Laugh it up at the Hubcap Comedy Festival

It is February and as any long-time Metro Moncton resident would be able to tell you, the month has become known as the month of laughter.

The 12th annual Hubcap Comedy Festival is set to have audiences rolling in the aisles starting with an amateur open-mic night on Wednesday February 8 and wrapping up on Saturday February 12. Nikki Payne, Ryan Belleville, Mike Wilmot and Francois Massicotte are among the more than dozen comedians that will be taking to the stages of venues throughout Metro including Moncton’s Capitol Theatre, The Pumphouse Brewery and The Old Triangle.

Looking back upon last year’s festival, Hubcap Comedy Festival General Manager Robert Gallant admits the year was an interesting one, having to follow up with a line-up that could somehow top the festival’s tenth anniversary celebrations the prior year.

“Our tenth anniversary ended up serving as more of a reunion than anything. It was so huge and so successful that we really had to figure out a way to top it last year,” Gallant says. “I felt there was more in terms of pressure placed upon us but I was also confident that we bring in such strong comics every year, it ended up living up to everyone’s expectations.”

Speaking from his home in Moncton, Hubcap Comedy Festival President Marshall Button says that securing talent in the earliest years of the festival differs greatly from where the festival is in the present day.

“The biggest change we have seen since the festival’s inception has been the availability of acts willing to come in,” Button says. “We have experienced quite a growth, especially compared to other genres like music and the theatre. During the first couple of years of the festival, we brought in established acts like Dave Broadfoot and Cathy Jones; people that you would see on television on a regular basis.”

“The great thing about the festival is that it builds year after year,” Gallant continues. “Fortunately for us, word about the Hubcap Comedy Festival travels amongst comedians. In the early years, we really had to search to find people to bring to town for the festival but now, we have stacks of submissions mailed to us from people wanting to get in on the festival.”

While Gallant says that many of the acts chosen to perform during the Hubcap Comedy Festival are indeed selected via submissions received during the course of the year, the Hubcap Comedy Festival committee, responsible for making the ultimate decision as to who performs at the festival, also has people travel throughout the country scouting talent at the Just For Laughs Festival and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, among other outlets.

“We scout talent from right across the country,” Gallant says. “It has been our opinion that it is always better to see the comedians in a live setting rather than relying solely upon clips found on the internet. In the end, it allows us to bring in some of the newest comedy headliners from right across the country.”

Gallant proudly notes that while the festival has hosted comedians from other countries in the past, he estimates that 99.9% of the talent featured at the Hubcap Comedy Festival. Rather then relying upon the same big names year after year, Hubcap’s commitment to giving Metro audiences the best of new comedic talent from the country is evident when you take into account that only two of the comedians performing at this year’s festival have performed at the festival prior.

“Some of the headliners we have featured in the past have not been Canadian but we have always felt it our mandate to focus upon promoting Canadian talent. There is so much talent in Canada, it really is hard to pick who will appear at the festival. There always ends up being more talent than we have available spots,” he says.

Gallant concedes that comedy is a tough nut to crack. Not only does it take perseverance, it often takes others believing in your talent and giving a helping hand. In fact, Gallant says that is precisely how Nikki Payne helped get her start in comedy.

“Mike Wilmot, who is performing at this year’s festival, spends a lot of his time in Europe and the United Kingdom. Some time ago, he kind of took Nikki under his wing. It’s so important to have that support system because when you are starting out as a comedian, there is a lot of questioning of yourself as well as the material,” Gallant shares.

“It takes a strong skill set to crack comedy. You see people trying their best that ultimately just don’t get past a certain point in their career,” Gallant continues. “There is a big fear factor in quitting their day job to pursue comedy. It takes a lot of commitment and faith that it can be done.”

Given the phenomenal growth of the Hubcap Comedy Festival over the past decade-plus, it should come as no surprise that, as Gallant noted above, good word about the festival has indeed traveled. Button believes that aside from serving to entertain audiences during the middle of the long Canadian winter, the Hubcap Comedy Festival has helped to broaden the appeal and viability of comedy in the Hub City year round.

“12 years ago when the festival was starting, the notion of having comedy come to the Capitol Theatre or the university would be a rare thing. But looking at what is taking place around the festival, with Seinfeld, Brent Butt and John Pinette all booked to perform within a month of the festival, it makes me happy to think that we might have played a role in helping develop the interest in comedy in the Moncton area.”

Article published in February 6, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript