Comedy troupe Halfhandsome celebrate Newfoundland with an edge with the third installment of their daring sketch comedy production Almost Baymous
We’ve delved deep into the secret stuff of Newfoundland comedy a fair bit in the annals of The Newfoundland Herald. To use a popular phrase, it’s been ‘beat to det!’ But it bears repeating.
Halfhandsome comedy troupe proudly carry the torch for a new generation of sketch comics in Newfoundland and Labrador, paying homage to the trailblazers while incorporating a style entirely all their own.
Three’s a charm
Entering its third year, their annual showcase Almost Baymous, a riotously funny and daring night of can’t miss entertainment, and coming off a string of engagements in the U.S. and Canada, the Halfhandsome crew have a good deal to cheer about these days. And it all came from the humblest of beginnings.
Stuart Simpson and Andrew Tremblett, co-creators of Halfhandsome, conceived of the brand in their university days in Grenfell, where it began as a little-engine-that-could radio show that morphed into a semi-regular night of comedy at The Backlot.
“We used to go down there every, I think it was a Tuesday night, and we’d sit down in the booth and do a live radio show, take Tweets or whatever, you know,” explains Simpson. “Come third and fourth year of the program we had to fundraise to go to Harlow. So as a fundraiser we decided to do an improv show at the Backlot and they let us do it every Friday night. They gave us 50 bucks to do it. And then we took donations as well just to see what we could kind of get out of it.”
“We were a group of friends who really wanted to be a sketch comedy group who did not have the time,” says Tremblett.
Simpson went on to collaborate and write with Rising Tide Theatre’s Revue. Tremblett would approach Simpson with an idea following time spent in the States. Halfhandsome grew then in earnest, inspired by the thriving Chicago sketch comedy movement.
Word of mouth
The original Almost Baymous, with tickets at a modest $10 dollars, grew largely in part thanks to word of mouth, something that has propelled the Halfhandsome brand to this day.
“I could do whatever I wanted with this group, and we did kind of do whatever we wanted and we did some pretty bold stuff on our first show if I recall,” Simpson recalls. “It was received amazingly. When they brought mustard pickles back people weren’t happier.”
Boasting a list of writers and performers that includes Simpson, Tremblett, Evan Mercer, Elizabeth Hicks and Russell Cochrane, the thriving troupe draw comparisons to the legendary CODCO, who dared to defy convention at a time when different was frowned upon.
“We wouldn’t have theater in Newfoundland as what it is without those guys,” Tremblett said of CODCO. “I mean they came back from Toronto and put off sketch comedy and that was like for some people the first theater they’ve ever seen … We can’t stress enough how important they are.”
“Your heart skips when people say ‘Oh they’re like the new CODCO’. No no no, we can’t even begin to compare it to what they did,” adds Simpson. “I mean like we’re riding coattails you know I mean? It’s great and we’re having our own fun and doing our own thing but we got nothing on CODCO. They did something when there was nothing and it’s amazing what they did and so tongue in cheek. So irreverent at a time when that was like new and fresh.”
Tackling real world realities that affect millenials and thirty-somethings with a relatable edge, seen through what they call a salt beef lens, Halfhandsome serve up cutting comedy that can impact and mesh into any situation for just about any audience.
Salt beef lens!
“There’s a universality to a lot of what we write about as well,” says Simpson. “So even if we’re putting what we call the salt beef lens over a lot of this stuff, we’re sometimes able to lift it if we’re talking to a different group too, or we can lay it on even thicker when need be … And I think we lifted a little in New York and I think we put it back on a little bit in Chicago. And then we full on did it in Toronto and it killed.”
And while sketches from the guys and gals do tend to push the envelope, Halfhandsome is always careful to be on the right side of a joke. “We always make sure we’re on the right side,” says Tremblett. “We don’t punch down, we punch up.”
“With sketch, I’m a big fan of the fact that you can kind of approach things from somebody else’s point of view on stage and they can be the villain or they can have their moment of clarity or you can do all these kinds of things with sketch,” adds Simpson. “You can push these boundaries of what people are allowed to say on stage or what we should say.”
But don’t forget that salt beef lens! The promotion of Newfoundland culture – with a slick and witty approach – is of paramount importance.
“It’s like through the entire Halfhandsome thing it’s always been to promote comedy in Newfoundland and promote culture,” says Simpson. “We don’t want to get stuck doing like trope Newfoundland comedy. We do it but I like to think we do it a bit more intellectually. We want to back that up and show people that we don’t have to laugh at the easiest thing. We should be thinking about this stuff in layers. What’s funny? What else is funny? Having these layers on creates smart comedy and I think Newfoundlanders are very, very good at it.”
For tickets to Almost Baymous at the LSPU Hall on May 15-18 visit the LSPU box office or visit rca.nf.ca. Visit Halfhandsome on Facebook for more!