Hamilton Fringe Festival
Mills Hardware 95 King Street East

By Kristin Archer

It’s always a pleasure to run into Zak McDonald. He always has the biggest smile on his face and is one of the most genuine people I’ve met in my travels. A few months ago when running into Zak, he asked me how I was doing and I just replied “Ok.” Normally I’m a pretty upbeat, “everything is awesome!!!” person, but not this day. He replied, “Just ok?” and then I immediately burst into tears. A couple of weeks before, I was dumped, and it was all just sitting there beneath the surface.

I think that many people in that situation would look alarmed at someone crying, or try to comfort the person, or just be at a loss for what to do. Zak was so present in that moment; he was unfazed and said something to effect of, he was sorry to hear, but my reaction was good, that it was important to fully feel what I was feeling. It was the most comforting thing. It could not have been a better person than Zak to catch me in that moment. Just being around him made me feel better, and feel that everything was going to be ok.

With Zak McDonald before the show. Photo by Lindsay Bishop.
With Zak McDonald before the show. Photo by Lindsay Bishop.

That’s the feeling you get when leaving Zak’s very first one-person show, The Happiest Story I Know. (Not the crying! Although you may shed a tear, and there’s nothing wrong with that.) The takeaway message is that we’re all in this together, we’ve all been through some rough times, and life is about experiencing it all, the good and the bad. That’s how we connect as humans and we’re here to love and support each other.

Zak gives this message through a hilarious and thought-provoking hour. Sharing his life’s story with us, he takes us through the horrible experiences he had growing up in poverty with a parent struggling with addiction, all the way through his own missteps and spiritual journey that followed. I had previously heard some of Zak’s bits (he did a little stand-up at one of my shows, back in January 2014!), but it was awesome hearing it strung together as a narrative. Zak is a comedian and although he’s certainly used to the stage through doing stand-up, this is a new format for him. The Hamilton Fringe Festival is the perfect venue for what he does, moving it beyond just stand-up and into a full, well-rounded, nuanced piece.

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It’s got to be the most vulnerable thing to be up onstage by yourself, just talking to an audience. Zak was made to do this, though; he just shines. He is so personable, maintaining eye contact with the audience the whole time. It’s impossible not to smile when you listen to Zak; he exudes so much joy and love. Many of us in the audience on this night knew Zak personally, but even if you don’t know him, you’ll feel like a close friend by the end.

Many shows get their start at Fringe and go on to expand, evolve, tour… I know this just the beginning for Zak and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I recently spoke with Zak about the making of his show on 93.3 CFMU – listen here!

The show I saw was in the middle of his run at Fringe (and was yet another sold out show!). Zak said he felt it was his best one yet. You have three more chances to see The Happiest Story I Know at Mills Hardware, and I highly recommend you do:

Friday July 24th – 6pm
Saturday July 25th – 11pm
Sunday July 26th – 2pm

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kristin
ihearthamiltontour@gmail.com
Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton (www.ihearthamilton.ca), where she has blogged about experiences around her hometown since 2011, growing an influential social media presence along the way. Encouraging locals to “be a tourist in your own city,” she promotes arts and culture across her various social media platforms, blog, and weekly radio show on 93.3 CFMU.

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