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Comedy in the Sky called a success despite growing pains



The inaugeral Whistler comedy festival, wrapped up on Sunday with a show in the Roundhouse Lodge at the top of Whistler Mountain, a stab at setting a Guinness record for a comedy performance at the highest altitude. Organizers and talent have been overwhelmingly positive about the event as a whole, and look forward to a second event, planning for which is already in the works.

Comedian Toby Hargreaves responded with a hearty "totally!" when asked if he would come back to perform next year.

"The organizers were really nice guys," said Hargreaves. "The talent was really respected. It was an honour to be asked."

The festival was a project of the Whistler Events Bureau, an organization comprised of representatives from Tourism Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb, who partner with outside organizations – in this case Toronto-based Sweat Equity Productions – to create signature events for the resort.

"We provide, depending on our areas of expertise, a combination of administrative support, promotional support, operational support, and maybe even financial support – in this case, that’s what we did. We gave them a loan to be repaid," said John Rae, manager of strategic alliances & marketing for the municipality and WEB member.

Sweat Equity representatives Eric Baird and David Malboeuf took care of the talent, secured by bringing Mark Breslin, president of Yuk Yuk’s international chain of comedy clubs, on board as artistic director.

The actual numbers from the festival are yet to be released but the word from both WEB representatives, Rae and festival director Eric Baird of Sweat Equity is that organizers were pleased to see many shows sell out. Businesses in the resort appeared to benefit from "incremental traffic throughout the region," Rae said.

"We believe that we’ll be able to renew the festival next year based on the initial indication of a strong result," he added.

As could be expected for any new event, the festival suffered a few growing pains. The opening gala event required a zero hour location change from the Whistler Conference Centre to the Chateau Fairmont due to ongoing renovations, and featured performer James Inman was refused entry at the Canadian border.

The festival’s weakest link was the Comedy Movie Marathon, a collection of film comedy classics screened throughout the weekend with proceeds donated to avalanche relief. Due to damaged filmstock, the planned gala screening of cult-favourite Slapshot was replaced at the last moment with the uncomparable Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Showtimes were also unavailable through advertised avenues, and the movie marathon volunteer ticket sales staff were unreliable said Village 8 general manager Jay DeWitt, which put the theatre staff in the awkward position of having to explain that they were not able to sell tickets for the films.

Revenues, added DeWitt were "much lower than expected."

According to Baird, the festival organizers intend to draw funds for the avalanche relief donation from other revenues to bolster a weak total from the Movie Marathon.

But in spite of the problems, even DeWitt is enthusiastic about a possible second effort.

"I did have a meeting with Dave and Eric," he said, "and all three of us said there were some bumps on the road, but next year it’s going to be a phenomenal event because we know where we have to change things."

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