Relaxing on a sectional sofa in a suburban basement, Catherine Robertson starts to chuckle at the sight of a notification on her phone. Robertson, a Halifax-based comedian, smiles across the room to fellow comics Dan Hendricken and Travis Lindsay.
"Dan!" she says, "Facebook says we've been friends for three years now!"
Before long the three are deep in conversation about how they all came to meet: Was it at Bearly's or Yuk Yuk's? On a Saturday or a Wednesday? Lindsay, Hendricken and Robertson all come from different places and backgrounds, but they've grown to know each other as active members of Halifax's comedy scene. Together, they represent three of the most prominent voices helping standup comedy to take its place as an established—and viable—piece of Halifax's nightlife.
Joining the three comedians in conversation allows for glimpses into their comedic styles: Hendricken is the most outspoken of the bunch, leaning forward into quick one-liners before reclining into a booming laugh; Lindsay is a touch quieter but riffs off of the others with a small smile. Robertson is wry and speaks in stories, drawing from her own experience to reach punchlines that feel natural and earned.
They're each hilarious in their own right—both on and off stage—and each is set to perform during the Ha!ifax Comedy Festival this weekend.
"There's more of a spotlight on local comedians than there has been at any previous fest that I can remember," says Robertson of this year's festival. "They used to do a homegrown show where they'd feature six [local comedians] in one night, but by taking us and putting us on different shows it gives more highlight to the people who have been working here for awhile."
Lindsay nods. "It's definitely a better process now than just lumping [local comedians] together on one show," he adds. "Now, to have our own little spotlights, it gives us a chance to show that we're just as good and capable as the comedians who are flying in."
All three agree that the success of the Halifax ComedyFest helps to nurture a local comedy scene throughout the rest of the year. Each has been working as a comedian in Halifax for years—Hendricken has been doing stand-up here for four years, Lindsay for eight, and Robertson for 10—and together they've watched the comedy scene grow from one-off, sparsely attended open mics to a consistent slate of shows happening all over town.
"It's not just the festival, it's almost every night of the week now," says Hendricken.
The group cites stages from Sundays at the Argyle to Mondays at Gus' to the Roberston-hosted open mic at Bearly's on Wednesdays as examples of the range of comedy shows that have grown in the last number of years.
"Each of those rooms is totally different, which is also nice because they're totally different vibes," says Hendricken. "So you get to try out the same material in five completely different scenarios...it's nice to know if the joke's legitimately funny or if it's just pandering to one audience."
Robertson builds upon this, sharing that she thinks having a variety of stages and audiences in Halifax pushes her to build up a bigger repertoire of material and, in turn, be a better comedian.
"Having more stages can also help you to tailor to an audience once you've built up enough material," she says. "What I did at Goofy Moose last Sunday I wouldn't bring to a show next Tuesday. It just doesn't feel right. It's fun to be able to go out and do different rooms every week and do different material."
All three plan on building upon sets at ComedyFest in their work for the rest of the year: Lindsay hopes to put together a recording of his standup this year, Hendricken looks forward to a headlining set at Yuk Yuk's in Saint John and Robertson will be recording her first album live at Bearly's on Wednesday, May 3. All the while, they hope to see more folks coming out to their shows and make room for new voices on stage.
"Comedy shows and comedy scenes just attract aggressively interesting people," says Hendricken with a laugh. "There are so many strange cats who'll hang around shows and quickly become a part of your life. I want to meet them all."
Who To See: Can’t-Miss Performances at the ComedyFest
From national household names to local up-and-comers, three local comedians share who they’re looking forward to seeing at this year’s Halifax ComedyFest.
Dan Hendricken “I really want to see Debra DiGiovanni. I’ve been watching her for years, I’ve never seen her live and she’s just a fucking hurricane. She moved down to the States and she’s absolutely killing it, which is super-encouraging to see as a Canadian. You can, in Canadian comedy, sometimes roof out and kind of have to move town, and Debra did it and just destroyed it. I’m super-excited to see her.”
Catherine Robertson “I’m actually really excited about the Yuk Yuk’s show that I’m on—Matt O’Brien and John Beuhler are both fantastic so I’m looking forward to seeing them at the festival. Matt Wright is also definitely one of my favourites to watch these days. What I like about him is that he’s perfect for a festival: he can go into a room and make everybody laugh from age 19 to 90. Everybody loves him.”
Travis Lindsay “You can’t miss the young, Black upstart Travis Lindsay. You’ve got to see him.”