2 min

Cracking up at Winterlude

Festivals combine forces to bring laughter to the capital

The 2013 Cracking Up the Capital team at the NAC. Credit: Justin Van Leeuwen

Winter in Ottawa means Winterlude, when we strap on our skates and head up the canal to Confederation Park en masse for ice sculptures and maple taffy. But weather in the capital is never predictable. Some years early thaws mean the festival is all but flooded out, and other years it’s so cold you risk losing fingers before you can even bite into your beavertail. Luckily, there’s an indoor option if Mother Nature refuses to cooperate.

Cracking Up the Capital launched 10 years ago, and three years ago the festival formed a partnership with Winterlude. “[We thought] it would be a real nice add-on to have a comedy festival happening during Winterlude to have some indoor options for the people who are here, if it’s too cold or if it’s too warm,” says John Helmkay, Cracking Up’s president. The festival has always supported mental-health initiatives and has partnered with a number of organizations over the years, including Amethyst Women’s Addiction Centre, Youth Services Bureau and the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health.

This year the festival is focusing on anti-bullying initiatives, with some big-name LGBT comedians on the roster.

On Feb 5 you can catch Martha Chaves as part of an evening of standup presented by CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud, which will open the festival with a live presentation of the radio show. Chaves, a veteran of Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival, came to standup when she was trying to improve her public-speaking skills. An out lesbian, she takes a somewhat surreptitious approach to addressing LGBT issues in her routines, winning over the audience first before alluding to the fact that she’s gay.

“Sometimes I come out right away; sometimes it’s just organic — I come out, like, in the middle of the show, and by that time they have already been laughing. They are already mine, you know?” she says. “It’s very subversive, what I do, because when people laugh with you it means acceptance.”

To close the festival, Cracking Up the Capital will present Stand Up to Bullying on Feb 8, headlined by none other than Rick Mercer. From 7 to 8pm there will be a free performance in Confederation Park, followed by the grand finale at the NAC, where fellow comedians Mary Walsh and Patrick McKenna will join Mercer.

Mercer will extend a message to the audience about the importance of standing up to bullying, touching on his now-famous video rant. “Rick is coming because of his great support for the Jamie Hubley issue and youth bullying and youth mental health, and it’s because he believes in it strongly,” Helmkay says. “When we extended the invitation he happily agreed, graciously and quickly.”

“I think that it’s needed for gay people to show the other ones that not all of our lives are a tragedy,” Chaves says. “Things do get better.”