Without question, the 7th Annual Windsor Comedy Festival, presented by Next Best Comic, started on a most astounding note. Without missing a beat, host Thomas Calnan pulled all the punches and dived right in with one of the best opening lines of the year. Calnan is the 2016 Next Best Comic title holder so it was no surprise to see him take a comment and turn it upside down into humour gold.
He was introduced as a face most in the audience would be familiar with after his appearances on CBC’s Laugh Out Loud. It was good to be recognized, he admitted, although Laugh Out Loud is a CBC radio show.
And, like nothing else, with that little factual correction, he set the stage for a fanciful night of comedic whimsy and wizardry and the crowning, of sorts, of the Next Best Comic. There were three contenders, Windsor’s own Curtis Coleman along with Geoff Plitt (Los Angeles) and Dan Turco (Michigan).
At the end of their sets they stood and faced the audience with Coleman getting the most enthusiastic applause. He deserved it with his frank discussion of, basically, the foibles of his love life. Apparently, at 21 years of age, he has one.
His position in the winner’s circle was no surprise to audience member and local playwright Rob Tymec. He tells Eyes on Windsor of always knowing the young comic’s skill. Coleman was one of the students at the local Riverfront Theatre Company, a unit of The Youth Connection Association. Tymec has been one of the organization’s instructors.
Calnan earned accolades for his tales of pets. He has fish, less work, less fuss and mess than other types. As he was explaining someone yelled out, “Why are fish thin?” As the master of his art, he took the bait and ran with it. The answer is because they eat fish.
In America these days, at least it seems to headlining comedian Tom Simmons, 2009 San Francisco International Comedy Competition champion, there are not a lot of thin people. He calculates turning this resource to advantage could thwart climate change and end the wild fires of California and Australia. Park about 10,000 obese folks on an aircraft carrier, steer it over to the coast and have them all jump off at once. The ensuing tsunami would quickly put the fires out.
Simmons is a basically a family man and admitted naming his son Owen, because that is what the family would be doing for quite some time. Family life was much of the fodder for most of the comedians.
New Jersey’s Kerby Darius, last year’s Next Best Comic, talked of growing up poor. Darius is black and succeeded in arranging for a job delivering pizzas but found out he was hired to deliver in the roughest neighbourhoods, like his own.
Another crowd-pleaser was Lake Charles, Louisiana’s Jen Kober who talked of life with her grand-mother and anatomically correct tales of times on a cruise ship filled with gay passengers. Another returning Next Best Comic, Windsor’s Robert Kemeny, winner in 2015, revealed he had just married his girlfriend, after dating for eight years. They were married, simply because they had run out of things to do.
A bit like Darius, Kemeny didn’t have a good childhood. His dirt-poor family couldn’t afford to send him to hockey camps so they sent him bowling instead. He ended up with “two different sized forearms.”
Without question, the funniest man of the night was totally unscripted. London’s Jeff Leeson is a certifiable master of improv who has the maniacal ability to deliver non-stop laughter. Like a tightrope walker without a net, he held the audience in stitches with his brand of observational humour. About those thin fish, he took that to the next level imagining how the audience member had carefully prepared the question, just in case the topic of fish might come up. Then he was on to those in the front row of the Chrysler Theatre who surely had used their pick-up trucks to bring their own recliner chairs to the theatre.
Sitting in the audience watching it all was Windsor-Tecumseh’s newest Member of Parliament Irek Kusmierczyk. He has attended the past six Festivals, missing only the inaugural one, and believes that the organizers are on to something.
He told Eyes on Windsor, the Festival has all the makings of growing into a success equal to the Windsor International Film Festival. What is most impressive, in his view, is the incredible talent on one stage.
But the show was more than comedy. The organizers added live music in the form of special guest band, Detroit’s N 4 Structure, an incredible group with deep roots in gospel, rock, rhythm and blues and more. It was an excellent choice, proving again the advantages of living so close to such outstanding musical talent simply across the river.
The Windsor Comedy Festival is the last festival of the year, traditionally held between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and is the longest running comedy festival of its kind in Southwestern Ontario.
Next Best Comic will take their comedy festival to Chatham for the 5th year in a row tonight Dec. 28.
For more information about Windsor Comedy Festival and Next Best Comic visit https://www.nextbestcomic.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.