Laughing For The Little Guy

By Michael Hingston

Andrew Grose is a little distracted. Every couple of minutes, the veteran stand-up comic and producer of the Edmonton Comedy Festival’s phone buzzes, and he keeps glancing over at it. But these aren’t texts coming in—they’re notifications of new ticket sales. “Nice, eh?” he says with a smile.

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                Managing the festival -- with its six-figure budget, more than a dozen shows and comedians from across North America -- is a long way from Grose’s start in stand-up. 25 years ago, he was the MBA- wielding general manager of a trucking company who was a last-minute replacement at an amateur comedy show. It seemed like it might be fun, so Grose went up there—and promptly bombed. “There’s a big difference between being witty at a cocktail party and actually going onstage,” he says now. “There’s a structure to stand-up comedy that I didn’t understand.”

                So Grose went home and applied his analytical business brain to the art of stand-up. He watched other comedians, broke down how their jokes worked, rewrote his own act, then tried again. And again.

                To this day, Grose thinks of his material in an orderly grid: each square represents a joke that takes one minute to tell, with one square leading into the next, and the whole thing able to be shuffled around depending on his audience or how much time he has. “I have more spreadsheets than any other comedian in the country, I swear,” Grose says.

                In its first year, the comedy festival debuted a show featuring members of the media. The idea was that they would all try stand-up for the first time, and a charity of the winner’s choice would receive $1,000 from the show’s ticket sales. CBC Radio Edmonton’s Mark Connolly won that first year and named Free Footie as his charity.

                Soon afterwards, Grose—who had since become a radio host himself, for 630 CHED—had Free Footie founder Tim Adams on his show and was blown away by the effect the organization was having on disadvantaged kids in Edmonton. So, in a moment of pure enthusiasm, Grose announced on-air that as long as he was running the festival, Free Footie would get that $1,000 donation every single year. And it has ever since.

                “I’m a big advocate for the little guy,” Grose says. “I like giving a voice to people who don’t have voices. Things have worked out for me, so I’ve got to keep continually filling my karma bank back up again. This is the perfect way to do it.

“It’s one thing to say on a spreadsheet that we put $1,000 towards a local charity,” he adds. “But it’s another thing to actually hand out the product and see the outcome.” Grose would know. After all, it involved a spreadsheet.

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