Just home from the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. It is my favourite gig by far. All the people are nice. The festival is always full of old friends I don’t see enough of and someone I’ve heard of for a while and never seen or met and someone new I’ve never heard of who’s really funny. There’s a party every night in the hotel with fancy catering and a cash bar (with plenty of tickets provided for performers) so you feel special but it’s way more relaxed than the Just For Laughs (which provides next to nothing in the food/drink department.)

The shows themselves were a lot of fun. Even the gala, which I was dreading, turned out well. The bits, most of which were untried, went over well and it really helped to do a full runthrough at the rehearsal in front of Anton Leo. Anton is head of CBC TV comedy and a wonderful guy whom I’ve known for many years. One of the highlights of the festival for me is getting to hang out with Anton late into the night and laugh with fellow comics. I really trust him to tell me his honest opinion and we trimmed the fat together after hearing the stuff out loud. I used a teleprompter for the first time in my life and performed the routine by reading a series of bullet points. I still found the right wording for the bits in the moment but, with an untried routine, I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t get lost. Hilariously, the changes never made it to the computer due to some glitch. So a bullet came up for a bit I knew we’d cut. It was no big deal but shows that you can’t put all your faith in the machinery to do the work. You might be called upon to think at any time. The upshot is everybody enjoyed it and there’s enough good laughs to cobble together something good for TV.

I also did a show with my brother, celebrated writer David Rakoff. We did it at the Gas Station Theatre, a venue that holds 200 about 60% full. Nice crowd but more mature than my usual. I did 30. We had an intermission. David read a couple of essays from his first book, “Fraud”. After that we took questions from the audience. That part was a blast. We were really rolling and laughing.

I also took part in “Master Debaters”, a radio pilot for CBC in which comedians are assigned sides of a proposition and have to debate until the audience declares one the winner. I decided to play it like pro wrestling since the point is to get laughs and make a show as opposed to engage in serious advocacy. I went for boos. When I lost and the winner said the audience voted with their hearts, I said, “That’s what people without minds do.” Everybody was hilarious – Glen Foster, Irwin Barker, Trevor Boris, Brad Muise, Bruce Clark, Deborah Kimmett, Al Rae. Everybody was hilarious. The crowd was so into it. Irwin made a joke about Toronto needing the army to clear their snow. I said that it was necessary because, what the rest of Canada doesn’t understand, is that in Toronto we have place to go! The Winnipeg audience booed me like a pro wrestler. It was so much fun! I think it’s a great show for CBC and a perfect use of the talents of stand-ups.

All in all, the atmosphere Al Rae has created is so congenial that it’s more like a holiday than work. I hope I can go again sometime.