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Vancouver Comedy Feast (or) Alan's Spillage.

By Alan Hindle

Saturday September 23, 2006

Rubber Chicken Bibs
Comedy has evolved from being the new rock and roll to become the new statesmanship. Television programmes like the Daily Show and The Colbert Report are considered in some circles to be better, more objective sources of information than traditional news media. Recent studies into viewers’ awareness of current affairs suggest this may actually be so. The joke now contains more truth than the bulletin. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of silly fart gags still floating about, but in a modern world clamped in the vice of terror, even a bit of whimsy meant to lighten the mood takes on a political dimension.

This year’s Vancouver Comedy Festival features numerous fiercely political comedians, including Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofolo and David Cross. All are ruthless satirists and social critics who have moved way beyond the stereotypical “Hey, anybody here ever drink a cup of coffee? Isn’t coffee weird?” comedy that clogged the 80s and 90s.

Cho (Notorious C.H.O. and international comedy circuit tours State of Emergency and Assassin) grounds her humour as a Chinese lesbian surviving in the entertainment industry to target every shade of intolerance in America. Janeane Garofolo’s avowedly leftist, feminist politics are almost better known than her work in films such as The Truth About Cats and Dogs and NBC’s The West Wing. Her controversial views- loathed by U.S. Republicans, who regularly berate her radio talk show on Air America- inform everything she’s done since her earliest days in stand-up. She is hosting Best of the Fest, a sort of revue featuring a healthy clutch of performers from the festival.

It’s David Cross, however, from his searing sketches on HBO’s Mr. Show to his returning appearances on The Colbert Report as sappy, tree-hugging liberal talk show host Russ Lieber, who provides the subtlest, most subversive critiques of the extremes of the ideological spectrum. True, his role as sexually confused Tobias Fünke on the yet-again-scuttled programme Arrested Development was the height of goofiness, but even that show was a parody on the American Dream and the persisting myth of the unconditionally loving, nuclear family. He appears both in Tinkle at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and Best of Fest, September 22 and 23, respectively.

From his home in New York, Cross described Tinkle to the Globe and Mail as “a show that myself and (fellow comics) Todd Barry and Jon Benjamin do… The easiest way to describe it is as a variety show. We have our friends doing stuff, there’ll be a video or two, a musical guest, maybe somebody doing a character, and we’ll host it and perhaps have some kind of theme to it. It’s not that involved. It’s not like we do sketches or anything. It’s fun. It’s very loose.”

There are also plenty of local talents in the fest. Besides Tinkle, several shows at the Cultch look more promising than a magic genie’s yard sale of old lamps. Canadian Content, a sketch show from the improv gang at the Urban Well in Kitsilano, continues on from its recent Fringe success (as does the American troupe The Cody Rivers Show, which are in this year’s Pick of the Fringe). Also, this may be the last chance to see the hugely popular It’s Good To Know People, which comedy fans in Vancouver will know have been rendered homeless by the sad closing of the Wink Café.

As stand-up comics increasingly become tomorrow’s pundits and prophets it’s a bittersweet realisation that Vancouver produces more than it’s fair share of funny voices, yet fails to present and promote them to the fullest extent possible. If humour is one of the strongest breezes amongst the various winds of global change, this city should be making an effort to release as much wind into the world as it can. A fart for Peace could be Vancouver’s greatest piece of art, with this event providing a welcome breath of richly scented air.

Vancouver Comedy Festival runs until September 24. For full listings of shows and venues go to