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Andy Wood isn't responsible for bringing the Oddblock Comedy Festival into the world, but it might be argued that he's the midwife who assisted with the delivery.
Wood, a veteran standup comic who co-founded the long-running and highly successful Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Ore., consulted regularly with the organizers of Winnipeg's new comedy fest, which continues today and Sunday in a cluster of venues on south Osborne Street.
"It's not the first time that somebody has seen what's happened with Bridgetown and then wanted to start something similar," Wood explains during a telephone interview, a couple of days before heading to Winnipeg to take part in at least a half-dozen Oddblock shows. "We also helped out with High Plains Comedy Festival in Denver, which is now in its third year, and it's really cool to see what like-minded people are able to accomplish.
"I'm really excited to see Winnipeg, and to see how this thing is organized."
Oddblock, the brainchild of Park Theatre owner Erick Casselman, talent booker Kevin Mozdzen and local comedian-turned-producer John B. Duff, was launched with the intention of creating a large-scale showcase for alternative comedy that could be experienced within a very small geographic area.
"I make no bones about the fact we're basically emulating the Bridgetown festival, and Andy Wood has helped us immeasurably every step of the way," Duff says.
Wood said the key to getting a new festival off the ground is assembling a talent roster that will attract an audience and start the process of creating a buzz about the event. Oddblock's lineup doesn't feature any big mainstream names, but the performers who have travelled to Winnipeg -- including Wood, James Adomian, Eddie Pepitone, Karen Kilgariff & Drennon Davis, Ben Kronberg and others -- for this first crack at creating an annual event are among the most respected in their field.
"That's the toughest thing these days -- the market is a bit flooded with people doing (festivals) like this, so it's hard to convince talent to come," he said. "We were lucky when we started Bridgetown (in 2008), because there weren't a lot of festivals like this, so people were willing to give it a chance, plus they wanted to come to Portland because it's a fun city.
"Until you can convince talent to come, it's hard to get anything else in line. But if you have that, everything else will work itself out... For us, Year 1 was a big learning curve, basically finding out what we didn't even know that we didn't know, and then building a team to make everything run smoothly."
Wood, who started his six-show schedule with the festival's kickoff show on Thursday and will wrap up his run with Saturday night's Altered State show (10 p.m., Luxalune Gastropub), also said the Oddblock bunch was on the right track when they located all their shows within a walkable one-block stretch.
"We definitely made it a priority (at Bridgetown) to make all the shows close to each other, and to create a real festival feel where you could stay in the same neighbourhood and see a whole bunch of shows."
Wood said the choice of placing some Oddblock shows into venues with very limited seating -- Vera Pizzeria's capacity is 36, and Monticchio Ristorante's is even smaller at 35 -- will probably work in the new festival's favour.
"We also turn some bars and non-traditional spaces into comedy spaces for the weekend," he said. "We even had a Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge that we turned into comedy stage, and it worked out great. People loved it.
"It's rare that a smaller room is worse (than a larger one), as long as it's full. A huge venue that's one-third full is way worse than a tiny venue that's packed with 30 people."
A full festival schedule is available at www.oddblock.ca/schedule
You can sample Andy Wood's comedy at http://wfp.to/xgQ.
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