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Lotsa laughs from locals at comedy festival

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The weekend's upon us, which means the Winnipeg Comedy Festival is in its home stretch, and it's time to clean out the early-week portion of the comedy-fest notebook. Here are some random observations from a few funny-filled weeknights at the 2013 event:

Tuesday's fest-opening Comedy Aces show at the McPhillips Station Casino boasted a solid lineup of imports and local favourites in a show that proved once again -- and, hopefully, for the last time -- that if the local gaming house is to remain a fixture on the fest schedule, the provincially run casinos simply can't get their big-budget showroom construction project finished soon enough.

Once again, comic after comic -- led ably by host Rob Pue, who was very funny -- delivered strong material and generated decent amounts of laughter from a near-capacity crowd, but the audience's gleeful reaction was at times matched by the incessant sounds of pinging, ringing, dinging and beeping from the VLT lounge on the other side of the anything-but-soundproof temporary curtain that separates the stage and seating area from the adjoining gambling area.

Add to that the fact that the curtain basically absorbs, rather than reflects, the sound of laughter, and you've got a bunch of comedians working their hardest in a room where laughs go to die. It's a venue that won't be missed.

Standouts in the Tuesday show were locals Paul Rabliauskas and Big Daddy Tazz, who were both in top form, and every-fest import John Wing, who capped a funny set about family, parenting and middle age with a few observations about a friend who's suddenly single and rejoining the dating pool.

"He's in his 50s; now he's dating these younger women -- 25-year-olds," offered Wing. "That must be exhausting. I'm not talking about the sex; I'm talking about having to explain everything that happened before 1985." Wing ended his set on a musical note, accompanying himself on guitar as he served up an original age-and-gravity-inspired number that may or may not be titled This Is What I Look Like Naked.

-- -- --

Wednesday's schedule (for me, anyway) included The Winnipeg Show, which in its early years was something of an afterthought but has become, in the last two or three years, one of the hottest tickets. And with good reason -- there's much to celebrate in the city's standup scene, with Winnipeg's active open-mike and showcase scene producing an ever-stronger community of rising comedy stars.

Some of the best were on display on Wednesday -- Rabliauskas, Andrew Lizotte, Chantel Marostica, Dan Verville, Tazz, fest artistic director Al Rae -- but the surprise of the evening was morning radio guy Ace Burpee, who hosted the show. There's a big difference between being funny on the radio and being funny onstage, but the Virgin Radio personality proved he can do both when he shared some insights about appearing on a show being taped for broadcast on Laugh Out Loud.

"This is being recorded for CBC Radio, which is great, because it will be the first time my mother has ever heard me on the radio," he said. "In case this part ever makes it to the radio: Hello, Jane Burpee, and no, I didn't run into Terry McLeod at work today."

Burpee's mom, it seems, is a dedicated CBC listener.

"She always asks me, 'Did you hear what Terry McLeod said today?' And I'm, like, 'Mom, we're on at the same time.'"

Winnipeg joke, Winnipeg show. Worth consideration as a must-see festival event.

-- -- --

Thursday's doubleheader at the Gas Station Arts Centre was led off by a taping of CBC Radio's Definitely Not the Opera, featuring a selection of stories focused on parenting, children and the point in life at which roles start to get reversed.

Local product Dean Jenkinson opened with a funny monologue about how his three-year-old daughter sets the rules at home, and another Winnipegger, Bill Richardson, closed with a touching but very funny tale of moving back home to be closer to his 87-year-old father as he struggles through the challenges of life's final chapter.

Articulate as ever, Richardson offered this perspective on the move back to Manitoba to deal with aging-parent issues: "When your father's dentures get wrapped in the sheets and go through the laundry, you don't want 2,000 miles between you."

-- -- --

Still worth seeing: CBC Radio's The Debaters is taping today and Sunday (2 p.m.) at the newly refurbished Metropolitan Entertainment Centre; Canadian-TV everyman Jonathan Torrens is hosting the Saturday Early Gala, titled High School Confidential (6:45 p.m., Pantages Playouse Theatre); local troupers Hot Thespian Action are serving up A Baker's Dozen: 13 Delicious Sketches (tonight at 8, Gas Station); Mr. D sidekick Mark Forward hosts the always-inspired Dark and Stormy Show (tonight at 10:30, Met); and Maritimer Jonny Harris hosts the wrap-it-up Best of the Fest gala Sunday at 7:30, also at the Met. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 G7

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