Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Laughing through the snow...

Ron James, Gerry Dee, Trailer Park Boys bringing comedy gifts for Winnipeggers

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Christmas comes early this week for fans of Canadian comedy, with a trio of high-profile homegrown acts bringing live shows to Winnipeg stages.

***

For the perpetual-motion comedy machine that is Ron James, heading out on an extended comedy tour feels a lot like going home.

The veteran standup comic just wrapped production on the upcoming fourth season of CBC's The Ron James Show (which returns with a New Year's Eve special and then debuts in its new Monday timeslot on Jan. 7), and the "R" word that immediately went through his mind wasn't "rest." It was "road."

"I feel like the chains are off when I'm onstage," says James, whose western-Canadian tour stops at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre this Saturday (Dec. 8, 8 p.m., tickets $59 at Ticketmaster). "I don't have to read a monitor, I don't have to stop and do the take again and again, I don't have to worry if one of the pieces in the monologue is going to prompt a phone call, an email, a lawsuit or whatever. When I'm on the stage, it's like I'm coming home again. It's freedom."

James says fans who turn up for his latest stop in the Prairie outpost he's visited so many times during the frozen part of the year will be treated to an energetic and innovative evening.

"I'm bringing a brand-new show to Manitoba, and I'm proud of that," he says. "I'm proud to be able to bring an all-new 90-minute show -- it's stuff I wrote for the (TV show) season this year, which hasn't been seen on television yet, and stuff I honed during my B.C. tour. I'm covering everything from the day-to-day struggles of the everyman -- you know, like Scotiabank's ruse that 'you're richer than you think' -- uh, I beg to differ; no, you aren't -- to all the spin that's coming out of Ottawa, like (Natural Resources Minister) Joe Oliver saying everybody who's against the (Northern) Gateway pipeline is a radical or a terrorist -- yeah, you know, like National Geographic -- one minute you're reading about zebras on the Serengeti, and the next you're in a sleeper cell, building Molotov cocktails to chuck at the motorcade. It's ridiculous."

If it sounds like James is getting a bit more pointed and, perhaps, political in his comedy, that's because he probably is.

"As I get older and as I evolve as a comedian, I would say that I'm no longer the folksy, doughnut-embracing troubadour who's just talking about the journey," he says. "Over the years, I've learned to state my case and honour the dictates of the (comedy) profession, which means to rock the apple cart, not ride in it.

"This is when the job gets real, when you have to call it the way it is. But after 13 years on the road and close to 18 in standup, I think I've earned the right to speak my mind."

And the best place to say it, he insists, is out here on the road, in front of the audiences that have shared his journey for the better part of two decades.

"Whether it's Corner Brook or Winnipeg or Prince Albert or Victoria, finding this commonality just rejuvenates my faith in the life force," he says. "I don't want to sound too new-agey about it, but it just makes me feel good when everybody's laughing.

"I think the thing I would miss more than anything if I gave up the road is the grunts and snorts and wheezes of a live, breathing audience. It's organic, it's real, it's substantial and fundamental, and the rules haven't changed since Buddy put a bowl in front of his feet in the village square back in 1147 and started getting some mileage from (making fun of) the king."

***

If there's one thing Gerry Dee -- and, for that matter, pretty much anyone else in Canadian show business -- should not be concerned about, it's overexposure.

Dee, who has been Canadian comedy's Mr. Everywhere in recent years -- from standup tours to Gerry Dee: Sports Reporter on The Score to CBC's Mr. D to poker-website pitchman -- says it's simply a matter of striking while the iron's hot.

"Really, what am I going to do -- turn things down because I'm worried about being overexposed?" says Dee, who brings his live comedy show to the Burton Cummings Theatre Friday (Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m., tickets $47.75 to $57.75 at Ticketmaster). "It's a very short window in entertainment; I don't want it to end, but when it does end, I want to have taken as much out of it as I can. You've got to take advantage of the opportunities when they come; that's certainly what I'm trying to do."

Dee, a former high-school phys-ed teacher who parlayed a third-place finish on NBC's Last Comic Standing (Season 3, 2007) into one of the busiest careers in Canadian showbiz, has turned out to be a shrewd businessman and adept self-promoter. In other words, real-life Gerry Dee is pretty darned smart at marketing his on-screen alter-ego, dimwitted jock Gerry Dee.

"In the real world, I'm a businessman, a husband, a parent and a pretty educated guy," he says. "But everything I portray, whether it's on The Score or Mr. D (which has its second-season debut on Jan. 7), or my book (Teaching: It's Harder Than It Looks), is a little bit of self-deprecation.

"I'm well versed at certain things, and not at other things. And I think what I've done is accentuate my weaknesses, then exaggerated them and made a standup act and a TV show out of them."

***

Rounding out this week's cavalcade of Canadian comedy is the latest revival/reunion/revenue-generation effort by Ricky, Julian and Bubbles -- the Trailer Park Boys' Dear Santa Claus, Go F Yourself tour, which jingles its way into the Burton Cummings Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. (tickets $32.75 and $41.75 at Ticketmaster).

The Sunnyvale trio -- joined on this tour by arch-nemeses Mr. Lahey and Randy -- wasn't doing advance interviews prior to their cross-country jaunt, but the storyline provided in the tour's press material suggests Bubbles' effort to spread the true meaning of Christmas is derailed by Julian's attempt to cash in on the season and Ricky's determined but deluded pursuit of a face-to-face meeting with the real Santa Claus.

The betting here is that this show's F-word won't be "Fa-la-la."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 C6

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