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Hometown humour and local laughs
Professional comedian will bring her wit back North

Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 29, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Alan McOuat and Lillian McOuat learned that their daughter was working in Calgary as a professional comedian about four years ago.

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Yellowknife-born comedian Karen O'Keefe returns to her hometown as part of the Feb. 20 lineup for next month's Yk Comedy Night at the Top Knight. Tickets go on sale at the Black Knight Pub on Monday. The next Yk Comedy Night show takes place tomorrow evening, also at Top Knight. It feature's O'Keefe's Calgary colleagues Howie Miller and Sean Lecomber. - photo courtesy of Karen O'Keefe

"It surprised them," said Karen O'Keefe.

As a student at St. Joe's School and St. Patrick's High School, O'Keefe said she was not known as a class clown so much as just "dorky and goofy."

The 31-year-old's self-deprecating dorkiness and gregarious goofiness have since matured, so to speak, into a fulfilling, full-time career.

"Karen is an incredibly hilarious girl," said Yellowknife funnyman Todd Paget.

Paget is the emcee and promoter of Yk Comedy Night, a new series of monthly comedy events showcasing professional performers from the south alongside local amateur talent. The next comedy night hits the stage tomorrow at the Top Knight. O'Keefe is booked on the bill for the Feb. 20 show.

"It's going to be the first time that I recognize a lot of people in the audience," O'Keefe said.

"I'm looking forward to it and I'm really excited to see the local talent. Growing up there I never remember there being any comedy. We don't hear a lot of comedians' take on Yellowknife, so I'm curious to hear what these guys have to say. The North has a long history of visual art and music and acting, but definitely comedy stands alone."

The North is rarely the subject of O'Keefe's stand-up. However, she broached the subject during a recent month-long tour of Toronto area venues.

"I mentioned that I'm from Yellowknife," she said, "and they really didn't give a crap -- 'Why are you talking about stuff that's not in Toronto?'"

O'Keefe's Yellowknife roots inform her comedy, nonetheless.

"Growing up in the North, we always felt different," she said. "Northerners go through the same life experiences as everyone else, they just look at things from an outsider's point of view. It gives you a different perspective."

After four years working clubs and bars on the road, O'Keefe's unique vantage is reaching larger and larger audiences.

On Wednesday night O'Keefe appeared on the nationwide CBC television broadcast of last spring's Halifax Comedy Festival, where she shared the stage with many of the country's top comic talents.

Last year on CBC radio she was featured on the Saturday morning comedy show The Debaters, during which she sparred with comedian Scott Falconbridge on the merits and minuses of tall women dating short men, in front of a live audience.

"Sometimes we dig deep for our debate topics," said show host Steve Paterson. "This debate is not one of those times."

At six feet, O'Keefe towered over the five-foot-six Falconbridge.

"Being vertically gifted is not all it's cracked up to be," O'Keefe said. "Short men have taken advantage of tall women for too long, whether it's to reach stuff on top shelves or to pursue them for slow dances and creepy hugs."

Her height is not the only reason O'Keefe stands out on the Canadian comedy circuit. Of the 180 comics represented by the Alberta agency that books O'Keefe's gigs, fewer than 30 are female. O'Keefe doesn't make a big deal about her gender on stage.

"I'm often the only female in a show and I'm always on the road with male comics," she said. "I usually don't bring up that I'm female until the end of the set. By that time the audience has usually figured it out."

Most of her comedy centres on stories about drinking and relationships and the dumb things we all say or do do from time to time. Her routines combine the skills of acting, improvisation and, perhaps most important of all, good writing. O'Keefe has crafted her schtick so carefully that when she stands in the spotlight, her words pour out as naturally as if the offbeat observations had just popped into her head.

"I think of comics as writers -- people who observe," she said. "I think it's a very distinct art form."

Tickets for tomorrow's Yk Comedy Night are still available at the Black Knight. Tickets for O'Keefe's February show go on sale at the pub on Monday.

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