Strange Days Indeed …

This past Monday was the third week of preliminaries for the Alberta edition of the Great Canadian Laugh Off. I was in Calgary for some other things, and figured I’d pop in to check out the show, even though I’d been eliminated from the competition the previous week. Several of my friends and acquaintances were on the bill for Feb 18th, including Lori Gibbs, Kelly D’Amour, Katryna Chan, and Jenny Wynter, and I was happy to be able to show support for them, and check out the show as a whole. It turned out to be both enjoyable and surreal.

The MC this week was Scott Dumas, recruited in something of a “drive-by booking” … even though he was asked to MC about 10 minutes before he hit the stage, he still did a pretty good job considering the short notice. But Scott, buddy, one thing … you gotta look at the list of names for the next performer BEFORE you go on stage man. Regardless of that, one of the things that makes Scott a good MC is his easy going, friendly style that really draws the audience in, and thats part of his act no matter how much prep time he gets.

As usual, I won’t do a full review here … Kerry Raz was at the show (sitting at the judges table this week … gotta say, that looks good on you Kerry), and as usual, she writes the definitive review of the show, but I did want to talk about a few highlights as I saw them. First of all, big hugs and congrats to Lori Gibbs, one of rising stars of Alberta comedy, for her spot in the finals. Lori was her usual high energy, happy self and had one of the best performances I’ve ever seen out of her. For a performer as consistent as Lori, thats quite a compliment too. Granny Pantie Blues is destined to become a comedy classic and I love it more and more every time I hear it. Good job Lori, and congrats.

Other performances that stood out for me were, of course, the other two winners for the night. Andrew Iwanyk and Kathleen McGee, both down from up north, went through to the finals with solid shows. Kathleen was her usual mix of bubbling innocence and sardonic perversion, and it works wonderfully well for her. I’d never seen Andrew’s set before, and found him to be a nice change of pace from other, more bombastic comics. Andrew’s quiet, almost nervous persona on stage is carefully calculated and finely honed to full comedic effect, and it works very well with his material. Congrats to both Kathleen and Andrew … very funny stuff.

From those who didn’t “make the cut” there were a few stand outs, I think. Katryna Chan put on perhaps the best set I’ve ever seen out of her … as nervous as she was before the show, those nerves seemed to disappear under the lights and she put on a solid, confident set. I see big things in comedy for Katryna in the future. Tony Binns was another highlight of the night for me, as he usually has been when I’ve seen him. His low-key, nerdy approach doesn’t always connect with the entire crowd in the way other comics might, but its always a hit for me. I was a bit disappointed he didn’t do his Mobius-strip joke, but only a bit … what he did do made up for it. Finally, Jenny Wynter is always a pleasure to watch, and this past Monday was no exception. I simply adore her song, One Night in Labour, and her unique perspective as an Australian in Canada gives her comedy an interesting spin.

All in all, it was a great show, and the competition portion of it went off very well. However, the night ended on one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen at a comedy show. Hecklers are one of the things every comic has to deal with, and almost every show has at least one person who wants to get in on the action. Occasionally, hecklers will escalate to a point where they are truly disruptive, and be asked to leave, but I have never seen a heckler get to the point that I saw Monday night. The headliner for the night was none other than Canadian comedy legend Stan Thomson, and he came out to entertain the crowd while the judges were tallying their scores. A very drunk woman who had been vocal for most of the last half of the show (and warned about it several times) finally melted down during his set. After being asked to leave, she actually marched down to the stage, threw a drink in Stan’s face, and smashed her glass on the stage.

Fortunately, Stan was more shocked than hurt … he only got hit with the drink and ice, and the glass shattered fairly harmlessly on the stage. She was immediately hustled out by Dickens staff, but it was a nice example of how we can be “stunned” into inaction by a bizarre, unexpected situation … I know I for one watched her walk towards the stage with the drink in her hand, simply stunned that she’d even think of approaching the stage like that. I’ve not been doing this comedy thing for a HUGE amount of time yet, but that was definitely a first for me … and a pretty surreal way to end the show.

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