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Comedians flip the script on serious topics

After leaving a crowd of 200 in stitches at the Frobisher Inn in March, Angnakuluk Friesen and Bibi Bilodeau are scheduled to leave behind another trail of laughter between Oct. 11 and 14.

NNSL file photo
Angnakuluk Friesen and Bibi Bilodeau, front from left, seen here with fellow Iqaluit comedians Wade Thorhaug, Aaron Watson, Igupttaq Autut and Samasuni Fortin at the Alterna Savings Crackup Comedy Festival in March, are scheduled to perform at the First Air Arctic Comedy Festival Oct. 11 to 14 in the capital.
photo courtesy Alterna Savings Crackup Comedy Festival

Friesen, a law student by day, spoke to Nunavut News the eve of her performance at the inaugural First Air Arctic Comedy Festival. She hadn't yet had the opportunity to work out the outlines of her stand-up piece, which she had recently learned would be part of the Oct. 11 Indigenous Comedy Night at the Legion.

"At this point I don't have a solid skit prepared," Friesen said. "Because I've been placed in the Indigenous category, I'm trying to really understand what that means. I know I will be focusing my comedy on what it's like to live as an Indigenous person or some Indigenous issues."

But Friesen makes the point that any show on Indigenous land is an Indigenous show.

"To have a show called Indigenous Show is kind of limiting. I might shed light on that point. We'll see," she said.

Friesen will join Howie Miller, Chad Anderson, Dakota Ray Hebert, Mary-Lee Aliyak, and Igupttaq Autut on the stage.

Originally from Rankin Inlet, Friesen started practicing comedy when she found out she would be living in Iqaluit. She performed her first two shows in March.

"Comedy is a way to come together on issues that maybe people wouldn't talk about otherwise," she said. "Comedy, especially Indigenous comedy, kind of pokes fun at things that are, in other contexts, very serious. I really enjoy that and that is meaningful to me – to relate to people, to laugh with them, and to bring issues that I find important to the people who are just there to laugh."

Though Friesen said she's terrified about Thursday night's show, she hoping skills she learned during an eight-week improvisation class in Toronto this past summer will support her comedic efforts. She says that class helped her to not judge her ideas and her comedy.

"Usually, I'm very prepared for performances, especially terrifying ones, but being in law school, my brain space is reserved. I have no brain space or time for anything other than law. I should have something prepared tonight, though, after I'm done my homework. It's 10 minutes of my life. Even if I bomb, I'm going to gain some major points in public speaking and thinking on my feet," Friesen said.

Bilodeau, who will perform at the Politically Incorrect show Friday night at the Frobisher Inn, similarly finds comedy an excellent way to bring issues forward.

"(It's) an outlet for people to talk about things that may be stigmatized," added Bilodeau, who began this comedic journey at a 2014 Mahaha Comedy event in Iqaluit.

Bilodeau says the March show was hard.

"I'm not competitive, so knowing it was a competition made it a little scary for me especially that we're all friends," Bilodeau said, adding the audience can expect new material.

"I build off topics I've done in the past. But I think right now the #metoo movement and the climate right now in the media between men and women is something that I would like to speak about. I always try to be positive. I want comedy to be a positive outlet, not something that would add anger or fuel to already negative fire.

"Comedy, especially in the North, is an opportunity to story-tell and come together. Especially now that things are especially charged between different groups."

Both Friesen and Bilodeau will join the many other performers at the festival's finale gala Saturday night at the Frobisher Inn, to be MCed by Canadian comedy icon Mary Walsh.

The festival, produced by Cracking-up the Capital for Mental Health Comedy Festival Inc., an Ottawa based not-for-profit creating healing through humour, will raise much needed funds for the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line.

"Appropriate comedy equals good mental health. People being able to laugh is really important," said help line executive director Sheila Levy.

"For us, having a partnership like this is good for getting the word out about the help line, about the services we provide. And any proceeds that come from this is certainly very, very welcome and needed for our services. We really feel it does the community a lot of good, as well as doing our service a lot of good, therefore the callers throughout Nunavut a lot of good."

Looking to the future, expect to see a new show written and produced by Friesen and Bilodeau, along with Erin Murray, Nicole Etitiq and Marley (no last name), titled Funny Humans (who just happen to be women).

Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini will headline, and proceeds go to the Qimaavik Women's Shelter.