Tara O'Doherty remembers the first time she got onstage as a stand-up comic well.
"(It was) back in 2013," she says. "I had always wanted to do it and I was given the opportunity to give it a go. I did it and it was the best decision I ever made. Also the scariest, but it changed me."
After that life-altering experience, she wanted to help other aspiring comedians get up onstage for the first time as well. So, in 2015, she and another local comic, Megan Fullerton, banded together to launch the Whistler Comedy Showdown as part of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
The event ran at Buffalo Bill's throughout the festival, pitting burgeoning comics against each other, culminating in a final event where winners earned accolades—and prize money.
"They get a taste for it; it's a rush," O'Doherty says. "When you do stand-up comedy and then win something like that, it makes you want more."
The showdown is taking place as an independent event this year—its fourth—because the World Ski and Snowboard Festival has undergone changes and is running as a shorter format.
"We decided the festival had been shortened, so there was certainly a great opportunity for us to move it up a week with March Break," O'Doherty says. "Everything else stayed the same ... The same ol' cool cats come back and they're hilarious and we love to have them."
It started last Thursday, March 22, with former winner Kyle Killeen, return participant Andrew Slater, first-timer Brandon Smith and last year's third-place winner Nikki Best advancing to the finals, which will take place on Thursday, April 5.
In total, seven comedians perform each week to vie for the $1,000 prize in the finals. "We have new judges every week," O'Doherty adds. "I like to invite people who know the arts and have acted or have a theatre or film background."
While contestants aren't judged solely on audience reaction, it helps when they bring a solid cheering section, she says. "Friends come out to support their friends. That can come down to what the judges are seeing. How did the audience react? Some of the crowds were going off," she says.
As in past years, she and Fullerton also line up a headlining professional comedian to cap off the night. Devon Alexander performed the first night, Kwasi Thomas will take the stage on Thursday, March 29, and Kris LaBelle will perform at the finals on Thursday, April 5.
"We find new talent down in Vancouver," O'Doherty says. "These three characters have film and TV backgrounds. They're impressionists and have done a lot of improv."
Tickets for the March 29 show are $10 at the door. However, tickets for the finals (which have historically sold out) are $22 in advance at showpass.com/whistlercomedyshowdown.