Jared Story hated the Zoom comedy era.
Instead of performing in a theatre, a bar, or a dingy, dusky basement, comedians during the peak of lockdown had to perform via the online video chat service, often from their own living rooms or their own private, dingy, dusky basements. For a while, it was nice to be able to perform at all, but it didn’t take long for the joke to get old.
"Zoom comedy sucked. It was nice to do something and get tossed a little bit of money, write some jokes and try them out. But it just wasn’t the same," says Story, one of the city’s most seasoned standups and the host and co-producer since 2014 of the Winnipeg Comedy Showcase at the Park Theatre. "It’s all about live."
Story is ecstatic, then, to be hosting the 27th iteration of the showcase Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Park, a sign that the comedy business in Winnipeg is getting back to … well, maybe not normal, but whatever level of eccentricity that made it such an enduring form of entertainment before the pandemic.
Shows have returned all over the city, at established venues like Rumour’s, Wee Johnny’s and the Handsome Daughter as well as upstarts such as Chuckles Comedy Zone, inside the St. James Lanes, and the refurbished Park Alleys. Throughout the summer, outdoor shows at venues such as the now-closed The Garden 955 and comedian Mike Green’s Secret Standup Show gave comics much-needed outlets to perform, but as Story says, "Comedy belongs in dark rooms."
And as far as dark rooms go, The Park is one of the city’s best, and Story has assembled a lineup making the tickets — $15 in advance and $20 at the door — a real bargain.
The acerbic Andy Noble is always entertaining. Tyler Penner, who won the title of Winnipeg’s Funniest Person With a Day Job in 2014, is seven years later still a very funny person with a day job. Kristen Einarson, who just started hosting her own showcase at the Park Alleys and recently opened for Toronto’s Chris Locke at the Handsome Daughter, is also on the bill. A relative newcomer as a comic, Karlee Liljegren is coming off a strong showing at the Rumor’s Roast Battle and is an emerging talent, Story says.
Plus, the comedy of Rajat Bhateja is always sharp, and the bombastic Emmanuel Lomuro can be as energetic and electric on stage as any comedian in Winnipeg.
Lomuro, 28, was just getting started in the local comedy world in February 2020, performing in his first booked shows just as the pandemic was starting to take hold. So it has been a while since he’s been on stage at an indoor venue like The Park.
"It’s been a while, man. This whole thing’s a blur. I’ve been keeping track of the days on the wall," he says. "Like a caveman."
"It’s been a while, man. This whole thing’s a blur. I’ve been keeping track of the days on the wall. Like a caveman." – Emmanuel Lomuro
Like all the comedians slated to perform, Lomuro didn’t stop writing jokes, even while shows were fewer and most often online. And so far since returning to performing in person, Lomuro says one thing is clear: "The crowds want to laugh. Everyone needs to laugh."
Sometimes, Lomuro hardly needs to tell a joke to make that happen: his energy does the trick. "I’ve had people tell me, ‘I don’t remember what you said, but I was laughing the whole time,’" he says, giggling. "And to be honest, I don’t know if that’s a compliment…"
Lomuro says he’s excited to be performing for what he hopes will be a capacity crowd at the newly renovated Park, which has invested heavily in air-filtration technology and is required by public health orders to ensure all attendees provide proof of full vaccination in order to attend the showcase and all other events. ("You need two jabs to hear the jabs," Story said when put on the spot.)
He’s excited to perform with the rest of the lineup, which provides a taste of the best Winnipeg comedy has to offer.
"It’ll be a charcuterie board of comedy — a lot of different flavours, but together, it all tastes good," Lomuro says. "Me? I feel like an aged gouda, but then again I’m still new. So let’s say I’m the cheddar cheese."
The Winnipeg Comedy Showcase is October 30 at 8 p.m. Advance tickets ($15) are available at eventbrite.ca or from any of the comics on the bill. At the door, tickets are $20. Doors open at 7 p.m. for happy hour.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.