Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Too cool for school?
It goes without saying that classrooms and gyms are two places folks don't need all that much of a reason to skip out on. And apparently, some related principle was at play Thursday night when it came to the book-learnin'-themed Edumacation Show gala and the iron-pumping late-night effort, Underbelly Diaries Redux: Aaron Berg's One-Man Show. Attendance at each was, well, spotty.
Which is too bad, because the gala was a pretty solid effort, and Berg's theatrical tour of the bodybuilding world's darkest corners was an unexpected revelation.
As gala themes go, The Edumacation Show was pretty safe and well-trod territory, but host Gerry Dee -- once a teacher himself, now one of the country's most in-demand comics -- did a better-than-B-plus job of opening the show with momentum and maintaining a satisfying pace between acts. His contribution reinforces the wisdom of fest organizers' decision to favour experienced comics over gimmicky guest hosts at this year's event.
Veteran performer and continuing-to-toil substitute teacher Steve Brinder gets a passing grade for his perspective on the toughest classes (kindergarten) and schools (anything ending in "Tech") to teach, and festival first-timer Karen O'Keefe was funny in comparing her tall-kid academic adventures to the travails of Archie Comics' oddball Big Ethel.
David Hemstad was intensely competitive in describing the life of a high-school jock ("My goal was to be athlete of the year, and I did it. It only took six years. It's a lot easier when you're 20."); Dylan Mandlsohn delivered a quick and effective counterpoint as the wispy kid who majored in drama. Comedy-Network-series star Jon Dore tested the audience's patience, to perfect comic effect, and took his exploration of education to a rather odd and slightly uncomfortable place (one bit, a reference to the U.S.'s election of a black president, finished with "My little nephew came up to me and said, 'Uncle Jon, will there ever be a white president in my lifetime?' Well, how do you tell him, 'Billy, you have leukemia ... so, no.'?").
Every-year fest attendee John Wing compared current education practices to the ones he recalls from his own youth ("I think we're a lot tougher than our kids; we were raised on spanking and second-hand smoke"); show-closer Nikki Payne was frantic and animated and really quite brilliant as she considered the contributions of bullies in school and post-graduation life, too.
It all took place in a Pantages Playhouse that was, at best, half full; when the show ended, departing audience members were told there were "a limited number" of free tickets available for Berg's 10:30 p.m. show at the Gas Station.
A few took up the offer, but not many. The GST, too, was at best half filled when the bodybuilder-turned-comedian took the stage. Those in attendance got their money's worth, and more (especially, one surmises, if the tickets were free), from Berg's decidedly theatrical look at self-absorbed life inside one of society's most ego-crazed corners. The show was filled with tales of steroid abuse, narcissistic rage, misplaced vanity and the ill-considered conclusion that any behaviour can be justified if the agreed-upon price is sufficiently high.
Berg looks very much like a musclebound lunk when he strides onto the sparsely decorated stage, but when he starts his mile-a-minute monologue, he reveals an impressive intellect, an inclination toward ego-deflating self-examination, and a sharp aptitude for dialects and accents that allows him to play a dozen or so diversely perverse characters as the hour-long narrative unfolds. It's pretty dark, un-sexily sexual material, but Berg hits it all head-on, with the blunt force of an overloaded Olympic bar being dropped from shoulder height after an unsuccessful clean and jerk.
The betting here is that attendance was sparse because folks simply didn't know what the show is about and were more comfortable investing ticket-purchase cash in one of the fest's more conventional standup showcases. Had it been given a two- or three-performance run, Underbelly Diaries Redux might easily have grown into a word-of-mouth winner.
And tonight, what to do? Galas, Thespians and the Shock-ingly New -- don't know yet which way the evening's comedic tour will take me. I'll tell you what I see; maybe you can fill me in on what I miss.
About Brad Oswald
Way back when Brad Oswald was TV-inclined little kid, his exasperated mother used to say things like, "Would you PLEASE turn that thing off and go OUTSIDE and play? If you insist on watching that IDIOT box day after day after day, you will NEVER amount to ANYTHING in this world!"
Well, go figure.
Brad joined the Free Press in 1987 and has spent most of the last two decades getting paid to watch the television as the paper’s resident TV critic. In addition to previewing and reviewing all the latest prime-time shows and covering the local TV industry, he also usually spends a few weeks per year in L.A., interviewing TV stars and attending Big Phony Hollywood Parties.
Brad also writes about comedy and other assorted entertainment topics, and has been known to wander onto local stages try out his own standup material as part of an ongoing quest to satisfy his deep-rooted need for affirmation. He was the winner of Rumor’s Comedy Club’s first Funniest Person With a Day Job contest.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Brad grew up in St. Vital, attended Dakota Collegiate and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba before enrolling in Red River College’s Creative Communications program. He played rugby for more than 20 years, which, quite frankly, amounts to a whole lot of blows to the unprotected noggin.
Despite that, during his two-decades-plus at the Free Press, he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about television and other pop-culture topics, and would certainly not be the worst person to pick for your trivia-contest team.
For some reason, he firmly believes his Mom really would be proud of all this.
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