Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
Ex-Winnipegger has winning way with words
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/04/2010 (4805 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When it comes to comedy, everything is some kind of a story — amusing, outrageous, improbable, preposterous, relatable, ridiculous, unbelievable and, hopefully, just plain hilarious.
It’s fitting, then, that this year’s edition of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival should introduce a new feature, called Storytellers, that celebrates the art and the craft of the well-spun yarn.
"I really like this format; I’m fascinated by it," says veteran comedian/writer/actor Barry Kennedy, whose standup act is much more dependent on long lyrical tales of life in a strange world than it is on standard-issue setups and punchlines. "I’ve given readings from my fiction, and I’ve attended readings by other authors, and I’ve never been thrilled with that format because you’re what you’re doing is reading out loud stories that are meant to be read (on the page).
"So the challenge in this, for me, was combining the idea of this being a written piece with the idea that it’s also a performance situation."
Storytellers, which takes place at 4 p.m. today at the Gas Station Theatre (tickets $17.95), is hosted by author and CBC Radio personality Bill Richardson and features the tale-telling talents of Paul Krassner, Tabatha Southey, Michael Muhammad Knight, hannah_g, Charles Demers and Canadian acting legend Gordon Pinsent, who also happens to be Kennedy’s father.
Kennedy, who was born and raised in Winnipeg (the product of Pinsent’s first marriage), has lived the life of a modern renaissance man, serving as a fighter pilot in the Canadian Air Force before trading wings for words and establishing himself as a comedian, actor and author with an impressive list of roles and titles to his credit.
The author of three novels and host of the bone-chilling Discovery Channel series Out in the Cold, Kennedy says he comes by his knack for storytelling quite naturally — raised on the Prairies but with a large measure of the Maritimes in his blood, he’s the product of two cultures with deeply imbedded oral traditions.
"My dad is a storyteller, of course, and on my mom’s side of the family — which I’m much more familiar with — every single one of my relatives is a storyteller," he said. "To this day, even, with all of my cousins, the perfect idea of a good time is to sit around the table telling stories until someone gets drunk enough to play the guitar."
In addition to the Storytellers show, Kennedy will also be taking part in tonight’s All-Star Tribute to Ross Rumberg (10:30 p.m., Gas Station Theatre) and Sunday’s Best of the Fest gala (7 p.m., Pantages Playhouse Theatre).
He said sharing the stage with Pinsent — with whom he re-established a relationship as an adult after having been estranged for a couple of decades after the actor and Kennedy’s mother split — is something of a rarity, despite the fact each has carved out a career in the arts.
"I think it’s unprecedented, really," he said. "Other than certain talk shows or a few events we’ve been at, I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like this. We do different things, in a sense — even though I’m an actor, mildly accomplished at best, I’m certainly not in the league my dad is, so our paths don’t cross that often. I do standup; he’s a very talented painter and playwright; I write books. The various things we do sort of connect, on the storytelling level. It’ll be fun to be on the same program as him."
Despite the seeming abandonment of face-to-face, oral communication by a generation obsessed with email, texting and instant messaging, Kennedy said he harbours no real fear for the future of the storytelling tradition.
"It depends how you define the terms," he explained. "If you think of an oral tradition as three-day-long speeches that recorded history or passed on myths, it’s clearly suffering, and has been for some time. But is communication in general suffering? I don’t think so, and I don’t think it’s possible to eradicate. As far as language and spelling and punctuation is concerned, it’s changed before and it’s undergoing constant evolution. The very fact that there’s old English and middle English and modern English shows that there’s already been a huge transformation."
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After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.