Yo Trieu had performed standup comedy for years, but he was tired of driving to Vancouver for stage time. So the Chilliwack, B.C., resident decided to take matters into his own hands and bring the craft to his hometown.
Two years later, what started as a move to save time and gas money has grown into Fraser Valley Comedy, a local institution that puts on multiple shows every month, has sold out casinos and golf courses, and regularly books big-name headliners from across North America.
“Chilliwack needed a different form of entertainment than cow tipping,” said Trieu. “Standup is so minimal, all you need is a mike and a room. You can basically have standup in a Burger King.”
Now that it’s moved past the early, minimal days, Fraser Valley Comedy is doing its part to put local talent in the spotlight–more recently, by showcasing indigenous comedians. This Friday (June 16) will be the second First Nations & Friends comedy show, at Rosedale Roadhouse Bar & Grill in Yale. Hosted by local performer Helena Paul, headliner Chris Gordon will take the stage with a lineup of mostly Sto:lo acts.
Paul, who works at Leq:amel First Nation’s office, performed her first live comedy act years ago at a Sto:lo Christmas party.
Usually quiet and profanity-free, Paul was a little overwhelmed at the prospect of unleashing her somewhat vulgar material in front of her entire community.
“At first I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be talking about my vagina in front of the elders,’” said Paul. “Ever since then I have verbal diarrhea, it’s healing. It’s interesting to see that side of me.”
Paul caught the comedy bug, and for a few years she looked forward to bringing a year’s worth of new material to the annual Christmas party. At the encouragement of her peers, she expanded her act, and did some shows in North Vancouver, where she met Trieu. The two have been collaborating since.
Now she’s a regular performer, doing at least one show every month. Last January her photo was pasted across town on a poster for Fraser Valley Comedy’s inaugural First Nations & Friends show–an event she hosted at Chances Chilliwack casino.
“I felt almost more embarrassed than proud, I’m not used to that kind of recognition. As indigenous people we’re very humble,” said Paul.
But she said she’s embracing the community’s positive feedback to her act.
“Now I feel almost like a Chilliwack celebrity,” said Paul with a laugh.
January’s show was the second event outside of a Sto:lo venue to showcase indigenous acts. This Friday’s show suggests a promising trend toward more live comedy that gives voice to a core demographic of the Fraser Valley–the Sto:lo people whose land the performance venues are built on.
Trieu, who grew up in Chilliwack beside indigenous friends and neighbours, said he felt it was important to showcase Sto:lo comedians who speak to the experiences of the audience.
“It’s great to have headliners, but you have to involve the community,” said Trieu.
Fraser Valley Comedy has come a long way from its first show at the Rosedale back in 2015. While it was initially a struggle to fill a room (and make the room pay attention), Trieu has since booked Chances Casino, a golf course, and expanded to do shows in Mission and Hope. This fall, Fraser Valley Comedy will put on a show at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. At 570 seats, it’s the largest venue in town.
“I can’t even imagine how it’s grown,” said Trieu. “I always want to be loyal to the original clients. We can do corporate, we can do a casino, we can do a back yard. It’s better not to be typecast.”
Really, there’s nowhere to expand but back to Vancouver. But Trieu has no plans book shows here. Instead, he’s focusing on bringing quality programming to the Fraser Valley. In addition to First Nations & Friends, Fraser Valley Comedy has put on Ladies’ Nights to showcase female performers. A mental health themed night and a show spotlighting LGBTQ performers are scheduled for later this year.
Trieu’s also focused on building up local performers. This week, Fraser Valley Comedy offered a stand-up workshop for people interested in learning the tricks of the trade.
While he’s busy booking events for the rest of the year, Trieu plans to slow down in August to make time for his family.
“My wife says ‘I’m a comedy widow, I never see you!’ So I told her I would slow down. I’m not booking any shows in August. I don’t want a divorce,” Trieu told the Straight.
Trieu’s enthusiasm for the craft and commitment to his audience seem to be what’s kept Fraser Valley Comedy thriving, attracting guests from Vancouver and beyond.
Dino Archie, an L.A.- and Vancouver-based comedian who has opened for Adam Devine and performed on Jimmy Kimmel, was the headliner for January’s First Nations & Friends show. Archie had performed the Chances Casino before, to less positive results.
“There were 15 people there who didn’t look like they wanted to be there,” said Archie.
On his second visit, the venue was packed, and Archie was impressed by the appreciation in the room.
“If the people producing the show respect comedy, you have a fighting chance,” said Archie. “It’s not about the money, it’s really about the vibe.”
Archie said he was happy to see the largely indigenous audience connect with his material–but ultimately, the location of the venue and the demographic breakdown of the room matter less to him than the audience’s willingness to listen, laugh, and come along for the ride.
“I’m not here for all the bullshit, I just wanna know if my dick joke works,” said Archie.
Archie certainly won’t be the last in a long line of headliners to perform on a Fraser Valley stage. Friday’s show will feature Chris Gordon, sharing the microphone at the Rosedale with local acts Paul, Chuck Cease, Beverley O'Neil, Wayne Alexis, Deb Silver, Keith Nahanee, and Jen Malloway.
Paul would love to headline a show herself one day. But for now, she’s happy to have a local stage to expand her craft alongside her friends and peers, and to encourage others in the community to do the same.
“Most indigenous people are quite quiet, but we always make jokes and we’re always funny,” said Paul.
“It’s great to have the venue to show our humour and have other people appreciate our humour. This is a part of standing up and being proud of who we are.”