Tag Archives: Ottawa


This coming weekend, Ottawa will experience the launch of a fun, interactive live game that challenges problem-solving skills, patience, and bravery at CLAUSTROPHOBIA, the new “escape room” game venue located in Ottawa’s Hintonburg/Mechanicsville neighbourhood.  I recently spoke with Claustrophobia founder and architect of the current two rooms , Jennifer Schnare (below) who kindly shared the who, what, where, when, why and how about this worldwide phenomenon where teams of friends, family, classmates or co-workers are locked into mysterious rooms and have to solve puzzles and clues in order to unlock the door….and escape.  It’s a thrilling, spine-tingling game that results in trust and team building which usually ends up with tons of laughs all around.

Everest 341Jennifer, what inspired you to open an escape room gaming venue?
I played an escape room for the first time about a year ago and was immediately drawn to the concept. Not only did I have an amazing time in the room and trying to solve the puzzles, but I continued thinking about it after I left.

Why Ottawa?
I first started the planning for Claustrophobia to launch in Toronto but it quickly exploded into a phenomenon and there were a significant number of competitors. I moved to Ottawa and quickly saw that there was a market here, too, and only one other competitor.

get me out Key ImageWhat’s the background or history of the “escape room” phenomenon?
The real life escape room phenomenon was inspired several years ago by “escape room” video games popularized in Japan, and the live game has already taken off in the U.S., England, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mainland China. Over the past couple of years, escape room game venues have mushroomed all across the US and now Canada, and is ideal for families, friends and companies looking to encourage team building with their staff.

trapped2Who writes all the clues and comes up with the room themes for Claustrophobia?
I do with the help of my close family and friends. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without their support!

Did you personally have to search for all the furnishings and nic-nacs to create the correct ambiance for each room? And where did you find these things?
Yes, I found all the furniture and décor accessories! This was a big job, sourced over months. Kijiji was my biggest source for the larger furnishing – I was renting a Uhaul and driving around Ottawa and surrounding areas by myself, relying on the kindness of the seller to help me lift things. Many of the smaller pieces came from sites like e-Bay, Etsy and Amazon.

labWhat business background do you have that suggests you will make Claustrophobia a resounding success?
I’ve worked as a fundraiser and marketer for over 12 years. This has allowed me to gain the skills in everything from managing a budget, sourcing and working with vendors, to finding cost-effective ways to advertise, developing creative ideas and problem-solving.

Do your friends and family think you’re nuts…or are they all supportive and helping out?
Oh yes indeed, they do think I’m a bit of a nut…LOL…but they’re all very supportive and love to help out. Most have said that they “can’t believe I am doing this” and “I wouldn’t have had the guts to do this” but I wanted to take the risk because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. And I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Describe the two rooms your currently offer, and their capacity.
There are two rooms – The Laboratory (see description here: http://claustrophobiagame.ca/escape-rooms/the-laboratory) which accommodates 2 to 5 people. The second room is The Hostel (see description here: http://claustrophobiagame.ca/escape-rooms/the-hostel) and it accommodates 2-4 people. It’s important to me that the rooms don’t feel crowded and that you don’t have to play with strangers. I also wanted to ensure you have a full hour to complete the puzzles.

RoomAny plans to increase or expand the current rooms?
Yes! My current venue has the room to expand and I’m already in the process of mapping out the new game room called ‘The Gallery’.

trapped lockHow do people book the rooms and do you have any plans for a Claustrophobia tournament in the near future?
People can book via the website. For the grand opening weekend coming up (March 12-March 15) we’re offering a special discount: $25 per room using promo code ESCAPE25. I don’t have plans for a tournament at this early stage but there are opportunities for corporate team building, birthday packages and of course we have a prize for the team who gets out the fastest every month by room.

ClaustrophobiaBlack (2)To learn more about Ottawa’s newest live “escape room” venue and to book a room, please visit www.claustrophobiagame.ca


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CANADIAN COMEDY AWARDS – On-stage Acceptance Speeches, Tears and Cheers

My tireless PR colleague, Jennifer, managed to capture some of the on-stage Beaver acceptance speeches with her phone camera while tweeting out all the action on Sunday night. Please excuse the less than perfect picture quality but I’m sure you’ll enjoy reliving that special moment when a nominee becomes a winner!   Host Tom Green strode out to centre stage (below) to start the ball rolling….

2014-09-14 19.33.51-2…then on to the presentations.  Kayla Lorette wins for Best Female Performance in a Web Series, then Ron James accepted this year’s Dave Broadfoot Comedy Genius Award 

2014-09-14 19.58.53 2014-09-14 20.40.20-1An emotional and surprised Garry Rideout Jr. (below) accepts the Roger Abbott Award (shared with Kyra Williams of Yuk Yuk’s)

2014-09-14 20.31.37Then….Adam Cawley was crowned Best Improvisor

IMG_20140914_205819Best Sketch Troupe, Peter ‘n’ Chris (below)

IMG_20140914_210029The Sufferettes took home the Beaver for Best Improv Troupe

IMG_20140914_210436Best Comedic Play was won by Peter n’ Chris Explore Their Bodies

IMG_20140914_210605A happy but tearful Kayla Lorette was a 3-time winner, taking home Best Female Improvisor

IMG_20140914_211329Best Variety Act was Morro and Jasp

IMG_20140914_211832And DeAnne Smith was named Best Female Stand-Up

IMG_20140914_212813Chris Locke was named Best Male Stand-up

IMG_20140914_213233And the wonderfully witty Ken Hall was named Best Breakout Artist, much to the audience’s delight!


Our sincere apologies for those we missed – the pictures were just too blurred or bright to post. But again, congrats to all the nominees, thanks to all the presenters, our host, the team of volunteers, Tim P. and everyone who helped create this fabulous fun-filled evening celebrating Canadian comedy talent.   http://www.canadiancomedy.ca







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So the CCA’s are done and dusted for another year….big congrats to awards Founder Tim Progosh and his team of producers, volunteers and particularly to my PR colleague, Jennifer Murray, whose Twitter fingers must be crippled after posting almost a thousand tweets over the 5-day Festival period and the lead-up weeks. Bravo, everyone!  Here is a list of the winners and photos from backstage after the presentations. For more info, please visit the website:  www.canadiancomedy.ca and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, too. Below, Tim poses with Cathy Jones (l), his sister and the Ottawa’s hometown boy, Mike MacDonald (r).


And Tim welcomed Paul Hartman (below) who was on hand to present a special award in his brother’s name – “The Phil Hartman Comedy Award” later that evening.

Tim with Paul H

So many cheers and tears but everyone had such a blast. Many of the comedians, comic actors, improvisers, writers and directors had not met before as the winners came from across the country – from BC to Nfld!

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1) Comedy Person of the Year                                  Dave Foley

2) Best Feature Film                                                   Lawrence & Holloman

3) Best Writing in a Feature                                        Jeremy LaLonde – Sex After Kids

4) Best Comedy Special or Short                               Torturous

5) Best Male Performance in a Feature                     Jon Dore – Stag

6) Best Female Performance in a Feature                 Ingrid Haas – That Burning Feeling

7) Best Audio Show or Series                                     Stop Podcasting Yourself

8) Best Audio Clip                                                       Bee Circus

9) Best Web Series                                                     Convos With My 2-Year-Old

10) Best Direction in a Web Series     Mike Fly & Simon Fraser –The Dark Night Versus Valerie – Versus Valerie Ep. 10

11) Best Writing in a Web Series         Bob Kerr – Acting Class– But I’m Chris Jericho! Ep 104

12) Best Female Performance in a Web Series        Kayla Lorette – Everyone’s Famous

13) Best Male Performance in a Web Series             Scott Thompson – But I’m Chris Jericho!

14) Best Breakout Artist                                              Ken Hall

15) Best Taped Live Performance                             Darrin Rose – Just For Laughs All Access

16) Best Male Stand up                                              Chris Locke

17) Best Female Stand up                                          DeAnne Smith

18) Best Sketch Troupe                                              Peter ‘n’ Chris

19) Best Improv Troupe                                              The Sufferettes

20) Best Male Improvisor                                           Adam Cawley

21) Best Female Improvisor                                       Kayla Lorette

22) Best Variety Act                                                    Morro and Jasp

23) Best Comedic Play, Revue or Series                  Peter n’ Chris Explore Their Bodies

24) Best One Person Show                                        Weaksauce

25) Best TV Show                                                       This Hour Has 22 Minutes season XXI

26) Best Direction In a TV Series          Nathan Fielder– Gas Station/Caricature Artist – Nathan For You #103

27) Best Writing in a TV Series or Special                 Nathan Fielder-Gas Station/Caricature Artist – Nathan For You #103

28) Best Female Performance in a TV Series           Nikki Payne – Satisfaction

29) Best Male Performance in a TV Series               Nathan Fielder – Nathan For You


Phil Hartman Award:                                                  Kenny Robinson

Dave Broadfoot Award:                                              Ron James

Roger Abbott Award:                                                  Kyra Williams & Gary Rideout Jr.

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Am so proud that my friend Kenny Robinson was presented with the Phil Hartman Comedy Award. I’ve known and worked with Kenny since the 80’s and he was always reliable and one of the most respectful and respected stand-up comics I’ve ever worked with. Kenny was truly surprised and touched by this award….congrats, big guy, this honour is so well deserved.

20140914_202917 20140914_202957 Paul & Kenny

Phil made the rounds and schmoozed with all the stars – yes, some of the late great comedian’s ashes are in the award itself. Here, Paul introduces “Phil” to Ron James, Scott Thompson, Tom Green and Ben Miner (below)

Paul & Ron Paul & Scott Paul & Tom Ben Miner w Paul

We had the wonderful Mr. Hollywood (Matt Demers) and his crew shooting interviews for the Awards gala at the Ottawa Little Theatre – a great theatre offering professional tech support, box office, bar staff and a beautifully appointed soft-seat auditorium.

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Thanks so much, Matt, Jessica and Kyle http://mrhollywood.net/ – you can sub-in for ET Canada anytime!


Lots of activity before the show – lots of schmoozing, comparing jokes, and cocktails!!

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…and then the lights flickers and the bells chimed…it’s SHOW TIME!

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“Ladies and gentlemen, your host…..Tom Green!” And so the Awards began and nominees and winners streamed backstage for their photo opps.

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Even the Founder of Yuk Yuk’s and the “godfather of Canadian stand-up” Mark Breslin enjoyed the sponsored backstage refreshments!


So it’s congratulations to everyone and a big thank-you to Ottawa for making us all feel welcome.

Jennifer and I headed back to Toronto yesterday afternoon, courtesy of our travel sponsor VIA Rail and I think this pic of Jenn taken at the station sums it up well – tired but very happy that everything worked out well.


Thanks to CTV Ottawa for all your awesome support with interviews and on-site news cameras, radio TSN1200 for having comedian Graham Kay sit in on your sports show and thanks to the Courtyard Marriott who helped out with ongoing WiFi assistance.

Kudos to all the club venues – their patient and hospitable staff and mgmn’t – for hosting multiple shows: Yuk Yuk’s, Absolute Comedy, Arts Court, The Velvet Room, Great Canadian Cabin and PPL


So it’s goodbye from me…and goodbye from them!

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Monday Walkabout in Ottawa, Canada

The Canadian Comedy Awards week is done and dusted…whew! My PR colleague, Jennifer, and I survived the organized chaos of a major awards show and finally got to play tourist in Ottawa for 2 hrs before leaving for our train back to Toronto. Here’s our quickie trip around the historical parliament buildings and various points of interest…some I covered solo in my previous blog. So much more fun with a friend and some sunshine, yes? Jenn took a quick pick of the big Catholic church opposite the National Art Gallery – the silver covered spires sparkled in the sunshine.

20140915_123644We then took a hike up and around “Champlain Point” which offered stunning vistas across to Quebec and all across the city and hills.

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20140915_124457 20140915_124537 20140915_124613 20140915_124646 20140915_125041(0)I was careful to tell Jenn (above) not to back up too far as the cliff was right there….aaaaaaargh!  Then Jenn got me to do my best impression of Ottawa’s hostess with the mostest! Ladies and gentlemen, may I present….the capital

20140915_125119So much beautiful green space and flower gardens…we snapped away at everything and anything

20140915_125746 20140915_125752 20140915_125905 20140915_125947 20140915_130121Jenn got into the statues and helped a family with their group shot!

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We circled the fabulous Hogwarts-style Chateau Laurier hotel (below) with all its fancy-schmancy architecture & walkways along the Rideau Canal.

20140915_13081120140915_130858 20140915_130928 20140915_130937 20140915_131052 20140915_131210Then it was back to the hotel to pack out suitcases and head to the train station. Thanks to Kathleen from Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa who graciously offered to drive us and a couple of other comedy guests….

20140915_131249 20140915_142228 20140915_142237…and we finally made it. Poor Jennifer looks tired but happy it’s all over, and I felt exactly the same (hope you appreciate my lack of a selfie here as I looked pretty scary with no make-up, no sleep and no energy).

20140915_145500 20140915_145512 20140915_151050Toronto, here we come……oh, oh, look…. horsies!

20140915_152631The little kid in me made a surprise visit…haa! I also saw a cheeky groundhog and a big white-tailed deer dart away from the tracks – I watched her disappear into the brush alongside the rails – too quick to snap a photo. How wonderful.  Am now home and ready for a nice cuppa tea and the comfort of my own bed. Thank you for such a warm welcome, Ottawa. I’ll be back soon.


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Woke up early so thought I’d take a brisk walkies around the city. Needed some exercise since I’d been sat on my duff all week, Facebooking, Tweeting and media pitching for the Cdn Comedy Awards – the “Beavers” are given out tonight.

20140914_095820I love the statures and sculptures around the city…this HUGE spider (above) is in front of the National Gallery. Directly opposite ipsy-wipsy was a beautiful heritage building and a stunning Catholic church (below)

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There’s so much green space, I was very impressed. And how wonderful to be alone…only sharing the scene with a couple of very horny squirrels!

20140914_100329 20140914_100354 20140914_100434 20140914_100444A herd of joggers (above) went by, but other than them, still nobody in the park at 9am Sunday.

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20140914_100938Loved this statue of John By (below)…but a QR code slapped on the front? Oh come on now.

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The British Lt. Colonel By was one of the greatest early engineers in Canada. He built the 200 km Rideau Canal.

More beautiful vistas of the Parliament Buildings…

20140914_100716 20140914_101038Then a quick breakfast stop at Mello’s on Dalhousie Street (best freakin’ bacon ever!)…

20140914_104107…and an even quicker nibble on my first Ottawa “Beavertail”…way too sweet but when in Rome…

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One more day then it’s back to reality on Toronto – big art/food event on Thursday at Urban Gallery with Whisky & Spice, then launching/promoting Shelley Marshall’s “Hold Mommy’s Cigarette” 28-day run in Toronto. I guess this morning’s “touristy” walk was my only vacation this year!

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We had a monsoon-like rain storm here in Ottawa today that kinda dampened the publicity workshop and podcast panel that took place at the Arts Court this afternoon but a few hardy souls braved the downpour….big thanks to Al Connors (member of Crush Improv) who helped coordinate the venue for us. But Shelley Marshall and I were able to share insights and advice about self-promotion and digital/social media publicity and marketing to a small but appreciative audience. Here Shelley gets up close and personal with Garth Merkeley of Hot Thespian Action20140913_131346

Tonight’s big Variety Gala at the Ottawa Little Theatre was a blast! Great crowd laughed non-stop throughout the show. Hosted by Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus (below)….

B&S…..the show featured Scott Thompson, Rebecca Kohler, David Pryde, Wes Borg and Peter’n’Chris. Matt Demers, a.k.a. Mr. Hollywood, was back with his crew to shoot celebrity interviews and first off we had the fabulicious Shelley Marshall who is nominated for her one woman show, Hold Mommy’s Cigarette.

20140913_191207 20140913_191405Then CCA Founder TimProgosh was interviewed by Elizabeth Gray-Smith, social columnist for iPolitics (www.iPolitics.ca)

20140913_190021 20140913_190129Shelley & Elizabeth had an animated discussion on politics and theatre….

20140913_192846…Mr. Hollywood then pointed his camera and mic at Rick Wharton, Founder of the Funniest Person in the Valley contest. Rick and I are old friends, going back over 25yrs. He and his lovely wife Lorelei also tried out the Great White North set. Cool!

20140913_191839 20140913_192322We then asked our CCA nominee coordinator (i.e. comic wrangler) DeannaPalazzo to have a quick chat with Mr. Hollywood. Deanna is also an actor, producer, improvisor…what doesn’t she do?!

20140913_192813Throughout the entire CCA week, our Twitter goddess, Jennifer Murray, has been hard at work every day and night, making sure our social media is constantly updating, informing and entertaining our followers. At least tonight she got to sit down while she tap-tapped away!

20140913_193101We had quite a lot of fun with the Great White North set – here’s Deanna showing us her “inner hoser” …..

20140913_193345….and we just had to put Mr. Hollywood and his lovely camera assistant Jessica on the set, too. Coo-ook-ook-ook-koo-ook-koo-koo!

20140913_193905And then Elizabeth came back to the set with her hubby and they, too, got their “inner hoser” on!

20140913_193741(0)Jennifer and I made a quick pit stop over at Arts Court to catch a little improv action – here The Sufferettes finish a scene to raucous applause.


We have a fabulous team of hard-working volunteers and the lovely lady on the door at Arts Court gave us a nice smile, even after her long day/night of work.20140913_220022As Jenn and I were about to leave, we ran into Al Connors who was busy hosting the Improv party and I dragged him over to the photo wall for a few party snaps. Al, you crack me up!

20140913_220121 20140913_220126Good luck to all the nominees tomorrow night…see you at the Awards Gala.


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Woke to a grey Thursday in Ottawa but the folks here are warm and friendly and all seem ready to laugh their tube sox off during our shows this week! After downloading some more pics from last night’s show at the Velvet Room (below, featuring comic magician David Merry with his unsuspecting volunteer from the audience – 1st pic)….

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…I grabbed my morning coffee and a few photos of the city before hitting the laptop and phone to pitch more local media to come out see what amazing comedy talent this country has. Already fallen in love with Ottawa – great stores, friendly locals, extremely polite drivers who let pedestrians go first, and hot soldiers in sexy camo….LOL

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Some of the old buildings remind me of Hogwarts….

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…and then I found where our tax dollars go, too…..

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On my way back to the hotel, I saw this cool shop window….HAY, is that ceramic head sticking its tongue out at ME?


TONIGHT: shows at the Yuk Yuk’s and Absolute Comedy clubs – visit http://www.canadiancomedy.ca for details and ticket info.

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Long day, starting with 7am alarm screaming at me to get up and outta the house to catch the 9:25am train from Union Stn, Toronto.  Pulled into Ottawa around 2:15pm and the grey clouds had followed us. But we were welcomed warmly by the lovely smiling staff at the Courtyard Marriott in the Byward Market (below).20140910_161855Publicity coordinator and Twitter goddess Jennifer and I headed out for some food – thank goodness there’s a 24hr Dunn’s across the street. Yummmm, I sucked back an all-day breakie with extra bacon. Burp! Then headed to the market to pick up some fruit for the room. I tend to have the late night nibblies so….

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…then back to hotel to get prepped for the Funniest Person in the Valley comedy finals at the Great Canadian Cabin.

20140910_193011The wonderfully funny Rick Wharton  (below striking his best rockstar pose) created the contest to discover talented newcomers and each year, it’s more and more difficult to pick a winner – tonight was no exception. Way too many brilliant, funny, rude, sassy, insightful comics took the stage…..


Host Ben Miner (below) opened with a fantastic set before intro’ing everyone…

20140910_202556I was honoured to be asked to judge the contest (so many years working in the comedy biz) and along with my fellow judges, James Abson & Shawn Simpson from radio TSN1200, and CCA founder Tim Progosh (below)…

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…we scored each of the 13 fabulous comedians. I wanted to crown a Mr Congeniality but I was out-voted on that one. Here are all the comics apres-performance, relaxing with cocktails, beers and some schmoozing…..

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…all the time, Rick was tallying the scores.20140910_221713

…and we have a winner –  Geoff MacKay!!!

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Congrats, Geoff. I especially liked your “Aussie” impression….hmmm, bloody good show, mate.

Check out Geoff’s website: http://www.geoffmackay.ca/

There was another great show over at the Velvet Room featuring the amazing comic magician David Merry – will gather pics and report on that tomorrow morning. Now it’s time to catch up on my beauty sleep so I can tackle Ottawa media in the morning. The Marriott has great big comfortable beds…I may never get up. LOL

Thanks to the friendly staff at the Great Canadian Cabin….we’ll be going back for sure!



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I’m busy packing my Depends – am sure I’ll be laughing so hard, I’ll pee my pants!! – for this week’s 15th annual Canadian Comedy Awards taking place in Ottawa, Canada  http://www.canadiancomedy.ca

Over the next 5 nights, the CCAs present multiple shows in multiple clubs across the city, culminating with the handing out of the “Beaver” awards to winners in 30 categories, including the Person of the Year – this year’s nominees are: Lauren Ash, Gerry Dee, Sugar Sammy (below), Dave Foley and Nathan Fielder.

Sugar SammyOttawa Little Theatre offers great big-ticket shows Friday and Saturday featuring hosts (pictured below) Cathy Jones, Scott Thompson, Matt Baram & Naomi Snieckus, and Tom Green hosts the Awards Gala on Sunday.

Cathy Jones 2

Tom Green 4And here are just a few of the performers you may see wandering thru the Byward Market (incl. home-town boy Mike MacDonald, below) or lining up for “hair of the dog” the morning after their shows:

MacDonald Kayla Amanda BP frost sufferettes Hannah Spear Less Deanne David Pryde(kim-215)

Hey, we even have a recent Emmy-winner nom’d for a Beaver, too!

Stephanie w_Emmy

Have you checked out these hysterical Canadian comedy films yet?

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I’ll be starting tomorrow night at the Great Canadian Cabin for the finals for the Funniest Person in the Valley contest, created by my dear friend Rick Wharton (below)….

DSC_7463_0046hs (1) COMEDY…then after that, I’ll probably head out to cover the shows at the PPL and Velvet Room clubs, all part of the Wednesday 3Shows, 3Rooms night and possibly Yuk Yuk’s, too.  So many talented stand-up comics, improv groups, writers, directors, TV, film and web actors….what to do, who to see, where to go??? Check the website and the Facebook & Twitter social media pages frequently for Festival news and backstage pics from all the shows.

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I met the multi-talented TIM PROGOSH (pictured below) way back in the 80’s during my tenure as Business Manager of Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret and agent for the associated Funny Business comedy agency.  Back then, Tim was one of the hardest working stand-up and sketch comedians and then as a TV actor (everyone remember The Adventures of Sinbad?) and director. He has since gone on to work in an advisory capacity with various government and film/tv industry organizations and is currently the President of The Canadian Comedy Foundation for Excellence and the Canadian Comedy Experience. And for the past 15 years, Tim has been the driving force behind the annual Canadian Comedy Awards.  I caught up with Tim recently at Lettieri’s Coffee Shop in Yorkville, just around the corner from where it all began for us at Yuk Yuks over 30yrs ago.


Looking back over the past 15 years, how do you see the CCAs have impacted the comedy industry as a whole?
The impact has been in two major ways: the first is a sense of community. Before these awards, I toured and did stand-up, sketch and improv. There was a real rift between stand-up comedians and those performing the other forms of comedy – they did not like each other. They did not appreciate how funny they all were. The CCAs was the first chance to bring everyone together for one party. And our Variety Galas were like Vaudeville – we put different genres in the same show. The voting process gave everyone an equal say and because we were the first major awards show with online voting, everyone got a chance to see everyone.
The impact was more cross-over acts, more camaraderie, more sharing and of course the best party of the year – every year!
The second impact was bringing together film,TV people and live performers. Writers, directors and producers were mingling and getting to know stand-ups, improvisers and sketch performers. Soon people like Ron James, Brent Butt and Shaun Majumder were seen by agents, TV and film people in new ways. If you look at our winners and who our stars were – you will see a pattern.

What first inspired you to launch these awards?
Our mandate has never changed: “To recognize, celebrate and promote Canadian achievements in comedy at home and abroad”
Funny story…..I was at the Laugh Resort to see Gilbert Gottfried. Mike Wilmot (pictured below) opened. At the end of the show as people left I asked a few people what they thought of the show. They all said Gilbert was funny but that “first guy” was hysterical. I toured for over 20 years in sketch , improv and stand-up, seeing some very funny people and I knew they were better than what the “stars’ of the day were. Now combine that knowledge with a love for comedy inspired by my family who were comedy junkies – there was no way my Dad would ever let us miss Wayne and Shuster on TV. Finally, I had just completed 10 years as a full time working actor/comic/writer and producer, 2 years starring on a TV series filmed in Capetown, and came back to Canada where there was a new TV network: The Comedy Network. I felt it should be breeze selling the network and sponsors on the idea of a “Canadian Comedy Awards” and a “Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame”.


Who were your first award winners/categories?
The first year a group of advisors got together (Mark Breslin, Andrew Alexander, myself, Sydd Capp and representatives from ACTRA/Equity/DGC and WGC) and we wanted to include Film and TV because lets face it, no one in comedy wins the Oscars or, at that time, Canadian film and TV awards: Genies or Geminis. So we decided to have Live, Film and TV as our main categories and give out awards in each category and here were the winners:
Ron James
Wade McElwain
Skippy’s Rangers
Colin Mochrie
Kathryn Greenwood
The Drowsy Chaperone
Steve Morel (The Drowsy Chaperone)
Mump and Smoot, Inferno
Lisa Lambert, The Drowsy Chaperone
Steve Morel, The Drowsy Chaperone
Paul O’Sullivan, Piñata Full of Bees
Henry Sarwer-Foner (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, “New Year’s Eve Special”)
Michael Kennedy (Made in Canada)
Tim Steeves, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Edward Kay, and Greg Thomey (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
Rick Mercer (Made in Canada)
Tim Steeves, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Edward Kay, Mary Walsh and Greg Thomey (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
Mary Walsh (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
Mike Myers, Austin Powers:International Man of Mystery
Mike Myers (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)
Sarah Polley (Go)
Mike Myers (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)
Don McKellar (Last Night)
Happy Gang

Pictured below: Bruce Hunter & Rosie Shuster, Deb DiGiovanni and Jeremy Hotz

1th cca's presenters Bruce Hunter and Rosie Shuster Female stand winner Deb Digiovanni jeremy hotz

Over the years, can you share any wild’n’crazy stories about award nights?
• Having a Board meeting in London and realizing that there was a couple under the table from the night before. Still not sure exactly what they were up to, but…..
• Seeing 50 people cram into a hotel room, including members of the legendary Air Farce tv show and The Sketchersons and TV directors, at 4 am all still partying because The Sketchersons had got their hotel room sponsored! It was a veritable comedy who’s who from Jayne Eastwood and Don Ferguson to Deb McGrath to Derek Edwards to Pat Thornton and Deb Digiovanni!
• Nick Bayley of the Bayley Group convinced the DJ at a club in Regina to come back to the hotel room hospitality suite at the Ramada so we could keep the party going and dance until 7am!
• Last year in Ottawa at the Arts Court Theatre, Tom Green ended up rapping at a late night soiree.
• My favourite was walking into the Guvernment nightclub after the Awards Ceremony in year 2 and having The Sadies play as the crowd filed in.

Pictured below: Roger, Mary & Don from Air Farce/This Hour, Will Sasso hosting awards, and Shaun Majumda with Tim

mary figures it out with don androg Sasso-presenting Shaun M, Tim & mystery man

The 80’s were considered the “golden age” of Canadian comedy, especially with the emergence of stand-ups like Mike McDonald, Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey and break-out sketch comics Martin Short, Mike Meyers and Tim Sims – thirty years later, what is your take on the state of the art in Canadian comedy?
I think every decade has had its own string of artists. Frank Van Keeken was story editor for Mad About You during its run while Brian Hart and Gary Campbell piloted Mad TV with Will Sasso and Ron Pederson during its hay day. Then The Kids In The Hall dominated for a decade or more as Dave Foley went on to the News Radio show with Phil Hartman, then Scott Thompson on the Larry Sanders Show. Then there was Seth Rogen who came out of Vancouver’s Urban Well stand-up scene and Will Arnett and Michael Cera from Arrested Development. But here’s the kicker – once the Comedy Awards started we had Made in Canada, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer, Corner Gas, Mr. Dee ….all of which got to STAY IN CANADA.
And Ron James, Deb DiGiovanni, Nikki Payne and even Derek Edwards do a great job touring in stand-up…Sugar Sammy sold over 200,000 tickets last year! Mike Wilmot got roles in The Foundation and It’s All Gone Pete Tong – and the movie Bad Cop Bon Cop is hilarious.
We continue to turn out great comedy that needs to be recognized!

Pictured below: Nikki Payne, Tom Green and sketch troupe Picnic Face

12th cca Stand up winner Nikki Payne Tom Green 12t cca's sketch winners Pic nic face

This year, who are the ones to watch and why?
For Sketch, Peter n’ Chris, last year’s winners, a two person sketch troop
Sugar Sammy (pictured below) – he performs in three languages and sells tickets.
Jared Keeso & Jordan Beirnes, Hockey Players, Letterkenny Problems – these guys are burning up the internet
Hannah Spear & Versus Valerie – very talented
Hold Mommy’s Cigarette – one person show by Shelly Marshall (also pictured below)
And of course all the gang at 22 minutes and Mr.Dee

Sugar Sammy

Shelley Marshall

How crucial is audience/fan support and how has this grown over the years?
We get a lot of fan and audience support and it’s growing every year. Best was last year in Ottawa and the years outside of Toronto because we did not have the money to compete with bigger events in TO. Now my kids talk to people who use the term CCA winner to describe a person they see on a video or on YouTube and not a day goes by without a Google alert mentioning a CCA winner. So media and the public are both supportive and it is growing, in fact, we have 15,000 registered voters.

How have corporate sponsor dollars enabled the CCAs to grow and expand? (so many people don’t understand that these are the $s that allow you to run the shows)
Well it’s all about the public funding so far. The Governments of Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and now Ontario have helped us stabilize our organization and local sponsorships have been fantastic. We used to have The Comedy Network but they decided to pursue other directions once it became part of BellMedia. We currently have great corporate sponsors and a growing product. I believe the next 3 years leading to Canada’s 150th celebrations will be our best.

Has the media supported and promoted the CCAs and how difficult is it to get bums in seats at the actual awards show?
We‘ve sold out 12 of the 15 actual awards shows, so it’s not a problem even when we’re outside of a major city the size of Toronto. Yes, the media covers our nominees and launch events as well as the winners every year; over the last three years CBC has done a full report on the next morning’s news show. And all media writers when describing an act or a show refer to their Canadian Comedy Award or nomination.

Tim & ladies

Who are your judges and how are these people selected for jury duty?
Well, after the submissions are vetted for accuracy – a painful and time consuming process – they go to jury. We’ve had close to 180 jurors over the past 5 years who meet independently to cast their votes in the categories they judge. Their rankings determine 35% of final vote. They can not be submitters in the category and are chosen with the following criteria:
• Professional status – they have previously won or been nominated
• Years in the business – ACTRA, Equity , DGC, CMPA or WGC
• Regions – each committee must represent Canada, not just Toronto
• Discipline – live TV and Film
• Gender – our juries are not just a bunch of guys, lots of funny ladies are included
• Minimum of 5 members to a jury.

Any successful project always has its naysayers – have you experienced any backlash within the comedy community as to the nominating and judging process?
Every year there are those who criticize. Some do it directly by voicing concerns at our annual live stream town hall meeting or by writing in with a concern. We have answered these criticisms by trying to improve the systems when/where we can. We also have committees every year who try to keep our criteria relevant to the industry. The Newcomer category has evolved into the Breakout category because it is tough to police “first time on stage” as a newcomer. That was a result of constructive criticisms. The jury and voting systems have also evolved from this constructive criticism.
The negative side is a small group of individuals who don’t respect the systems we have worked so hard to create, so they attack the people who may chair a committee or sit on a jury. Sadly, they do so out of ignorance and rarely want to establish fact. So they use social media to make a statement based on lack of knowledge (ignorance) or because they “heard” something or simply repeat what somebody else has posted. That piece of unverifiable fact becomes circulated on social media.
I offer to take time to meet these individuals to show them the amount of work and time and the care that is taken – but only twice in 15 years has any of these people wanted to meet face to face. It must be tough for an actor, writer or comic who has no other experience to comprehend what has to happen to make this event happen every year, let alone for 15 years. There are few areas of the business where I have not had such great teachers, mentors and experience. I’ve made mistakes but as long as I’m here we will always listen to those who care.
That is why I respect those who serve as jurors and on committees and will stand by their side. We have answered every question or brought the questions into discussions at Committee and even Board level which is brought to us directly. I have learned that it is almost impossible to discuss anything with those who merely want to sit in a room and gossip or tweet out knee-jerk factless rants. Either they are too narrow minded to embrace complex issues, or they prefer to be bitter and angry. The ones who care and are trying to make a rational point, and who also listen make great Committee members and make a constructive impact to better the awards.
We are not perfect but after chairing, jurying or being a part of The Banff Rockies, the Genies, the Geminis, the CCMA’s and the Junos, I feel the CCA’s have a terrific system as good if not better than any other national Awards.

Any advice to new comics starting out in their careers? 
Nothing beats stage time – nothing.

And in closing, any other comments?
All awards and contests where juries are in play are not perfect. We’ve tried to create an event to fulfill the mandate and have a lot of fun. As a result, more people have a chance to earn a living in comedy in Canada and more people get their “green cards” to work abroad.

The 15th Canadian Comedy Awards And Festival take place Sept 10 to 14th in Ottawa, Ontario
Venues: Ottawa Little Theatre, Yuk Yuks and Absolute Comedy
Awards: Sunday September 14th at Ottawa Little Theatre 7:30 pm
Galas: Friday Sept. 12 & Saturday Sept. 13 at Ottawa Little Theatre
Website: http://canadiancomedy.ca/

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