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Eman-el-Husseini. Still from Episode 105 of No Kidding.

Comedians raise funds for local mental health initiatives

By Janoah Willsie on July 29, 2015

From July 30 to Aug. 2, Cracking-Up the Capital, Ottawa’s bi-annual comedy festival, will be taking over the downtown nightlife. In partnership with the Sparks Street Busker Festival, participating comedians will be providing nightly entertainment at pubs all along Sparks Street, while raising awareness and funds for local mental health initiatives.

In the winter of 2004, Cracking-Up the Capital started off as a one-night comedy event to support mental health initiatives in the community, and has since expanded into a multi-day festival, with the inclusion of a summer edition starting in 2014.

It’s the popular opinion that this summer’s show is going to be great. There is a lot of chatter about the Best of Fest gala, in particular. The final show of the festival is going to be headlined by the internationally recognized Mike Wilmont and is going to be hosted by Canadian comic Brendan McKeigan.

Brendan McKeigan. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen.

Brendan McKeigan. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen.

McKeigan has been working as a stand-up comic for 13 years. His career has sent him across Canada and even on military tours to Dubai, Kuwait, and Iraq. In conversation with McKeigan, he says “there’s something for everyone at [Cracking-Up the Capital]. Everyone can walk away happy.” When asked about the Best of Fest gala, he described the finale as a “great lineup of great comics that are all different from each other.” “It would be weird,” he went on to say, “if someone came to the show and didn’t find anyone funny.”

Another event to look forward to this weekend is The Relationship Show. Among several other comics, it will be featuring Eman el-Husseini, a Canadian comic who has been working in stand-up for nine years and making appearances at many Canadian comedy festivals and on CBC’s The Debaters. In her opinion, the large crowds and worthy cause are “a winning combination” for this festival’s continued success.

According to John Helmkay, the president of Cracking-Up the Capital, the support of local mental health initiatives was a key spark in the creation of the festival. At the time of its creation, Ottawa held the nickname of “the depression capital of Canada” based on high occurrences of mental illness in the community. At the same time,  Ottawa was the only major city in Canada that didn’t have a comedy festival. These two disconnected issues were addressed in the creation of Cracking-Up the Capital. Not only is this city now the host of a high-quality comedy festival, the organizers of this event have effectively established a forum to promote conversation and awareness of mental illness.

Helmkay, el-Husseini and McKeigan all joke about the prevalence of mental illness in comedians. As el-Husseini puts it, “you wouldn’t pursue this career unless you’re kind of out there”. It’s been a taboo topic for too long but, el-Husseini explains that as comedians “we can talk about current events and issues in a light manner. That’s why comedy has always been so successful in promoting awareness of certain topics”.

As for Helmkay, it is his hope to see Cracking-Up the Capital continue to open doors for community members searching for mental health services, and to one day see it ranked among the top comedy festivals in the country.

Cracking-Up the Capital happens from July 30 – August 2, 2015 at various locations along Sparks Street. Visit their website for show listings and tickets.    

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