Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Someone famously said a crisis brings out the best and worst in people.
The truth of that pithy proverb is playing out before our eyes as we grapple with the fallout of the global coronavirus pandemic.
For the worst, there seems to be no shortage of profiteering pirates who want to make money out of misery by stockpiling hand sanitizer and other in-demand items and reselling them at marked-up prices online.
For the best, you don’t have to look any further than my buddy Big Daddy Tazz, a popular Winnipeg comedian who has a well-earned reputation for helping his community in times of need.
(Tazz is just one of many people going the extra mile to help others during this crisis. We'd love to hear your stories, too. Share them at email@example.com)
The COVID-19 epidemic has left the barrel-chested, charity-minded comedian with a little too much time on his hands.
"I lost all my gigs for about a month," Tazz explained this week. "It’s cost me about $25,000 so far. Everything is cancelled.
"We (Tazz and wife Christie) were just sitting around talking and I said, ‘Maybe what I’ll do is read to kids,’ because I need the attention...
So that's exactly what he plans to do — livestreaming storybooks every morning for bored kids who are trapped at home while Manitoba schools are closed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Every morning at 10:30 a.m., Tazz is going to read stories, film them with his cellphone, and livestream the sessions on his personal Facebook page (under the name "Tazz Norris") for kids to enjoy online while they’re riding out the health scare.
He’ll also post all the reading videos on his website, bigdaddytazz.com, and on YouTube "just as soon as I’ve figured out how to do that."
"I know what it’s like to be a kid stuck at home and to be a parent with kids stuck at home," he told me. "Here’s the way I figure it — it gives the kids something to do, it gives the parents a bit of a break and it gives me a sense of purpose and belonging.
"In a world where people are hoarding enough toilet paper to build a two-bedroom apartment out of it, I want people to know we’re here to support each other."
“In a world where people are hoarding enough toilet paper to build a two–bedroom apartment out of it, I want people to know we’re here to support each other.” –Big Daddy Tazz
Tazz is tackling this social-media project, despite being one of the least tech-competent people I know. "I am to computer knowledge what a hippopotamus is to pole-vaulting," he says. "It’s not something I’m savvy with."
The truth is, Tazz didn’t know what would happen when he posted the idea on facebook.com/tazznorris. "I thought I’d have a few dozen people that were interested in doing it and then we got, like, 4,000 views within a few hours. People said, ‘That’s a great idea!’
"It's lovely to know people would embrace this. It’s a bit overwhelming, but in a beautiful way."
His first livestreaming session Wednesday drew around 3,000 views and Tazz plans to continue reading in the mornings for as long as the crisis continues and kids are out of school. He’ll even read in the evening, if that’s what parents request.
His plan is to target kids from kindergarten to Grade 5 because "anybody over Grade 5 is already reading at a higher level than I am."
This big-hearted comic has a healthy supply of kids books — including Bartholomew the Barkless Beagle, which he wrote several years ago — but is hoping local authors and parents will offer up books and suggestions. "We want silly books, books that make you feel, books that teach, books with a message," he explained.
"We’re going to play it all by ear," he said. "If parents want to send me a message they want me to say to their kids, they can private message me through Facebook."
For the record, this socially isolated humour columnist will be tuning in. Every February, which is I Love to Read Month, Tazz and I visit schools to amuse kids with our reading skills and witty banter.
A few years back, Tazz informed me he had set a lofty goal — promoting literacy by reading to 1,000 Manitoba schoolchildren. And so I wrote a column to let teachers know my pal was available.
Did someone bring you groceries during your self-isolation? Did you deliver a meal to a neighbour? Did someone go above and beyond during this trying time? We want to hear about it.
We want to share the uplifting stories happening in our community as we cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
A month later, I asked him what had happened. "Oh," he said, "I read to 3,066 kids. But when I told that to my six-year-old son, Khyler, he looked up at me and said: 'No, daddy, you read to 3,067 kids, because you read to me every night!’" For the record, Khyler is now 12.
Affectionately dubbed the "Bipolar Buddha," Tazz is famous for turning his own struggles with depression and anxiety into comedy that delivers a crucial message to those struggling with mental illness: you are not alone!
And he’s a champion in the fight against bullying. Whenever he visits a school, for instance, he pulls up in his signature NT Bully (Anti-Bully) Machine, a pink, teal and purple Jeep, which bears the signatures of kids who have taken the NT Bully Oath.
Knowing Tazz, he’s going to have even more fun reading to the kids online than they’ll have tuning in to this cherubic storytelling machine.
"I don’t do well if I don’t wake up with something to do," he told me. "I’m shivering with anticipation. I’ve always wanted to be a kids’ entertainer. It’s one of my favourite things to do. In my childhood, books were my solitude. Books were where I went when I got bullied. Books were where I went to escape."
And books are how my funny friend is going to help his community in a time when we could all use a smile.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.
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