Manitoba·Reviews

Funny at the Winnipeg Fringe: 7 comedies worth a look and a laugh

From a lighthearted comedy about the end of the world to a raunchy workplace satire, there's lots of funny to choose from at this year's fest.

Craving a comedy? Humorous shows abound at this year's festival

Today, For Now is an 'apocalyptic comedy' in which an asteroid is rocketing toward earth. (New Best Friend)

The 31st Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival is underway — and as always, there are a lot of picks out there for comedy fans among the 179 shows.

The CBC Fringe review crew checked out a few of the comedic offerings at the festival on opening night. Here are their reviews.

The Last 48

★★★★ STARS

The workplace sitcom gets a high-concept spin in The Last 48 — a hilarious new comedy from Winnipeg's ArtLaunch Theatre Company.

At an advertising agency that's been taken over by a robotic voice that sees and hears all, five co-workers race to save their jobs and create a perfect commercial pitch.

While it might sound more like Orwell's 1984 than NBC's Parks and Recreation, this production makes comedy gold out of it's pseudo-dystopic premise. The jokes fly fast and nearly all land, as do a handful of perfectly executed music cues. And don't even get me started on the unexpected sexual tension between two characters in particular. Swoon.  

These co-workers are no doubt funnier and more foul mouthed than your own — and the actors do a commendable job with a tight, and very funny, script. Come for the high-concept premise, stay for the crack comedic timing.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Ingrid Hansen plays Kitt, a geriatric custodian, in Interstellar Elder, a bizarre, but weirdly entertaining, physical comedy piece. (Laura Dittman)

​Interstellar Elder

★★★★ STARS

After an apocalypse involving Swiss chard and Justin Bieber, the last of humanity is frozen and jettisoned into space.

If the setup sounds weird, wait until you see the show.

Ingrid Hansen (one half of the oddball duo the Merkin Sisters) plays Kitt, the geriatric custodian aboard the "freezatorium" in this bizarre, but weirdly entertaining, physical comedy piece.

With only the chipper voice of the ship's computer to keep her company, the silent Kitt goes about her duties while struggling with loneliness, boredom — oh, and the end of the world.

Interstellar Elder hits lulls in its 75-minute run time, and it's certainly not always laugh-out-loud funny — it is, in fact, quite moving in parts and there's an oddly intense scene involving tissue paper. But Hansen's precise and captivating physical performance keeps the audience with her until an ending that's entirely unexpected — and quite unlike any I've ever seen.

For those who like their comedy fringey, Interstellar Elder is a comedic trip.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

How My Light Is Spent

★★★★ STARS

Alan Harris' 2017 romantic comedy doesn't do anything new with regard to structure. Instead, How My Light Is Spent proves that what makes romantic comedy worthwhile is not the plot but specificity of character and setting.

Jimmy is a hapless Newport, Wales, doughnut shop employee who thinks he's literally disappearing. Kitty is a phone-sex-worker-slash-aspiring-psychologist with a mysterious past. When their weekly nine-minute call proves three times longer than Jimmy needs for its ostensible purpose, they get to talking, and things get complicated.

Winnipeg actors Andrea del Campo and Tom Keenan give each of the small-town Welsh characters their own dialect and mannerisms, bringing this community to life so convincingly that even the magical realism elements, which I often find frustrating in these quirky romances, feel illuminating rather than obfuscating.

And it all leads to an ending that shines brighter than the neon sign of Newport Nuts ever could.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

Bad Habits​

★★★★ STARS

The madcap duo that brought us Beau & Aero and Bella Culpa are back again and they deliver.

This time they're nuns, guiding us through holy hijinks. There are less acrobatics and physical comedy than is normal for them, but what is there is fantastic. The sketches are interspersed with mishaps and timing issues that received some of the best laughs of the night. It's hard to know what is intentional with these two.

Amica Hunter and David Cantor are damn good at what they do.

One audience member is asked to join them on stage for a bit. Full confession, for opening night it was me. They ignore the fourth wall, so it's not so much audience participation as them wanting to play with their guests. They want to have fun with us.

— Reviewed by Bradley Sawatzky 

If you're looking for comedian Graham Clark at this year's Fringe, you won't find him. Instead, Graham Clark's Not Here beams him in via an iPad strapped to a 'comedy surrogate.' (Submitted)

Graham Clark's Not Here

★★★ STARS

Dude is not here. He has been replaced with a jumpsuit-wearing comedy surrogate with a screen strapped to his head. The screen plays Clark's disembodied standup of the pop culture observational and anecdotal style, interspersed with movie and music video clips.

As novelty acts go, it's not a terrible premise, but Clark doesn't really embrace the possibilities. There are some deliberate glitches with the technology, but Clark could have pushed it further. The surrogate could have been used to subvert the routine, mocking and undercutting, but instead he mostly just acted out Clark's stories.

This is standup. Even a Netflix special is recorded before a live audience because the special ingredient is the interaction between comedian and audience. Without that special sauce, the audience spends 45 minutes (15 minutes short of advertised time) watching a small screen on a big stage for medium-sized laughs.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Hushabye — A Doomsday Comedy has lots of heart ... and some PG-rated clown sex. (Submitted)

Hushabye — A Doomsday Comedy

★★★ STARS

Hushabye is a 75-minute clown show that advertises itself as a dark comedy, but it's actually pretty sweet. It's about an ordinary, middle-class clown couple named Sizzle and Spark who try everything to have a baby. They drink green smoothies, read a book called Bambinos for Dumbninos, and have lots of PG-rated clown sex.

Hushabye has a couple of five-star moments but I have to admit that if Sizzle and Spark were busking instead of performing at the Forks, I probably wouldn't stick around for more than a few minutes. If you're trying to conceive, though, check it out. The show has a few chuckles — and ideas — for you.

— Reviewed by Kaj Hasselriis

Today, For Now

★★★ STARS

Valerie Cotic and Jeff Leard of Vancouver's New Best Friend theatre company are very funny performers with good timing — but this was the opening show of a new performance, and it found them a little rough around edges that would be better delivered precisely and sharply to serve their satirical tone.

The pair take a comic look at the approaching end of the world from a killer asteroid. There are notable high points such as a boy asking if the end of the world is coming because he's been bad, and another featuring a modern cheap advertising tool that is quite effectively hilarious. This is a vehicle that will definitely improve with running.

— Reviewed by John Sadoway

With files from Michelle Palansky, John Sadoway, Andrew Friesen, Kelly Stifora, Kaj Hasselriis, Joff Schmidt and Bradley Sawatzky.

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