After a winter where virtually everybody became unwillingly and intimately acquainted with the polar vortex, comedian Sandra Shamas figures we all need a good laugh.
Sandra Shamas. — Photo by The Canadian Press
So what better place to go than Winnipeg — one of the last places in Canada where winter refuses to release its icy grip — for the country’s second biggest comedy festival?
“Frankly, if we get any more (expletive) winters like this, we need to have more shows like this so people can stay indoors and not slit their throats,” said Shamas, who is co-hosting one of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival’s galas. “If it’s just for (expletive) Canadian morale, we need this show.”
The festival, which runs from April 7 to 13, is in its 13th year and features 80 performers riffing on everything from food and gender to freedom of speech and “First World problems.” The festival features some 40 shows at a wide range of venues, from comedy clubs and theatres to pubs and movie theatres.
Some names on the bill are more recognizable than others. Shamas’ one-woman shows — starting with “My Boyfriend’s Back and There’s Gonna Be Laundry” and culminating in her more recent “Big Girl Panties” — have made her a household name in Canadian comedic circles.
These days, she is an organic farmer in Ontario, making her a perfect candidate to host the festival’s “Food, Glorious Food” gala April 10. The event will begin with Shamas talking about how she went from tending a large backyard garden to becoming a full-fledged farmer at age 52.
“I remember reading somewhere that you are supposed to get a hug eight times a day to not become a psychopath,” Shamas said. “I think if I laugh at least eight times a day, that’s like an internal hug.”
Tom Green, best known for his gross-out comedies “Freddy Got Fingered” and “Road Trip,” is headlining the festival’s main gala while Kids in the Hall alumni Kevin McDonald will host five screenings of hand-selected movies.
Other performers are lesser known, but not for long, according to festival organizer and comedian Al Rae. The people performing this year will make up the next generation of comedy heavy hitters, he said.
“That’s what people are going to see — a new crop of stand-up stars in bloom. These are people who, maybe you don’t know their name in April, but by September you’ll probably say, ‘I just saw that guy at Winnipeg Comedy Festival’ because they are just on the cusp,” Rae said. “And there is a lot of them.”
The Winnipeg Comedy Festival is the second largest in Canada after Montreal’s Just For Laughs, he said.
Many might be familiar with the Winnipeg Comedy Festival from its broadcasts on CBC-TV, but Rae said watching from home is nothing like being in a live audience. Nothing is censored or cut due to time restrictions, he said.
“Nothing reproduces the experience of sitting and enjoying this material with 1,000 other people laughing beside you,” Rae said. “It has a much greater psychological effect on people than sitting and consuming it at home.”
The comedy festival holds a special place in McDonald’s heart. The comedian came to Winnipeg for the festival five years ago and fell in love with a woman named Paula.
Now he calls Winnipeg home and is hosting what has become an annual film showcase at the comedy festival. Every year, McDonald picks a theme and shows five movies that fit the bill. This year’s movies include such gems as “Ishtar,” “The Producers” and “The Man with Two Brains.”
“They’re movies that bombed when they first came out but have either become classics or are movies I think are really good anyway and didn’t deserve to bomb,” McDonald said. “I’m very excited.”