Did you hear the one about the starving artist?
Whenever somebody offered to buy his work, he thought they were just being patronizing.
After three waves of COVID-19, and a fourth one possibly imminent, we could all use a laugh. You might even say we’re starved for one.
Festival previewClick to Expand
Winnipeg Comedy Festival
● Oct. 5-10
● Gas Station Arts Centre and the Burton Cummings Theatre
● Tickets $15-$20
That may be especially true of comedian Dean Jenkinson, the artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. Jenkinson was given the AD baton in 2019 by former director Lara Rae. In his tenure, had to watch the 2020 edition of the annual comedy fest cancelled altogether during COVID’s second wave.
"Last year, we did get to do a very small festival that kind of split over the end of August and the beginning of October, right before the third wave started," he says.
This week, the comedy fest returns to something that looks like its former self, in a diminished capacity. Instead of playing in multiple venues, the fest will be headquartered at the Gas Station Arts Centre (which will play host to the popular show The Great Debaters nightly from Wednesday to Saturday) and the Burton Cummings Theatre, the home base of all the gala shows. Both venues will be open only to patrons with proof of double vaccination at 50 per cent capacity, with the Burt only opening its floor level, to a maximum of 250 people.
"I know the Jets are doing well and the Bombers are doing well, so I’m crossing my fingers people are gonna want to come up," Jenkinson says in a phone interview.
Jenkinson acknowledges the changes can be tricky. An accomplished standup himself, he says the smaller crowds and social distancing alter the dynamics.
Gala performances at the BurtClick to Expand
● Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m.: You Do You, a celebration of individuality, hosted by Priyanka with Mikey Dubs, Nour Hadidi, Chris Locke, Marito Lopez, Joze Piranian, and Steph Tolev.
● Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m.: Love Languages, a look at love with hosts Aurora Brown and Kris Siddiqi and guests Jeremy Furlong, Dena Jackson, Ted Morris, Todd Ness, Allie Pearse and Carol Zoccoli; 9:30 p.m.: Truth to Power, political comedy hosted by Michael Greyeyes with guests Danish Anwar, Erika Ehler, Malik Elassal, Meg MacKay, Larke Miller and Dion Owen.
● Oct. 9 at 6:30 p.m.: Home Moaners, the lighter side of home ownership, hosted by Aba Amuquandoh, with Leonard Chan, Heidi Foss, Paul Myrehaug, Nikki Payne Vishal Ramesh, and Pete Zedlacher; 9:15 p.m.: Creature Comforts, how we look after ourselves, hosted by Ryan Belleville with special guest Skirt Browning, plus Jarrett Campbell, Mike Delamont, Nile Séguin, Alan Shane Lewis, Kristeen von Hagen and Matt Wright.
"Comedy is a tricky kind of thing where somebody could destroy one night and bomb the next night in the same room with the same amount of people," he says. "There’s just a weird, different kind of energy. So it’s always a bit of a dice-roll.
"The image that always pops into my head when I think about it: It’s like trying to light a fire. Sometimes the wood is nice and dry and it just goes up in an instant. And sometimes, it’s a little bit soggy and you’ve got a really put a lot of fuel in and a lot of elbow grease and rub a lot of sticks together to get it going. When COVID came along, the rules are that you have to spread all the wood out and it makes it harder to get everything to ignite, because you want that closeness and anonymity and you want to feel lost in the crowd and just let go of your inhibitions."
Hopefully, that effect will be balanced by the fact that audiences may be primed for comedy like never before.
"I would hope so," Jenkinson says. "It’s definitely needed right now.
"There are much smarter people than me who can tell you all the health benefits of laughing and its stress reduction and its immune system-boosting, in the way it unites people and creates community," he says. "Those are all things we desperately need right now.
"My hope is that everyone will come out and find that release that we’re all kind of looking for in the stressful situation that we found ourselves in for the past couple of years."
A new feature of the fest is the "Battle Royale" event next Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Gas Station. It sounds like a "roast battle" between duelling comedians, but it’s more like an improvisational game developed by comedian Mike Green.
"He hosts weekly shows at the Handsome Daughter in Wolseley," Jenkinson explains. "Basically it’s a bit of Whose Line Is It Anyway? mixed with standup."
Twelve comedians are divided into four teams of three, given a topic on the spot and a little bit of time to put their heads together. Each team then gets a chance to do standup on the theme they’ve been given, with the ability to tag each other out and take turns at the mic.
That event in particular is a good showcase for local comics such as Tim Gray, Danielle Kayahara and Paul Rabliauskas, among many others.
"Something we were mindful of doing this year was just sort of showcasing the local community," Jenkinson says. "Because, No. 2, Winnipeg has an amazing comedy scene that is bursting with any number of people doing standup and doing it well.
"When I started in the ‘90s, it was myself and maybe a half-dozen others and now it’s literally dozens and dozens of strong comics," Jenkinson says. "Bringing in people from across the borders was tricky, so we thought it’s a wonderful opportunity showcase Winnipeg talent."
The shows at the Burton Cummings Theatre will eventually be broadcast on CBC. The shows at the Gas Station Arts Centre will be viewable remotely via Zoom for the same ticket price as the live show.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.