Street. “A lot of the characters were struggling with the idea that their life hadn’t quite turned out how they’d planned. So I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting what my brain did there. I wonder what I was trying to work out?’ ”
Brayton, a film and TV actor for 27 years, still finds herself auditioning for roles like Cashier #2 and wondering, “Is that all there is?” She quit the business twice before, but has mulled it over from the very beginning of her first job, when the wardrobe department from the cult Canadian classic Neon Rider called to get her measurements. “I dutifully gave the woman my sizes: bust, waist, hips. And there was silence on the other end of the line, until she finally said, ‘Well, that can’t be right. You’d just be a box.’ ” Ugh.
Give It Up is about her questioning her career choices, but it’s not just for actors. “Did your life turn out exactly as you thought it would? No? Then you’re probably going to enjoy the show. ‘Who am I and what am I doing?’—I think that is familiar to anybody, whether you’re an artist or not.”
Richard Lett started his comedy career in 1986, performing in clubs and bars all across the land, using the perfunctory standup stool as a table for drinks the crowd would ply him with. You might guess where this led.
“The drinking quickly took over,” he said on the phone from Toronto, which he moved to in 2011. “On the road, drugs all day, booze all night. I stopped hearing laughter; it sounded like screaming to me.”
But in 2009, he got sober. The notoriously ribald jokes didn’t stop, though. Fringe superstar TJ Dawe encouraged Lett to do a show about his recovery and helped streamline it. In it, Lett incorporates standup, slam poetry, and music into his stories.
“Some people shed a tear or two when I talk about the grim realities of recovery,” he says. “But it makes the laughter and the fun parts that much more joyous, I would say. If you can make them laugh and cry, then you’ve got solid entertainment.”
It’s certainly a more artful way of championing his abstinence. Lett says his friends are getting tired of his sobriety.
“At five weeks, they were like, ‘That’s great!’ At five months, they said, ‘You’re an inspiration!’ At five years, they’re going, ‘Shut the fuck up!’ ”
The Vancouver Fringe Festival runs at various venues from Thursday (September 8) to September 18.