Opinion: Time for a little laughter, yes?

By Mike Williscraft

People know I am busy, but they really don’t know the half of it.

That is because much of the time I spend trying to get things done for various groups and organizations who have big things on the go and even larger hopes for them.

Case in point, this new Comedy Night in Grimsby which the Downtown Improvement Area board will start hosting once a week starting next Wednesday.

First on that, props where props are deserved. When Mark Kossek was in to record a podcast for our NewsNow series – dealing with a wholly different matter – he mentioned he was involved in the comedy world and had run fundraising shows in his backyard.

One thing lead to another…ideas noodle in my brain, usually from necessity rather than open creativity, and something pops out. Over the years, I have had a knack for these things as ideas and events don’t seem to work their way out of my brain until they are fully cooked. I have no idea how or why, but it just seems to happen that way.

On this concept, rolling out in a very simple fashion this year, my initial idea was to create a Grimsby Fringe Festival. I was on a Fringe committee in Manotick back in the 90s before I ventured to Niagara, so I have a good idea of what is involved there.

For those not familiar, a wide variety of artists – from singers to poets to actors to musicians descend upon a relatively tight space and anywhere from 4-6 shows run simultaneous at multiple locations all day long…for several days.

Visitors can purchase single show tickets, afternoon passes, or passes for the whole shot which allows them to go and see whatever they choose at any location throughout the run.

I contacted the Fringe association, yes there is one, and got all the parameters, but that was a massive task at the best of times. During COVID it would have crushed my time, the paper and quite likely the little bit of brain power I have left.

But, the comedy concept, in a different form, has legs.

Enter Mark, and his partner in crime Dave Green – David being the man behind the Garden City Comedy Festival.

We went from a first time thorough discussion in my office on Wednesday to ironing out a program outline by Friday morning’s DIA board meeting, getting the board’s enthusiastic approval, designing a logo and ordering a big banner for the stage and nailing down performer details – all done in two-and-a-half days.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Now, having done countless community events of all shapes and sizes over 30-plus years, I can tell you, when things come together that easily it is usually a good sign. If it is all like pushing a rock up a hill from the get-go, might as well pack it in; something is wrong either in planning or timing.

Without a doubt, we all need an event like this. I get the 100 capacity limit and we will live to whatever proper guidelines are for gatherings – no question. If we get 100 at these first five shows with a few stragglers dropping by to check out a few minutes as they pass by, great.

It is a dry run for us to dip our toe into the comedy production waters. It is a bit easier when the DIA committed to cover the talent costs, we were already connected to David and Mark to facilitate the trickiest part of the puzzle, there are highly helpful people at Grimsby’s recreation services (thanks Sarah Sweeney and Trevor Ruzylo) and yours truly happens to own a newspaper to get the word out all free of charge.

The need for support for our downtown businesses is not limited to Grimsby, and not even limited to our downtowns. As far back as January, the DIA was ready with a promotion to start creating traffic for downtown as soon as we came out of lockdowns. That need has not changed despite a program which has been run locally over the last several weeks as part of a grant program. It really was not geared to get people downtown, so pushing ahead with the comedy project – which really was to launch next year – was a good option.

I hope you, good reader (and comedy fan) think so, too. David is the expert in this realm. He has experience with his own shows and he knows the market. He thinks we are ripe for this kind of event. I think so, too, but what I think really does not matter.

Start small and build…that is how I built two community papers and it is how I have built major community events. This has that potential. The DIA has more tricks up its collective sleeve for next year – and the year after when a major construction project will work its way under downtown streets, so watch for those tidbits in months to to come.

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