Al Rae is the artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.
The Winnipeg Comedy Festival's artistic director will be joining the lineup for the Coming Out Swinging gala Thursday, April 11, to discuss - with a few laughs - his choice to come out of the closet a few weeks ago, ending a 23 year marriage and a chapter of his career.
"I came out of the closet just after Christmas. Coincidentally my friend, comedian Carmen Stockton had come to visit at around that time and I came out to her and she came out to me, because although she's out to her friends and family, she's not out as a comedian... Part of our discussion was 'How do you navigate as comics who have performed for years as straight and are now coming out - how do you incorporate this into your act?'"
Looking back on the festival's 12-year history - a stretch of time Rae says feels like both ancient history and just yesterday - the Scottish-born comedian says he is deeply pleased with the annual joke fest's track record of launching new discussions and pushing audience boundaries.
"I'm proud of anything that we've managed to do that has been able to help people understand the world around them a little bit; so panels we've done that introduce people to different cultures, to Muslim culture, gay and lesbian lives and so on have been things I think comedy has always been an amazing tool for," he says.
"Certainly the big one over the past couple years has been the growth of the Aboriginal comedy scene, so it's nice to be able to do that as much as we can as a festival."
Conversely, Rae downplays the role the festival has played in the "tremendous" growth of the Winnipeg scene, giving credit to the local performers and comedy community he says have embraced him during his transition.
"Coming out in 2013 is not the courageous act publically that it was two or three decades ago, so I don't need any cookies for it. But I do think you're always worried and it hasn't been easy entirely, but I really had no choice," Rae says.
"It's been stressful for many different reasons, because it did involve a divorce and then the end of a very long marriage on top of coming out publicly with a different sexual orientation."
"But it is not a decision I remotely regret. And it is one that has been very powerful for me and I'm just very, very comfortable and happy. For the first time in my life."
Al Rae performs at Coming Out Swinging at the Gas Station Theatre on April 11.