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Opinion

The odd kids on the block

South Osborne comedy fest expands for sophomore year

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Oddblock Comedy Festival’s Kevin Mozdzen (left) and John B. Duff point the way to the Park Theatre, the South Osborne Street venue and festival nerve centre.</p></p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Oddblock Comedy Festival’s Kevin Mozdzen (left) and John B. Duff point the way to the Park Theatre, the South Osborne Street venue and festival nerve centre.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/8/2016 (482 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

All it took was one show, and John B. Duff knew.

When the first performance of last August’s inaugural Oddblock Comedy Festival took the stage, Duff and fellow festival founders Erick Casselman and Kevin Mozdzen breathed a huge sigh of relief, joined in the laughter, and shared in the knowledge that Oddblock was here to stay.

“I’m not surprised at all that we’re doing a second one,” Duff says of this year’s event, which runs Aug. 25 to 28 in a cluster of venues on or near the South Osborne Street strip. “Of course, before the very first show, there were some jitters, and we wondered if this was going to tank horribly. Ticket sales were pretty good but not stellar before that first show, but then once the ball was rolling and we saw how all the hard work we’d done was coming to fruition, we knew it was viable and we knew that we’d be doing it again.

“Before (last year’s fest) was even finished, Erick (Park Theatre owner Casselman) was giving us the thumbs-up to start planning for Year 2.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/8/2016 (482 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

All it took was one show, and John B. Duff knew.

When the first performance of last August’s inaugural Oddblock Comedy Festival took the stage, Duff and fellow festival founders Erick Casselman and Kevin Mozdzen breathed a huge sigh of relief, joined in the laughter, and shared in the knowledge that Oddblock was here to stay.

"I’m not surprised at all that we’re doing a second one," Duff says of this year’s event, which runs Aug. 25 to 28 in a cluster of venues on or near the South Osborne Street strip. "Of course, before the very first show, there were some jitters, and we wondered if this was going to tank horribly. Ticket sales were pretty good but not stellar before that first show, but then once the ball was rolling and we saw how all the hard work we’d done was coming to fruition, we knew it was viable and we knew that we’d be doing it again.

"Before (last year’s fest) was even finished, Erick (Park Theatre owner Casselman) was giving us the thumbs-up to start planning for Year 2."

The driving principle of Oddblock is to create a buzz — a very funny buzz — in South Osborne by having a high-density schedule of comedy shows taking place in a small and easily walkable geographic area. The vagaries of the hospitality industry — restaurants come and restaurants go — mean there has been a shuffling of venues and a slight expansion of Oddblock’s footprint this year, but Duff is confident the sophomore roster of locations will serve the festival well.

Florence Spence</p>

Florence Spence

Out of the rotation this time are the Luxalune pub, Deseo Bistro and Monticchio Ristorante; in their place, South Osborne merchants BMC Market, GameKnight Games and Cool Stuff and nearby Riverview Community Centre will act as show hosts. Still in the Oddblock roster are the Park Theatre, Vera Pizzeria and Park Alleys.

"We have two new places (BMC and GameKnight), still within the same block, that are on par — in fact, they’re a bit bigger, so they suit our needs a bit better in terms of seating," Duff explains. "We’ve replaced Luxalune with a bigger venue (Riverview C.C.), which is great for us in terms of capacity... and the only thing we would change if we could is to have it closer (to Osborne). It’s a bit of a walk — 10 to 12 minutes — so we’ll make sure to tell our attendees to plan on that extra time."

In terms of the talent pool, this year’s Oddblock boasts a strong mix of top-line headliners and local up-and-comers, with more than 50 performers taking part in 25 shows over the festival’s four-day run. Topping the bill are Philadelphia native Todd Glass, actor and improv star Kate Berlant, MADtv veteran and Bridgetown Comedy Festival co-founder Matt Braunger, Baskets co-star Martha Kelly, The Dork Forest podcast creator Jackie Kashian and decidedly offbeat Canadian standup Graham Clark.

Returning favourites from last year’s fest include veteran weirdo Ron Lynch, Texas-based alt comic Chris Cubas and former Winnipeggers Aisha Alfa and Chantel Marostica.

The long list of locals taking part in this year’s Oddblock includes Ben Walker, Ashley Burdett, Paul Rabliauskas, Andy Noble, Tyler Penner, Matt Nightingale, Ryan Ash, Melanie Dahling and sketch-comedy favourites H.U.N.K.S.

Oddblock kicks off on Thursday with a pair of shows at the Park Theatre — the Oddblock 2016 Kickoff Show, featuring Kelly, Clark, Cubas and Duff, and Kate Berlant & Friends, with performances by Lynch, Benji Rothman, Jordan Welwood, Dana Smith and others. Friday’s schedule includes 11 shows spread across all six venues; among the most intriguing are Todd Glass & Friends (6:30 p.m., Park Theatre), the all-spontaneous Riffington with Chris Locke (8:15 p.m., BMC Market) and the nerd-culture-focused Set Phasers to Fun! (8:30 p.m., GameKnight).

Jordan Welwood</p>

Jordan Welwood

Saturday’s 14-show lineup begins with a pair of podcast tapings — Utopia To Me? at 3:30 p.m., The Dork Forest at 5 p.m. — at the Park Theatre, and continues with the culturally diverse Mixed Up (8:30 p.m., GameKnight), featuring Alfa, Cubas, Rabliauskas, Florence Spence and Sam Jay, the professionally heckled Punch Up (9:45 p.m., BMC Market), the Canuck-flavoured We The North (10 p.m., GameKnight) and the Lynch-hosted after-hours Tomorrow! show (midnight, Park Theatre).

Oddblock wraps up on Sunday with a pair of shows — Border Wars (6:30 p.m., Park Theatre), featuring a mix of Canadian and U.S. comics, and the Closing Gala (9 p.m., Park Theatre), with performances by Lynch, Brent Weinbach, Glass, Braunger, Duff and Tim Gray.

When asked to name his favourite thing about last year’s Oddblock, Duff wouldn’t limit his enthusiasm to a single show or performer.

"I just think the concept worked perfectly," he offered. "We wanted to create that high-intensity, active, alive kind of buzz down here. That was the vision that we had, and it worked. Everything’s so close together, so you had people coming here and going to one show, but their minds were already on the next thing that they didn’t want to miss somewhere down the street.

"That’s the beauty of this thing — we’re not a taped-for-TV festival, so there’s no holds barred; the comics are really free to do whatever they want, and that resulted in a lot of very special moments last year."

Individual show tickets for Oddblock are $10, available at the Park Theatre or online at oddblock.ca/tickets. Four-day weekend passes are $60, with V.I.P. festival passes available for $120.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

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