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Comedy seeds reap a harvest of laughs for organic farmer

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Comedian Sandra Shamas says Thursday's food-themed show is a comfortable fit for her.

CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN / THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO Enlarge Image

Comedian Sandra Shamas says Thursday's food-themed show is a comfortable fit for her.

Sandra Shamas has had a unique career in Canadian comedy, and there's a simple explanation for the straight-ahead, always-in-control, doing-it-her-way direction she has taken.

"I didn't know there was another way to do it," the 56-year-old writer, performer and organic farmer says in a telephone interview from her southern Ontario home. "Honest to God, I thought this was the way you're supposed to do it. My naiveté was what initiated this course, and because I was a late bloomer -- I didn't start doing this until I was 30 -- I didn't have any input from anyone else, and I had never seen anyone do what I do."

What Shamas did, in the mid-'80s, after some early showbiz efforts that included stints with Second City and Theatresports, and a job as a puppeteer on the Canadian kids' show Fraggle Rock, was make the bold decision to write a one-woman show and embark on a career as a solo performer.

The result was the very personal My Boyfriend's Back and There's Gonna Be Laundry, which was launched at the 1987 Edmonton Fringe Festival and became a huge hit (she also brought the show to Winnipeg's fringe in 1989). Shamas's career was set in fast-forward motion, and she has spent the past quarter-century as one of Canada's most beloved and sought-after comedy performers.

Her performances -- in all, Shamas has successfully staged seven one-woman shows -- are deeply personal, reflective of the various stages of her life, and filled with hilarious insights that cut deep to the core of what being a woman is all about.

Shamas will take a short break from honing her latest effort, Big Girl Panties, to drop into the Winnipeg Comedy Festival to host the Thursday gala, Food, Glorious Food (Thursday at 7:15 p.m., Pantages Playhouse Theatre, tickets $44.99, plus fees, at Ticketmaster).

The show also features Graham Chittenden, Katie-Ellen Humphries, Ali Hassan, Jen Grant, Dave Hemstad and Cris Nannarone.

Asked if she feels the quick trip to Winnipeg will disrupt the rhythm of her Big Girl Panties performances, Shamas just laughs.

"Oh, no, it's a gorgeous reprieve," she says. "I'll be doing material that I know, (and) I won't be carrying two hours by myself. I'm hosting the food gala, so my duties are to do some material off the top, a happy introduction for each one of the guests, a 10- to-15-minute spot later, and then my day is done.

"It's gorgeous."

Shamas adds that the food-themed gala is a comfortable fit, and not just because she made the decision a few years back to give up city life in favour of a rural, market-gardening existence.

"I have the experience of food pretty much three times a day, every day of my life. Food is a perfect fit for me, in terms of what it takes to stoke an engine and stay alive. Everybody has their own specific relationship with food, whether it's too much or too little or whatever," she offers.

"And then there's the fact that four or five years ago, I went from being an extreme gardener to being a small organic farmer. So yes, food is important to me."

Plant the seed. Tend it carefully. Let it grow. Reap the harvest. Renew, replant, repeat.

There are some easy comparisons to be drawn between Shamas's life onstage and her life on the farm.

"I've never had a sense of artistic entitlement," she says of her performing career. "I didn't know anything about Canada Arts Council grants or loans or any of that when I started. I applied the same rules of commerce to my attempts at performing that you apply to anything in life -- if you want something, you have to put your money down to get it.

"I knew where the money was coming from -- out of the pockets of the people who were attending the shows -- so my full and undivided attention was on them. That's the relationship that was most important for me to develop and concentrate on. I like having them there, and they seem to like being there, so we get along."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2014 C3

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