Festival of trigger warnings
‘For those who have sensitivities, they’ll all be stomped on,’ Dean Jenkinson says of upcoming comedy fest
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The Winnipeg Comedy Festival is ready for a staring contest with cancel culture.
Rather than walking a comedic tightrope and fearing the repercussions of an intentional or unintentional slip of the tongue, comics attending the May 2-7 event will be ready to tell jokes on touchy subjects such as mental health, money woes, relationship breakups and land claims, all without a safety net.
On top of that, return of the popular series Your Hood’s a Joke (May 4, Gas Station Arts Centre) promises an evening of provocative roast debates that includes a content warning for those “who wish to avoid hearing jokes about sensitive subject matter.”
“It’s very roasty… outrageous and intentionally offensive,” Dean Jenkinson, the festival’s artistic director, says. “For those who have sensitivities, they’ll all be stomped on.”
The show is the brainchild of Toronto comedian and host Danish Anwar, whose videos — such as If I Leave Social Media, Who’s Going to Bully All These Teens? — show he’s unafraid of knocking noses out of joint with a well-aimed barb.
Debates that pit acid-tongued Canadians from West and East against each other are common comedic battlegrounds, but a roast that has comics Emmanuel Lomuro and Benji Rothman defending Egypt and Israel, respectively, is a whole different witty battleground.
Other roast debates see Ojibwe comedian Don Kelly, host of APTN’s Crazy Like a Lynx, battling wits with Winnipeg’s Lara Rae, whom Jenkinson says is well known for playing the heel, for Indigenous Canada vs. Colonial Canada.
For lighter fare, the evening includes a May the Fourth showdown, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, highlighting standup comedians Quinn Greene and Rob Pue.
“I’m a fan of both. I don’t know why we all can’t get along,” Jenkinson says.
If all that confrontational humour isn’t enough, an edition of The Debaters, a CBC Radio staple that has pitted the nation’s comedians in a war of words since 2006, will be taped May 6 at Jubilee Place (173 Talbot Ave.).
“It’s been around for a long time, and it manages to be as fresh today as it was in its first season,” Jenkinson says.
Festival galas, which will take place at the Burton Cummings Theatre May 4-6, welcome hosts such as Winnipeg actor Adam Beach, actor-comedian Amanda Cordner, Kim’s Convenience actor Andrew Phung, standup veteran Pete Zedlacher and singer-songwriter Jully Black, who gained notoriety in February for singing the line “our home on native land” during her rendition of O Canada at the NBA all-star game.
Phung, who was to be at the 2020 fest that was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, hosts the early gala May 6, which includes Myles Anderson, Michael Balazo, Darryl Lenox and Arthur Simeon, a new Canadian who is originally from Uganda.
Jenkinson is so keen to see Simeon perform again that he’s helping him hack through the red-tape jungle to make it happen.
“He has to fill out forms so he can fill out the form so he can be on TV,” he says.
Returning for a second year will be Laughing with the Stars (May 5, Gas Station Arts Centre), which has local celebrities trying their hand at standup comedy and guided by mentors.
Last year’s event proved to be a hit, with CTV weather specialist Terri Apostle winning the trophy.
Those taking the plunge in 2023 are: 94.3 Now!’s Chris Ash, Mandy Shew of Virgin Radio, Corny Rempel, of Steinbach’s Mix 96.7, Ainsley McPhail of CTV Morning Live and Doug Speirs, who retired as the Free Press’s longtime humour columnist last year.
The festival’s screwball fun begins with a curveball called Middle Raged — sketch comedy in the form of duo Geri Hall and Gary Pearson — a touring show that pokes fun at empty nests, aging parents and the TV series Outlander.
The festival has venues across town, such as Rumor’s Comedy Club’s standup comedy series and an all-French standup show May 3 at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, but the festival aims to turn the Gas Station, located at the corner of River Avenue and Osborne Street, as its new hub for comedy-goers.
They believe a new licensed patio that can squeeze in 140 people will become a meeting place for the comedy festival in the same way Old Market Square has been a meeting place during the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.
Organizers tested the space during the winter using propane heaters, and Jenkinson says it’ll be ready for joking around before and after shows in May, even if you need to wear a jacket.
“It was quite cozy at -20, so when its 5 or 10 C in May, it should be a good place for laughs,” he says.
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.