With a 30-plus year career that has included acting, writing and television, Newfoundland native Andy Jones is bringing his popular one-man show, An Evening With Uncle Val to the Riverview Arts Centre for a 2 p.m. performance tomorrow afternoon. The versatile Jones is no stranger to the entertainment business, having had his various endeavours released on CD, DVD and as television films. His hard work has been recognized on both national and international levels, being a two-time Gemini Award recipient while also having nabbed two Emmy Award nominations.
From his Newfoundland home, Jones says that he was bit by the acting bug while in school, leading him down a path that he admits was traveled infrequently at best by fellow Newfoundlanders.
“I went to St. Mary’s University in Halifax and pursued drama before doing my master’s degree at the University of Toronto,” the soft-spoken but chatty Jones says.
“I actually ended up teaching school for one year but the funny thing was, I had never intended to be a teacher. I had a wonderful year though in a great community here in Newfoundland called Ferryland. It was a wonderful school but truth be told, I was just too anxious to start acting that I had to leave it behind.”
Although there was little doubt in his own mind about what he would do with his life, he admits that his choice to pursue acting wasn’t a common one at the time.
“Going to acting school was a bizarre thing to do in the eyes of others in the those days. Many just didn’t believe that people from Newfoundland could be actors. I was very fortunate though, my parents supported my decision, partially helped by the fact that my father had been an amateur actor.”
In 1973, Jones joined the Newfoundland-based CODCO Comedy Troupe, performing with the group all over Newfoundland for approximately three years. The group ended up having the CODCO comedy show broadcast on CBC from 1987 through 1992; their timeslot was actually back-to-back with the Kids In The Hall television show. Included among Jones’ CODCO cast-mates at the time were Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones, both of whom went on to This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
“With CODCO, it was kind of the first time that Newfoundlanders had seen sketch comedy in which the Newfoundland population was being reflected back at themselves.”
Asked about the inspiration for the Uncle Val character, Jones says that a man that he knew named Francis Colbert inspired him.
“Francis was an excellent storyteller,” he says.
“I had the opportunity to see him perform and eventually became friends with him. The character of Uncle Val came from me reciting different quotes from Francis because he was such a funny and witty guy.”
For the upcoming presentation at Riverview Arts Centre on Saturday, Jones explains that the premise of the performance centres around Uncle Val, a retired fisherman and life-long resident of one of Newfoundland’s many outport communities who ends up moving to the “big city” of St. John’s to take up residence with his daughter and son-in-law.
“Being in St. John’s, Uncle Val misses the simple, outport life. He doesn’t feel that he is important to these people’s lives but as he starts pitching in with babysitting and various other things around the house, he becomes important to the family. Essentially, the play is a take on life in the suburbs from the point of view of an outsider.”
In addition to Jones being a staple on stages all over the country, he also recently penned two children’s books, Jack and the Manger and The Queen of Paradise’s Garden. The former he considers a Newfoundland folktale version of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem while the latter is his adaptation of a story that originated on the south coast of Newfoundland in the 1960s.
Speaking with Jones, it is clear that his Newfoundland heritage and identity are of utmost importance to him. To date, he has been fortunate enough to travel throughout Canada promoting his various works and has also been given the opportunity to perform in far-off places like Scotland, Ireland and Australia.
“I wouldn’t mind getting outside of Canada more to perform. I do find though that because my shows tend to be very wordy, they are bound to go over best in English-speaking areas.
“I’ve been told that it can be a little difficult to understand some parts of the show if English isn’t your first language.”
When quizzed about whether or not he finds doing one-man shows unnerving, Jones says that on occasion, he does wish that he had someone else to take over for him from time to time but that for the most part, he enjoys flying solo.
“When things are going well in a show, you don’t necessarily miss working with others; it’s nice to get all those laughs yourself. But that being said, there is definitely a nice camaraderie that you can only get in working with others on stage.”
Article published in February 4, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript