Beyond stand-up: Spotlighting some of Vancouver’s most innovative comedy shows

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      “But the best thing about tacos, right, is when the guac hits juuuuuust–” 

      The man on the stage abruptly stops. Comedian Colin Cowan has spent the last seven minutes extolling the virtues of various taquerias, blending his words into an almost incomprehensible slurry of surfer slang. Each review has been interspersed by his strange, robotic jerks and screeching feedback from the speakers. But hey, everyone has their bad nights. 

      Now, though, he stands stock still, eyes rolled back into his head, as from his mouth issues rasping, alien phrases that seem ripped from the pages of Dune. After delivering a lengthy tirade on the history of his war-torn people, he offers his true mission: to finally find the Guac’Dip (pronounced like “Maud’Dib”), the rarest of guacamoles that hits just right.

      Welcome to the Hero Show, a collection of bizarre comedy monologues where anything can happen. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is Vancouver’s alternative comedy scene.

      When it comes to entertainment, Vancouver is one of the richest cities in Canada. With multiple shows to be found around town on pretty much any night of the week, if you want to relax and have some laughs after work, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice. 

      But while the glittering stars of Vancouver’s comedy scene may be the standups, dig a little deeper into Vancouver’s comedic offerings and you’ll discover the most bizarre shows you’ll ever see—and they’ll be some of the funniest, too.

      “I started the Hero Show because I wanted a place where it was expected for comedians to do weird characters and try out bizarre ideas,” says Cameron Macleod, who began hosting the live comedy show 15 years ago, making it the longest-running of its kind in Vancouver.

      Inspired by the surreal stylings of Portlandia and American comedy duo Tim & Eric, Macleod explains that he wanted to create a show “where anything can happen.” And by inviting comedians to break their own molds and get weird with it, Macleod has curated an environment where the last thing you can expect is the expected.

      In any other city, the Hero Show might be the only one of its kind—but if this town of barely reformed theater kids can do nothing else, it’s to produce a seemingly endless string of innovative performances. Where else but Vancouver could you go to an improv show where the performers are stoned off their asses? 

      …Okay, plenty of cities—but where else would that be the premise of the show? Such is the case for Puff The Magic Improv Show, which actually began before weed was legalized in British Columbia—and this year it was featured in the Just For Laughs festival. 

      Just as Macleod’s show was born from Vancouver’s comedy scene, so too was Puff The Magic Improv Show, which had a truly grassroots beginning. “It all started because we used to stand around in circles after other improv shows and smoke joints and talk about how funny we are now that we’re high,” says Sarah Dawn Pledge, one of the organizers. “Weed wasn’t legal then so we started the show underground in the basement of a pizza joint in Gastown and smoked in the alley at intermission.”

      Created by the Momentous Comedy team, that humble invite-only event has grown into a “high calibre” show, in which audience members are also invited to smoke with the performers at intermission for the full immersive experience. 

      And it’s that kind of innovation that makes Vancouver’s comedy scene so special, creating a space where genres, interests, and subcultures fuse to form new and exciting combinations. Such is also the case for No Tea No Shade, which combines the classic panel show structure with queer standup, drag, and even live musical performances. 

      Comedian and writer Jason Martin, who describes No Tea No Shade as “a comedy panel meets variety show celebrating all things campy, queeny, and queer,” explains that he created the show because he felt like he was missing a sense of LGBTQ2S+ community in Vancouver’s comedy scene. No Tea No Shade brings comedians together onstage for a good-natured competition, and no matter who wins, everyone gets fun goody-bag prizes—even audience members, who are also invited to participate. Because, why not?

      And that really is the sentiment behind these, and so many more of Vancouver’s off-the-wall shows: why not? Why not perform your weirdest possible characters for one night only? Why not compare your sober jokes to the bizarre stuff you come out with when you’re high? Why not animate the classic panel show format with drag acts? 

      No matter what niche interest you have, someone in Vancouver has probably done some comedic spin on it. From D&D improv (The Critical Hit Show is a monthly staple at the Rio) to lore-heavy wrestling (Boom! Wrestling is always worth checking out at Commercial Drive Legion), you never know what you might find onstage—if you know where to look.

      The Hero Show will be back on April 7 at The China Cloud; Puff The Magic Improv Show returns on April 21, also at China Cloud; No Tea No Shade will be back in May (new location TBD).