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On being Brent Butt

One of Canada’s most prolific comics, Brent Butt, was here recently performing a stand-up show, and he spent some time talking to Banff Centre staff, artists, and work studies about building a career in comedy and onscreen. Here are some highlights:

Brent Butt headshot colour - head & shouldersOn his influences  “When I was 12 or 13 I saw the comedian Kelly Monteith on TV. I look back at that moment as kind of pivotal because it was the first time I’d ever seen a guy do stand-up comedy. I thought, hey, this is what I do with my buddies…..and from that moment of seeing Kelly Monteith on TV,  becoming a comedian became an active pursuit.

“So I said to my mom, ‘I’m going to be a stand-up comedian’. The fact that she didn’t tell me to shut up or say, ‘that’s a crazy pipe dream’, that was the moment when I allowed myself to pursue my dream.”

On performing  “Being myself on stage is always the most rewarding. It’s easy, it’s just like I’m the same guy sitting around the coffee table with my 12-year-old buddies making jokes…..I don’t get nervous. There are some important jobs in the world and being a comic is not one of them. It’s not life and death. And anyway, if you bomb bad enough you start to enjoy how poorly it’s going.”

On ‘clean’ comedy  “When I found out I was born the day Lenny Bruce died I thought, well that makes sense. I’m Lenny Bruce reincarnated only this time I’m going to work clean. The way my brain works – it’s playing with the language, finding fun in the small, mundane things in life. I like finding comedy where it doesn’t look like there’ll be any. Comedy works best when it’s authentic, whether it’s filthy or clean is unimportant to me. If it’s authentic and original is what matters. But there’s a part of me that would like to cut loose a bit more and not feel as censored as I am.”

On being an ‘emotional stripper’  “When you boil everything else away I’m a stand-up comic. Being a comic is like being an emotional stripper. Comics are emotionally naked and you have to be comfortable with people commenting on you all the time.”

On advice to upcoming comedians  “Don’t do it. Well, no that’s not true. I’d say to a 12-year-old: go for it. If that same person was 18 I’d say don’t get into it. A 12-year-old can be influenced beyond who he or she is, but by the time you’re 18 you have a sense of who you are…..I’d say to an 18-year-old: you’re stupid to even consider it, don’t even bother, but there’s going to be one out of a 100 who says, ‘screw you fatty I’m going to get into it no matter what you say’. Beautiful! You belong here. If you can be dissuaded from doing it because  someone told you not to do it, you don’t belong in show business.”

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Noble gestures: Aleksander Gamme

In 2012, the year that marked the 100 year anniversary of Scott and Amundsen reaching the South Pole, two independent teams were vying to complete the first unsupported journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back­. After almost  87 days of the most testing conditions imaginable, a grand and selfless gesture made history: Norwegian adventurer Aleksander Gamme waited for his Australian rivals, James Castrission (Cas) and Justin Jones (Jonesy), to join him for the last three kilometers so they could cross the finish line together. 

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Reunited: Jonesy and Gamme at  this year’s screening of Crossing the Ice at The Banff Centre.

For the first time since their expedition, Antarctic adversaries Jonesy and Gamme came together for the 38th Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival to publicly discuss their adventure and that noble gesture that made history. 

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Crossmedia meets the mountains

The Crossmedia Banff event is an opportunity for cross-pollination  between the most innovative companies and creators in motion, mobile, marketing, publishing and games. The strength of this event is the broad learning and sharing that is created between globally influential groups and individuals. And it’s my belief that the beauty of an event like this taking place in Banff is that the mountains themselves actually become one of those influencers.

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The Crossmedia audience immersed in local scenery and insightful presentations by industry leaders like Erik Martin of Reddit (right). Photos by Meghan Krauss.

I observed multiple presenters and audience members express their thoughts on the inspiration they were feeling in their surroundings here. And it got me thinking - could the mountainous setting really influence bigger-picture thinking about how we interact with our communities and technologies online? Can the natural environment be an influential player in the growing online conversation, bringing a sense of grounding, a natural human connection to some of these very big ideas?

The mountains are an integral and instrumental part of The Banff Centre experience and it is motivating to think that their voice might actually have a subtle influence on the direction we humans take with our new technologies, perhaps moving us closer towards more natural sustainable systems and behaviours.

During the course of Crossmedia, there were many references to the sense of awe felt being in the mountainous surroundings; how it puts the purpose of our work into perspective and reminds us of how small we are. But I thought Erik Martin, General Manager of Reddit expressed it best when he looked out the window and admitted:

“These mountains make me wonder if all this social media stuff is completely insignificant.”

He later went on to share, half-jokingly, that as an internet-based entertainment company Reddit’s main source of competition is “work, study and the outdoors.”

Again, I wondered, is this the direction we hope to go with our communications technologies? Moving away from time spent in the outdoors, in particular? Looking upwards at the mountains as we do each day at the Centre, who could argue that they don’t have an affect on us by putting things into perspective?

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Eric McLuhan: Media and other musings

Crossmedia Banff, a two-day conference at The Banff Centre this week, brought creators from all walks of media together to share and discuss their innovations and ideas. One of those creators was lecturer and author Eric McLuhan, son of renowned Canadian media theorist the late Marshall McLuhan. Eric and his own son Andrew—who also attended with a presentation on his grandfather’s working library—were drawn to Crossmedia Banff because of the other speakers involved, the elder McLuhan told me when I spoke with him behind the scenes at the event. “It’s very unusual for me to find myself surrounded by people on the cutting edge. Usually you have to ask kids to find out what’s going on—I guess there are a lot of kids here,” he said with a laugh. “Or at least, people who have that fresh awareness and lack of bias, lack of assumptions that the rest of us
carry through life.”


Eric McLuhan speaking at Crossmedia this week

Eric said of all the speakers at Crossmedia, he found Rhonda McEwen, assistant professor of new media at the University of Toronto, most interesting. McEwen presented her research on the success she’s had using iPads in her work with autistic children.

The iPad is one of many technologies and social innovations that was featured at Crossmedia; but the technology Eric couldn’t live without is the book. “The book and the alphabet give you a new way of imagining the world around you. They transform it. They are literally responsible for western civilization,” he said, adding his favourite book is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. “(That book) retunes your senses and opens them up so that you can see, and hear, and imagine in far greater expanses than you could before that training. It’s artistic training. It’s work, but the payoff is large.” Eric believes the arts play an important role in our society, and he links this belief to a principle of media study passed on from his father.

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Eric McLuhan captivating the attention of the audience at Crossmedia

“Every situation is composed of two elements—an area of attention, and an area of inattention. The area of attention is the figure, and the area of inattention is the ground. Another word for ground is medium,” Eric told a captivated Crossmedia audience. An innovation won’t be successful without a medium to link it to society and the lives of people who could use it, he continued. “The (medium) is always invisible…and it takes special techniques and special training to render (it) visible. There’s one group of people in society that is charged with doing just that for the rest of us—and that’s the artists. The function of the arts is to help keep our attention alive and awake.”

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Housekeeping Olympians clean up

Here’s the W5 on The Banff Lake Louise Housekeeping Olympics – everything you need to know about this unique Bow Valley event:


  • 20 teams of eight housekeeping staff from the Bow Valley including The Sweeping Beauties, The Banff Centre’s own powerhouse team
  • A crowd of enthusiastic spectators
  • The hospitality staff who provided a roast pig, 500 hamburgers, and a table full of apple pie and cake


  • The 2013 Banff Lake Louise Housekeeping Olympics!
  • An opportunity for housekeeping staff to compete in five key events: the Bed Making Competition, the Upright Vacuum Relay, the Mop Race, the Totally Inspired Buffer Pad Toss and the Magic Towel Folding Twisters
  • An evening of parades, games, competition, extreme cheering and prizes
  • Hosted by the Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association and several partners, including The Banff Centre


  • A version of these events take place in every lodging in the Bow Valley
  • The official competition was May 30, 2013



  • Because housekeeping staff keep the valley running smoothly
  • Because every team wants to win and grab a piece of the glory
  • Because who doesn’t want to watch a blindfolded competitor tossing buffer pads, or a budding artist making towel creations? (Not to mention the barbecue?)

Note: The Sweeping Beauties came 8th out of 20 (but they prefer to think of it as 4th out of 10)

Listen to this story about the Housekeeping Olympics excerpted from The Banff Centre Podcast:

Produced by Jennifer Kingsley and Camara Miller.

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Activate the smell machine!

mock disaster scene

Actors and special effects make the Disaster Forum’s mock helicopter crash seem real. Photo: Meghan Krauss

The crowd surged up the stairs toward the sound of an electronic siren and cries for help. In the parking lot, people were met by a shocking sight: bodies strewn, rescue crews on the move and plenty of blood and guts. Paramedics dragged shattered bodies amid engine sounds, helicopter parts and smoke. The air stank of burnt wire.

After a dramatic few moments, a clean-cut man in a golf shirt stepped into the middle of the chaos, raised his hands and called, “Cut!”

This spring, The Banff Centre hosted Disaster Forum 2013, an annual conference for people working in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. These are people from the public and private sectors who plan and train for every kind of disaster. Their tag line is “Plan to Communicate,” and that means knowing how to react when disaster strikes. One of their afternoon sessions was designed to elicit a real response by simulating, as realistically as possible, a helicopter crash.

The emergency workers were actors, the shattered bodies a mix of actors and dummies. Much of the crash scene was brought in from Calgary, and even the stench in the air came from a “smell machine”.

At the end of their performance, participants were treated to a sound you never hear at a real disaster scene: applause.

This three-minute audio clip from the crash site features the Calgary-based special effects team of Jennifer Bain and Stacy Wegner. They’ve been hired out for disaster simulations for several years, and Wegner has created special effects for a wide range of projects, including Calgary’s production of Evil Dead: The Musical. Jennifer even calls herself the Queen of Gore.

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Produced by Sarah Feldbloom and Jennifer Kingsley. Mixed and mastered with Pouya Hamidi.


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