The Community Foundation of the Okanagan-Similkameen is bringing world-class comedians to Penticton for a cause.
The 17th annual Comedy Festival and foundation features the likes of American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and sports podcaster Erin Foley and Canadian laugh-maker and sometimes CBC Debater Graham Chittenden to the Barking Parrot.
Foley cut her teeth in the arguable comedy capital of North America, New York, where she grew up and worked for her first eight years in comedy.
While she learned the trade at some of the most famous clubs in the country, she can’t exactly recall her first time doing stand-up at the New York Comedy Club.
“I think I’ve blocked it out. I don’t exactly remember,” Foley laughed.
She made the move from improv after sticking around after performances and catching stand-up sets.
“I decided, you know I’m going to do this. I remember writing three or four thoughts down and of course they all seem fabulous in your living room,” Foley said. “I did it, and it didn’t go well, but I remember thinking, OK, that sucked, but there’s so much potential.”
It hooked her enough to do some homework and see the likes of Jim Gaffigan and Judy Gold.
“There’s no Netflix, there’s no nothing, so you just have to go and watch and it was great,” Foley said. “That’s the advantage of New York City, you’re seeing just phenomenal stand-up comedy.”
She decided after some years on stage to make the risky leap to the big time in Los Angeles.
“You build up this career in New York and you go to L.A. and they’re like ‘what? It doesn’t matter,’” Foley laughed. “It matters in life and experience, but it takes a while to hit the ground running in L.A.”
She explored acting and TV writing, working on sitcoms and landing a bit role in the cult classic film Almost Famous.
“When you do stand-up you get thrown into acting even though you don’t have a lot of experience,” Foley said. “You get an agent and they just kind of assume you have a background in theatre. I had background in playing every sport and no theatre.”
On the other side of the border, Graham Chittenden grew up in Bradford, Ont. where he still lives.
He dropped out of film school to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comedian.
“It was a Bucket List thing before everybody knew about that terrible movie,” Chittenden said.
His first time doing stand-up in Toronto was “terrifying.”
“But kind of in an unusually pure and exciting way I’ll probably never get back,” Chittenden laughed.
He would work as a waiter and drive from Bradford to Toronto two hours to find a stage.
“After I left film school I was driving 100 kilometers every night to Toronto to try and find stage time,” Chittenden said. “Eventually the money trickled in ever so slowly.”
“I wouldn’t say it took a huge sacrifice, but it took sacrifice in the way that I would take a night off of work, two minutes from my house, to make half as much money two hours from my house.”
His comedic career is made up of milestones where the career became a reality.
“Then those things sort of keep happening. The first time you play a proper theatre show, first time you get a TV gig, first time you open for someone big,” Chittenden said. “All these little events that make you feel like you’ve made it. Then you can have one show that makes you feel like you never made it in the first place.”
The former writer on the CBC comedy Mr. D is also a sometimes competitor on The Debaters on CBC Radio.
He has been on at least 10 episodes, debating against live music (at a live music festival) for disposable goods (at a university that had recently banned the sale of bottled water) and debating Patrick McKenna (the Red Green Show’s Harold) on the superiority of picnics over barbecues.
“You just puff up your chest and take the most egotistical view on your side of it,” Chittenden said. “You just treat it like you have a group of friends deciding where to eat. You’re going to make your point and they’re going to make their point and you just pull out all the stops and say what you have to make your side happen.”
The night of comedy, also including comedian Bengt Washburn, takes place Oct. 15 at the Barking Parrot. Tickets are available at the Lakeside Resort front desk or from Community Foundation board members. Tickets are $65 and include a meal.
The Community Foundation is a registered charity bringing donations to 80 charities throughout the region each year.