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This article was published 19/2/2015 (2413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Bigger names, a new and bigger venue, a big new awards show and substantially smaller prices -- these are the elements that Al Rae thinks make this year's Winnipeg Comedy Festival worthy of raising a glass.
With a "Whine and Cheese" theme celebrating its 14th-year vintage, the city's annual spring flood of funny business -- which runs April 6-12 -- will feature an expanded schedule that runs a full week and includes a roast, a couple of one-man shows, a bilingual improv event, a gritty urban-comedy night and showcases for local comedy, alternative humour and gay-themed performances, as well as the usual schedule of taped-for-TV galas at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre.
The full festival lineup will be unveiled a wine and cheese-themed public event on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 11 a.m. at the Gas Station Arts Centre, but in an exclusive sneak-peek interview with the Free Press, artistic director Rae said this year's strong roster of gala hosts reflects a desire to give the festival's highest-profile events a sharpened comedy focus.
"The gala hosts are big," said Rae, outlining a schedule of galas hosted by Shaun Majumder, Jeremy Hotz, Ryan Belleville, Jessica Holmes and Jonny Harris. "We had some really strong performances last year (at the galas), but maybe the recognizability factor (of the hosts) wasn't as strong. This year is more comedy-celebrity driven, but still keeps the focus very much on comedy; in recent years, we've gone away from some of the stunt casting we did in the past and concentrated on strong, solid standups. This lineup gives us that, and some name recognition, as well."
Among the highlights of this year's "Connoisseurs of Comedy" schedule are the return of Canadian comedy legend Mike MacDonald, who disappeared from the standup circuit for a few years while battling a life-threatening illness but has since returned to health and performing. Also in the lineup is Old Enough to Know Better, a new one-man show by John Wing, the only comic to appear at the festival every year (Wing will also be the subject of a comedy "roast" on the fest's closing night); the inaugural edition of The Mics, a locally based comedy awards ceremony; the scheduling of several festival shows at the recently opened Club Regent Event Centre, including Funny You Should Ask, a fundraiser for Mood Disorders of Manitoba hosted by MacDonald, the always-popular Winnipeg Show, hosted this year by Big Daddy Tazz, tapings of CBC Radio's The Debaters and the aforementioned awards show and John Wing roast.
The local sketch troupe Hot Thespian Action will headline a new show, Uncorked, and the fest lineup also includes a couple of noteworthy solo efforts -- HA!, a one-man play starring Wes Borg of Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, and Leftovers, a new solo show by frequent left-wing Debaters combatant Charles Demers.
One of the festival's most popular events, the boundary-pushing Dark and Stormy Show, has been retitled WCF After Dark and refocused to emphasize material that's thematically daring rather than merely profane.
"We want to move it back to being a more dark and provocative show rather than just a dirty show," Rae explained. "I just felt the show had gone off the rails a bit in the last couple of years, in terms of comics trying to one-up each other in dirtyness. It's a shift back to darkness, and I think the cast of the show reflects that."
This year's comedy festival will be spread across a wider network of venues; Rumor's Comedy Club will once again play host to headline shows throughout the festival week, while other shows will take place at the Gas Station, the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre, the Park Theatre, the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, the King's Head Pub and Fusion Grill, which will serve its usual Gastrocomique blend of comedy, food and drink with Elvira Kurt topping the menu.
Free shows will take place at the Millennium Library throughout the week, and for the first time ever, the festival will take a sampler of its funny wares to Morris for a special outreach show.
Prices for the gala shows have been reduced this year to $35 (plus taxes and fees), a reduction of $10 from last year, and tickets to all shows are on sale at Ticketmaster. The full schedule and ticket information are available at www.winnipegcomedyfestival.com.
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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.