Seven comedians faced off March 11 in Iqaluit for the chance to travel – all expenses paid – to Ottawa to perform at the Alterna Savings Crackup Comedy Festival Finale later this month.
After each had their turn to make the crowd at the Frobisher Inn crack up, four judges – including famed Canadian comedian Mary Walsh – narrowed the field to three. The crowd of 200 then cheered for each, with the loudest cheering reserved for Igupttaq Autut.
He says it could have been any of the seven in the group, which included Bibi Bilodeau, Wade Thorhaug, Angnakuluk Friesen, Bugsy, Aaron Watson and Samasuni Fortin.
“I just feel really lucky to be nominated by the crowd,” said Autut.
Originally of Chesterfield Inlet, Autut came by his comedic skills the hard way, with the toughest crowd, giving presentations as part of his day job as Qikiqtaaluk training and development specialist with Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs.
“It’s important to have that connection with people you’re presenting to. I’ve always added flavour to the serious business,” Autut said.
He recalls being a terrible, terrible presenter when he first started.
“The first time I presented to 80 people. I thought, ‘Oh my God, they’re never going to let me work again.’ I was at a mining camp then,” said Autut.
“For some reason they let me try again, I practiced a little bit more, and did a little bit better.”
He admits there are times he says something in his work presentation, “and … not one person laughed.”
To hone his skills, the self-taught Autut watched a lot of internet videos and read about public speaking. He’s always enjoyed comedy, with Eddie Murphy at the top of his list, plus Don Burnstick and Russell Peters.
“Anything comedy, really,” he said.
Autut says the Frobisher Inn’s Stephen Sullivan brought comedy to Iqaluit, and when Autut was in the audience, he thought: “I can do that.” He’d get home and think about what he would have done on the stage.
He’s since performed three times.
“I’m a (published) writer, storytelling about my grandpa and my dad, hunting and fishing, living out on the land. A lot of that comes back in the comedy. I exaggerate what happened. I take from my growing up in Chesterfield,” said Autut.
“I’ve been very lucky to be around family and friends who enjoy my material.”
In Ottawa, Autut will perform with Tony Quinn, Adrienne Fish, Derek Edwards, Rachelle Elie and two winners from the Ottawa competitions. He plans on bringing down a taste of Chesterfield, “because that’s my thing,” and a bit of Nunavut.
Since the big win March 11, strangers are stopping him on the street with their own suggestions for what he should include in his Ottawa performance.
“Through comedy you can bring a lot of stuff,” he said.
But, still, he loves his work training.
“I’m a big believer in bringing education, and the training involved, to my fellow Inuit. That’s how it started – presenting to Inuit, enhancing their skills in the workforce. When I was presenting, I didn’t want to present something they would forget. I was presenting something that was funny, something they could connect with,” said Autut, adding he felt he needed to come in with a different strategy.
“I quickly saw I couldn’t just be the formal guy with big words. I’m Igupttaq from Chesterfield and let’s get you guys trained.”
He’s excited about the trip to Ottawa.
“But after the show, I was thinking, ‘Okay, what have you gotten yourself into.’ I’m just a boy from Chesterfield. I looked at the site … I’m happy, but at the same time I’m nervous, because these are some high-calibre names,” said Autut.
“But it’s fun to have people come out. I enjoy laughter. I enjoy getting people to laugh.”
And, the cherry on top? His three-year-old daughter thinks he’s the best comedian in the world.