Building a laugh-filled scene

Winnipeg Comedy Festival challenges comedians to up their game

The Winnipeg Comedy Festival (WCF) is on the horizon again, featuring a boisterous array of comedians to keep your laughter flowing. The festival brings 80-90 comedians from all walks of life to various venues throughout the city.

The WCF acts as a facilitator and stepping-stone for many acts hoping to take themselves to the next level. It’s a place where comedians can see others perform and foster some constructive and creative competition.

“When you get so many comics together and have the dynamic of people competing with each other in an artistic way it’s what makes a comedy festival much more exciting than just going to a show on a regular night,” Al Rae, WCF’s artistic director, and also a comedian who’ll be performing throughout the festival says. “Everyone is stepping up and hopefully playing and performing at their best. Not just for the audience but to show their peers that they deserve to be there.”

The festival wants to create a goal for comedians to aspire towards. And with events like the benefit for mood disorders and the 50 Shades of Gay show, Rae hopes that in addition to having some laughs, patrons will “come out of it feeling more positive about themselves and others.”

“I don’t know if people in Winnipeg appreciate how unique it is but Just for Laughs come out here and do a showcase in this small city because they don’t do that in every small city. It’s really a testament to just how healthy and strong the community is,” Rae says, explaining the high-calibre comedy scene in Winnipeg.

 Boasting this sentiment with strikingly similar statements, local comedian J D Renaud and Aisha Alfa, former Winnipeg comedian who now resides in Toronto, both say that pound-for-pound, the Winnipeg comedy scene is one of the funniest in the country, echoing the pride local comedians take in their work.

WCF also provides opportunities for up-and-coming comics. Being on its roster gives credibility to a comedian’s name and tells potential bookers and agents that they’ve been working hard.

“The Winnipeg Comedy Festival is a legit credit that if you go to another city and can say you’ve been in it, it has some heft and respect to it. People all over the country know that it’s a difficult festival to get into,” Renaud says.

Ryan Belleville, a veteran in the comedy scene, can vouch for the importance of hard work and the value of comedy festivals like this. “Winnipeg’s festival does give a very diverse group of people opportunities. There’s a lot of old seasoned pros who’ve done a lot of festivals but it also gives a lot of people who have never done a festival a chance to do that kind of thing,” Belleville says.

Beyond building career, the WCF experience comes back to Rae’s notion of coming out of a comedy show feeling more positive. As Aisha Alfa says, “at the end of the day you can be like, ‘I’ve had a productive day, I’ve done something, I’ve changed the world in my own little way.’ Everything doesn’t have to be moving mountains. Everything doesn’t have to be huge in that sense. It can be like, ‘you made somebody laugh, you made somebody feel good.’”

Published in Volume 69, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 11, 2015)

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