Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Under the B
Wednesday evening; McPhillips Street Station -- the night/show when the Comedy Fest usually gets off to its meandering opening-night start; this year, the whole goofy deal had already been in motion for 24 hours and was operating at full speed by the time host Trevor Boris takes the stage.
The casino showroom -- which, in its more fiscally productive hours houses bingo games rather than wisecrack artists -- remains a brutal venue for comedy; the sightlines are OK, but the acoustics, thanks to a heavy back-wall curtain that separates the auditorium from the clanging/beeping/buzzing VLT lounge outside, are terrible. The muffled sound of bank balances being not-so-joyfully wagered away intrudes constantly into the show, but the ineffective cloth divider still manages to seize and smother much of the laughter that, in other rooms, would echo and roll and reverberate and eventually begin to build upon itself. But the govt. gaming guys are a major fest sponsor, so it remains a make-the-best-of-it proposition.
And to that end, fest organizers definitely assembled the most aggressive and impactful opening-night lineup to date, beginning with Boris, still basking in the afterglow of his not-quite-a-DVD-launch homecoming show on Tuesday, and continuing with a roster of comics that easy doubled the depth of any previous fest-kickoff shows. Boris began by tentatively testing the casino crowd's inclinations -- yes, there were actually people in the room who were there for the bingo and just waiting for all the joke-spinning to cease -- and then forged headlong through a brief set that gauged the first-nighters' openness to chatter about all things gay-tastic. The crowd laughed along, at times a bit reservedly, as Boris talked about dating much-younger men ("I'm not a cougar; I'm gay -- I'm a fag-uar") and growing up homo in Selkirk ("The Pride parade consisted of me opening the garage door, yelling "Happy Pride Day!", and then slamming it shut. ... And then people would chase me around for a bit").
Cartoonist-turned-comedian Greg Morton, who'll appear Friday night with local sketch troupe Hot Thespian Action and take part in Saturday's late-night Obsessions Show gala, did a very funny superhero-themed set that opened with the suit-jacket-parting revelation of a pair of red underpants worn outside his trousers -- a reference to the sartorial habits of more-than-human crimefighters ("They wear their little pants outside their big pants. I think that's why superheros wear masks").
Much-beloved frequent visitor Derek Edwards delivered a hilarious bucketload of non-topical brilliance; Scott Thompson continued -- with notes -- to work out his set for the Whose Canada Is It Anyway? gala; Ugandan-born comic Arthur Simeon poked sharp-tipped fun at Canadians' misconceptions about Africa ("I love Canadian girls; they think I'm exotic when they're drunk"); Scott Faulconbridge worked the parenthood angle to fairly good effect. Calgary-based comedian Karen O'Keefe's back-spun take on dating and relationships had a great rhythm and several delightful thematic U-turns ("The last guy I dated just had a baby; it was born nine months after we broke up, which makes you wonder about certain things -- like, how do I know it's not mine?").
Show-closer Rich Hall's deftly irritated set was a study in standup craftsmanship, at once spontaneous and fully in control of the material at hand, filled with big-topic ideas and quickly assembled (and clearly appreciated) local references. The only folks not thrilled with Hall's performance might have been the casino's management, who no doubt bristled just a bit when he directed his first few full-volume observations at the folks OUTSIDE the chuckle-crushing divider curtain, seated at the various VLT devices. Shouting with sufficient force to break through the heavy drape's sound-deadening density, he profanely implored the out-there gamblers to "stop p***ing away your kids' education," along with other decidedly more pointed pleas.
Funny? Oh, yes. Not what the opening-night hosts were expecting and/or hoping for? Bet on it.
Quick drive across town to the Village in time to catch The Winnipeg Show in its entirety at the Gas Station. If there were any lingering doubts about the health of the city's standup situation, this show must surely have laid them to rest. Deep with talent, most of which had never earned a spot in the fest lineup before, the Tazz-hosted showcase was encouraging, indeed. Highlights: aboriginal up-and-comer Ryan McMahon's take on being native without looking stereotypically so ("I don't look like the aboriginal guy they cast in the Crimestoppers videos; I look more like the cop who beats him up at the end"); cancer survivor and former Funniest Person With a Day Job winner John B. Duff's mauve-hued memory of being catheterized, the ever-more-impressive Chantel Marostica's wildly animated whirl through topics ranging from parents coping with their offspring's gayness to the excitement of '80s music vids; comic songwriter J, Williamez's too-naughty-to-repeat ditty about crullers and kitties; and "movement-free" (wheelchair-confined) performer Susan Nisbet's straight-on material that transcended the obvious and immediately lifted the crowd beyond whatever discomfort her arrival onstage may have created.
Show-closer Barry Kennedy -- hardly a newcomer, but proudly a Winnipegger -- demonstrated the difference between the simple telling of jokes and the spinning of elaborate, lyrical and densely laugh-packed comedic tapestries. Experience clearly counts for much, both onstage and in the greater life-learning context.
Tonight begins the difficult process of accepting the impossibility of being in two places at once and beginning the from-then-on continuing effort to make the best go-to choices of shows. If you see something that I miss and think it's worth mentioning, feel free to chime in anytime.....
About Brad Oswald
Way back when Brad Oswald was TV-inclined little kid, his exasperated mother used to say things like, "Would you PLEASE turn that thing off and go OUTSIDE and play? If you insist on watching that IDIOT box day after day after day, you will NEVER amount to ANYTHING in this world!"
Well, go figure.
Brad joined the Free Press in 1987 and has spent most of the last two decades getting paid to watch the television as the paper’s resident TV critic. In addition to previewing and reviewing all the latest prime-time shows and covering the local TV industry, he also usually spends a few weeks per year in L.A., interviewing TV stars and attending Big Phony Hollywood Parties.
Brad also writes about comedy and other assorted entertainment topics, and has been known to wander onto local stages try out his own standup material as part of an ongoing quest to satisfy his deep-rooted need for affirmation. He was the winner of Rumor’s Comedy Club’s first Funniest Person With a Day Job contest.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Brad grew up in St. Vital, attended Dakota Collegiate and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba before enrolling in Red River College’s Creative Communications program. He played rugby for more than 20 years, which, quite frankly, amounts to a whole lot of blows to the unprotected noggin.
Despite that, during his two-decades-plus at the Free Press, he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about television and other pop-culture topics, and would certainly not be the worst person to pick for your trivia-contest team.
For some reason, he firmly believes his Mom really would be proud of all this.
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