Call is out to bring The Debaters to P.G.

Whereas The Debaters is the funniest show on the public's network, and whereas Prince George is the coolest city between Whitehorse and Tsawwassen, and whereas The Debaters has yet to stage an episode here in its 10-year history, be it resolved that a contingent of fans and comedians are calling for the CBC Radio show to schedule a stop in Lheidli territory.

A Facebook page called Let's Bring CBC's The Debaters To PG is now up and running. It has acquired almost 500 members and it has gotten the attention of the show's senior producers. The CBC's Phillip Ditchburn and the show's founder Richard Side called The Citizen to give the good news that the movement has been noticed.

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"With this knowledge, now we will certainly look at Prince George, and how that fits into our season," said Side. "We have to be budget-conscious about different logistics of travel. There are a lot of factors that go into it. They are usually done about a year in advance. But now, Prince George! A fantastic city! Now that we're going to consider it, let's just talk about how I was born in Fort Nelson and grew up in Dawson Creek as a child, and going to Prince George was going to the big city. I know the Hart Highway. My wife is a P.G. girl. And I knew a man once who was from Prince George and his name was George Prince. So we are going to do our due diligence."

Ditchburn said, in truth, it was already under investigation. He had made initial inquiries into what venues Prince George had that would match their show format. He knew about Vanier Hall which was the early frontrunner for their needs (an audience of about 700 people and a cast and crew of between 15-20 people) but further research was needed.

This comes as brilliant news to one of the leaders of the Prince George comedian community. The originator of the Facebook page, Mike McGuire, is keen have the show do an episode in this city because of how each edition showcases comedians.

The debates at the centre of the program are all spoofy topics that pinball between established comedic actors and standup comics. They entertain a live audience by laying down their arguments in a mix of actual facts (sometimes) and zinging wit aimed at laughter more than information (most times). There are a few different rounds, and the winners are decided by the volume of the applause for the fact/funny points each comedian makes. The topics range from the merits of pens versus pencils, if having a good-looking Prime Minister is good for Canada or bad, the pros and cons of the man-bun hairdo, whether or not William Shatner is Canada's greatest actor, etc.

There is no fixed cast for this program, although many comedians have been invited to the debate table more than once. Some of Canada's very best talent can call themselves Debaters alumni. Well-known names like Sean Cullen, Mary Walsh, Mark Meer, Eric Peterson, Shaun Majumder, and many more have stepped into The Debaters ring over the years. The only constant, in that ever changing conversation, is host Steve Patterson, himself an applauded standup act.

In fact, Prince George has hosted a number of headline comedians on local stages in the past couple of weeks - Erica Sigurdson, Simon King, Dylan Rhymer - and all of them have been on The Debaters at least once.

"We've had 15 comics come here as headliners for our Stand Up For Charity comedy shows, and 12 of them have been on The Debaters. Tim Nutt is our next headliner in September, and he has been on The Debaters. It's all connected, and that's a big connection," said McGuire. "And why should The Debaters come to Prince George? Why here? Because they've been to Sudbury, that's why. And we support the CBC here. Ask Stuart McLean."

Side agreed that the show has touched on a nerve - definitely the funny bone - of the comedy community across Canada. He takes pride in how being on The Debaters has become an honoured point on the resumes of standup performers and actors.

"Our development of the roster of our comedians has gone hand in hand with the development of the comic community in general, certainly in (the home base location of) Vancouver and Calgary and Edmonton, and Tim Nutt is in Kelowna. It's a great community. Top notch. There are a lot of great comics in this country. And many listeners across the country wouldn't necessarily know of them, yet these are working professionals who have done hundreds and hundreds of shows in all kinds of venues. They are great writer/performers. And our show benefits from the fact there is this huge community of working comics out there, all kinds of personas and styles. And a lot of the comedians we use, I have to say, within the business, they are very accomplished."

When The Debaters comes to any town, if the travel logistics and all the costs have been calculated in the affirmative, the audience then gets treated to a sumptuous buffet of jokes and jibes. The price of a ticket typically ends up close to $40 but Side and Ditchburn stress that the live experience is much bigger than the recorded radio version.

"You get a long night of entertainment. You get four to six debates, and eight to 12 comedians," said Side.

Ditchburn added, "We think of ourselves as a bit of a comedy festival in an evening, in a sense. There's quite a lot happening. It's a full-on night. People may not be clear on that: you aren't coming to hear two debates, you get a lot more, plus Steve Patterson does an opening thing, so it's quite a night."

Each town they drop in on helps inform the discussion, the two producers said. If an episode is recorded somewhere out on the road, the listening audience on the radio hears about the place almost like an audio postcard. Sometimes the debates are tailored to that city, and it plays a part in the CBC's perpetual mandate to reflect the personality of Canada back to Canadians.

Ditchburn and Side will put their energies toward including Prince George on their upcoming schedule, and they welcome any suggestions that might help cut down the costs of travelling to any city outside of their home base. The more people who sign up to the Facebook page, the better, and helpful comments can be posted there, or via the show's website.

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