Comedy festival tackles bullying
There’s nothing funny about bullying — especially in light of the growing number of LGBTT youth who’ve been driven to depression or even suicide after being bullied by their peers. But this year, organizers of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival (WCF) hope to add some levity to an ongoing debate that has so far proven pretty serious by assembling a panel of experts on bullying, LGBTT issues and the healing power of laughter.
The festival’s “Make It Better” panel, convening Sunday, April 15, 2012, at 1:30 p.m. at the Gas Station Arts Centre (GSAC), will feature a wide range of perspectives and shared experiences from comics Scott Thompson, Elvira Kurt, Nikki Payne, Darcy Michael, Sherri D. Sutton, Marcie Fehr, Chantel Marostica and Judy Gold. The free event specifically targets youth who are dealing with bullies, or issues related to gender confusion or sexual orientation, but will also serve as a good primer for those looking to learn more about the debate.
“Comedians are often very good at dealing with this kind of information, because we do so in a way that takes some of the sting out of the pain,” says Al Rae, founder and artistic director of the WCF. “A lot of young people in these situations use humour as a defence, so they can relate. And it encourages them to realize this defence can sometimes inspire a career, which is helpful advice.”
The panel was prompted by the rash of suicides among LGBTT youth throughout North America, and by the recent dust-up in Altona, Manitoba, over elementary teachers’ rights to display LGBTT ally cards in their classrooms. It’s also inspired in part by columnist Dan Savage’s much-lauded “It Gets Better” campaign, though as Rae explains, “Make It Better” advocates an even more active stance. “‘It Gets Better’ is a promise that doesn’t always come true for everyone,” says Rae. “‘Make It Better’ suggests the responsibility is on us as a culture.”
The panel will surely prove provocative, as Rae points out not all the panelists share the “It Gets Better” worldview. (Outspoken Kids in the Hall alum Thompson, in particular, has in the past raised eyebrows by saying LGBTT youth need to “grow a pair.”)
Later the same day, the WCF will play host to an All Girl Gay Show (scheduled for 3:30 p.m., also at the Gas Station Arts Centre), featuring Kurt, Sutton, Marostica, Gold, and Clare Lawlor. While that event won’t be as politically charged, it will serve as a perfect companion piece to the Make It Better show. “It’s kind of the reward,” says Rae. “It’s what happens when you do make things better — you can just allow people to be themselves.”
This isn’t the first time the WCF has provided a forum for LGBTT comics. In 2009, the Festival made history when its “Queer As Jokes” gala became the first comedy show with an all-LGBTT lineup to air during prime time on Canadian television.
“I love the staff at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, and their commitment to challenge and push convention,” says Geof Langen, president of the Gas Station’s board. (The festival is a production of the GSAC.) “Not merely OK with the idea of ‘it gets better,’ they want to see a commitment to ‘making it better.'”
For more information on the 2012 Winnipeg Comedy Festival, see winnipegcomedyfestival.com.