Doing standup comes with a lot of variables — hecklers, crowd sizes, jokes that don’t land quite right, jokes that land better than expected. Doing standup outdoors, however, comes with a whole other set of unknowns.
"Sometimes planes fly over or a deer goes by and sort of blows up your punchline," says Winnipeg comedian Mike Green. "There’s difficulties, but, you know, it’s not like I’m working on anything else right now, so I relish the challenge."
Green is the producer and host of the Secret Standup Show, a weekly comedy showcase set against the lush greenery of an undisclosed outdoor location in Winnipeg. The concept is a pandemic pivot and one Green has been mulling since the spring, although tightened restrictions made it impossible to follow through until recently.
"My options were to wait even longer to do the thing that I love or go outdoors and do it a little sooner," he says. "We’ve done six shows so far and I’ve sold them all out. The response has been great."
Green started doing standup in 2009 and almost immediately got into hosting and producing shows. It’s a behind-the-scenes role many comedians shy away from, he says, but one that has allowed him to carve out a niche locally. Pre-pandemic he had been running weekly comedy nights at 61 Sherbrook St. — now the home of the Handsome Daughter — for nearly a decade.
Like every live artform, comedy has suffered under public health restrictions. Many local venues have yet to reopen and comedians have turned to online gigs to fill the gap, but fishing for laughs on Zoom isn’t quite the same.
"There’s nothing like doing it live in front of people," Green says. "People are missing live standup; I know the comedians are."
The Secret Standup Show will be running Thursdays through Saturdays for the foreseeable future with a lineup of established headliners and up-and-coming local comics. This weekend features Friday and Saturday sets by comedian Paul Rabliauskas from Poplar River First Nation.
Though it adds an air of mystery to the events, the location of the show is kept hush-hush mostly for crowd control — Green wants to avoid walk-ups so he can keep audience numbers in check.
"I take the COVID precautions pretty seriously; we’ve been keeping our capacity slightly lower than what’s legally allowed," he says.
The venue location is disclosed after tickets are purchased by contacting him on Instagram or via email.
"You send me money, I’ll tell you where it is," Green says with a laugh. "It makes people take it more seriously and it’s been working really well."
The secret stage is set in a wooded clearing with physically distanced bench seating for households and bubbles.
Winnipeggers have been making the most of outdoor spaces during the pandemic, so it’s perhaps no surprise that comedy en plein air has been a hit. Patrons of the Secret Standup Show have been grateful for the chance to laugh in public again.
"People are saying, ‘Oh my god, thank you so much, this is such a unique experience; I needed this so badly,’" Green says. "In a normal situation, what we’re doing is pretty special, but these aren’t normal times and… people haven’t been able to do things for a while, so that takes it to the next level."
Tickets to this week’s show are sold out. Contact Mike Green at email@example.com and follow him on Instagram (@mikegreenlegend) for future show updates.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.