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Stand and deliver

Ottawa-born actor Tom Cavanagh happy to host late-night comedy fest gala, but he'll leave the funny to the pros

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Tom Cavanagh is funny; he's just not that kind of funny.

Which is why, when he arrives at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival as host of Friday's late gala, The Future Show, he'll be sticking to the script, delivering the jokes as written, and leaving the standup comedy to the standup comedians.

"I'm just going to introduce them," says the Ottawa-born actor, whose TV credits include the fondly remembered NBC comedy/drama Ed and the shot-in-Winnipeg miniseries The Capture of the Green River Killer. "I think that's the most professional and safe way to do it.

"I'm not opposed to being funny onstage; certainly, as a theatre actor, that's where I come from and that's what I do. But at the same time, I'm not looking at this like, 'OK, I've got to try something different.' I'm going go out there, be myself, keep the show moving and let the professionals be outstandingly professional."

The Future Show will feature "professional" comedy performances by John Wing, Graham Clark, Ron Sparks, Jean Paul, Evany Rosen and Peter White.

Cavanagh, 50, says he has always had a great deal of respect for performers who choose the spotlight-and-microphone, setup-and-punchline discipline as their means of artistic expression.

"I have friends who live in the comedy world, so I've been around it a lot," he explains. "It isn't foreign territory for me. I hosted a few things back in the day, and I'm happy to be part of it. I feel like it's a very different world from what I usually do, and I think the people who do it are incredibly courageous human beings."

Among the acting projects in which Cavanagh is currently involved is a new NBC sitcom called Undateable (which premières May 29) from veteran producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town, Surviving Jack). The series is noteworthy because four of its lead actors -- Chris D'Elia, Brent Morin, Ron Funches and Rick Glassman -- are full-time standup comedians rather than previously out-of-work actors.

"These guys are about to have their lives explode, because I think the show is going to be quite big, but they're completely dedicated, hardcore standup comics," says Cavanagh. "The vagaries of the acting profession are such that there are always peaks and valleys, and you have to ride those waves, but these guys are committed to their comedy -- while we were doing the show, we would finish shooting at eight or nine o'clock and off they would go, to perform a round of standup in the L.A. comedy clubs. They're really dedicated to that craft, which is really cool to see. And that's sort of why I answered that earlier question the way I did -- I understand the commitment that's involved (in standup), and now that I've seen it close up, I respect it even more."

In addition to Undateable, Cavanagh also plays a prominent role in the upcoming CW series The Flash, based on the long-running DC Comics series and spun off from the current CW hit Arrow.

"It sounds so lame, but there's not a lot I can say about it," he says with a laugh. "These comic-book people are very secretive; they take this stuff very seriously. When you do (a sitcom like) The Goldbergs, you can just say, 'Hey, I play the neighbour!' but with this, it's a bit different.

"You'll have to wait until you see the pilot, because a lot is revealed. But I will say I have a great role."

Away from the stage and screen, Cavanagh maintains a long-running commitment to charitable efforts, having spent the past few years running a charity basketball tournament called Nothing But Nets, which raises money to provide mosquito nets in African communities at risk of malarial infection.

"It's one of our favourite projects," says Cavanagh, who played varsity hoops while attending Queen's University. "I spent part of my childhood in Africa; I had malaria as a child, and my sister had it much worse than I did, to a fairly serious level. Given that experience, it just seemed like a natural fit when the opportunity came along.

"It's such an easy way to combat a major disease -- $10 buys a net. And it's been successful to the point that you might actually start talking about eradicating (malaria). The mortality rates are plummeting, and it's really due to the simple act of purchasing the nets and handing them out to families in need in Africa.... It really comes down to a little bit of money and a little bit of effort, and the next thing you know, people stop dying."

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 C3

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