Make ‘em laugh! Comedy fest raises nearly $7,000 for Nunavut help line

First Air, Alterna Savings Crackup team up to help Kamatsiaqtut

Performers at last October’s First Air Comedy Festival in Iqaluit pose for a photo. The event raised nearly $7,000 for the Nunavut Kamtsiaqtut Help Line. (FESTIVAL FACEBOOK IMAGE)

By Courtney Edgar

The First Air Arctic Comedy festival, held in Iqaluit this past October, raised over $6,700 for the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, the volunteer organization said on Monday.

Those funds came from ticket proceeds, silent auctions and ticket draws during the three-day comedy festival, which was held in Iqaluit from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13, 2018.

The money will go toward training, and small snacks like crackers and juice boxes for the volunteers who keep the help line running, Sheila Levy, Kamatsiaqtut’s co-founder and executive director, told Nunatsiaq News in October.

The help line has no paid employees, although some volunteers get a small honorarium each night and the Ottawa Distress Centre is attempting to find them money for some services, like training.

Kamatsiaqtut is a confidential telephone service. For people in distress, it offers help and information on how to access other available resources, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Over 1,000 people came out to watch comedians like Mary Walsh, Howie Miller and Tyson Houseman during the three-day festival.

The festival also featured Nunavut-born comedians, smaller names and new performers who got an opportunity to break into the comedy scene.

First Air and the Ottawa-based Alterna Savings Crackup comedy group hope to eventually expand the festival to more communities in the Arctic, a news release said.

“Laughter cheers our spirit, relieves stress and strengthens relationships, so it makes sense to have a comedy festival that supports mental health and youth in crisis,” said Dan Valin of First Air.

“The Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is a life-saving and life-supporting organization, and we’re proud and privileged to support their vital efforts. We hope this festival continues to raise awareness of the tools available to youth and our communities,” Valin said.

Alterna Savings Crackup is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to using comedy to provide support for mental health.

John Helmkay of Alterna Savings Crackup said the response in Iqaluit to the First Air Arctic Comedy Festival was “amazing,” with businesses, schools and individuals all getting involved.

“We had a lot of sponsors and partners who stepped up with financial support and in-kind contributions. They provided volunteers, promotion and more. The crowds at the shows and workshops were amazing,” Helmkay said.

“Our line-up combined local and visiting comics, and everyone had a blast. Our goal was to have fun, and support the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line. Mission accomplished. We’d love to do this again!”

The help line provides a vital service across Nunavut, where the rates of death by suicide is higher than in any other territory or province.

While 2017 saw the lowest number of deaths by suicide in Nunavut since 2007, with 25—down from 32 in 2016—Nunavut still suffers.

If you feel distressed or have had thoughts of suicide, there is help available. Call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line to speak to someone in English or Inuktitut at 1-800-265-3333.

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