Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Local comics joining forces to help gravely ill MacDonald

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IT promises to be a highly amusing evening, in support of a very funny Canadian whose current situation is absolutely no laughing matter.

A top-notch roster of local comedians will perform on Monday at Rumor's Comedy Club (8 p.m., tickets $10 at Rumor's) in an effort to lend financial support to Canuck comedy icon Mike MacDonald, who is gravely ill and unable to work.

MacDonald, 57, has been a fixture on the Canadian comedy scene for more than 30 years. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C last year -- perhaps a result of hard-drug use early in his career -- and his condition quickly deteriorated a few months ago when his liver and kidneys shut down.

He is currently living at his mother's home in Ottawa, while his wife, Bonnie remains in Los Angeles trying to sell their house there. In recent weeks, comedy clubs in various parts of the country have staged benefit shows in support of MacDonald.

"There's a lot of respect and admiration, and a willingness (for performers) to lend their time, that comes out of respect for the artist," said Al Rae, a veteran comedian and artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. "Clearly, Mike MacDonald is an extraordinary performer who has moved people and continues to do so."

Monday's show at Rumor's will be hosted by Rae, with performances by Bruce Clark, Dean Jenkinson, Big Daddy Tazz, Jason Beck and others. All proceeds will be turned over to MacDonald's financial aid effort. A website (www.gofundme.com/mikemacdonald) has also been established to allow fans and comedy colleagues to make personal donations (as of this week, nearly $40,000 had been pledged).

In several recent interviews, as well as an emotional plea that has been widely circulated online, MacDonald has acknowledged that he's humbled by the outpouring of sympathy and support, because he hasn't always been the easiest guy to be around.

"There are a lot of people who think he's a complete (jerk); he's an odd guy, and he hasn't been a guy who's easy to warm up to," says Clark. "I've never had a beef with Mike; I didn't work with him until 2000, in Las Vegas, and we got along fine. But there are a lot of comics who he's rubbed the wrong way.

"But he's a comrade who needs help, so people are going to turn up. That's one of the interesting things about the comedy world -- it's an individualistic kind of job, but when one of our own goes down, everyone tries to help out."

Besides, added Rae, anyone working as a standup in Canada during the past couple of decades would have to recognize MacDonald, who started performing standup in the late '70s, as one of comedy's true pioneers in this country.

"Mike was something that very few standup comics ever are -- an original innovator of a new form of standup comedy," he said. "Although it borrowed somewhat from the observational stuff that was coming out of the States at the time, from guys like Jerry Seinfeld, it was actually a different and completely original type of standup. He drew a lot from popular culture and the world of cartoons... and Mike combined observational comedy with a kind of physicality that sort of made him a cartoon character, inspired by Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn -- a kind of exaggeration, and an acting out of his comedy that was inspired by cartoons.

"So he may be (an) s.o.b., but he's our s.o.b. -- we're a club, and there are plenty of prickly people in standup comedy, and this (support) acknowledges that Mike is one of the guys who laid down the track for everyone else to follow."

Rae also noted that there have been several offers from fans in response to MacDonald's declaration that he desperately needs a live liver donor to be found in order to survive his declining-health crisis.

"It's very moving, and it's very nice to see," he said. "This is really an old-school fan base, because Mike's TV appearances over the years have been limited to a yearly set at Just For Laughs, a few U.S. television appearances from a quarter-century ago (and occasional Canadian TV specials). So these are people who have seen this standup comic perform live onstage and have been so moved by the experience that they're willing to donate a piece of their body to a stranger.

"I think that's incredibly remarkable."

In the end, as all comedy necessarily must be, this effort is all about the funny.

"The outpouring is very sincere, and it speaks to the idea that there's great respect for the man as an artist," said Rae. "If he'd been a jerk and didn't have a great act, I think he'd be a lot more lonely during this difficult time."

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

COMEDY PREVIEW

Mike MacDonald Benefit Show

Hosted by Al Rae, featuring Bruce Clark, Dean Jenkinson, Big Daddy Tazz, Jason Beck and others

Monday at 8 p.m.

Rumor's Comedy Club

Tickets $10 at Rumor's

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2012 C3

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