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    Categories: Entertainment

Comedy stars come to St. Albert

Bagpipe and toupee fans are in for a treat this week as two big-time comedians come to St. Albert to put on a show.

This week’s Edmonton Comedy Festival features two shows at the Kinsmen Banquet Centre in St. Albert, each featuring a quartet of laugh-makers from across the continent.

Two of them are big names on the comedy circuit.

Getting top bill on Saturday is B.C. resident Johnny “Bagpipes” Johnston, who travels the world playing wacky rock numbers on the bagpipes and has been chased by elephants, gorillas, rhinos and cobras during his many safari holidays.

“I figured out I’m the weakest of the herd!” he said, laughing.

Born in Portland, Ore., Johnston has been doing stand-up full-time for 28 years. During his show, he tells jokes about his travels and plays renditions of rock songs (such as AC/DC’s Thunderstruck) on the bagpipes while wearing a Scottish kilt.

“Twice a week I’m on a plane somewhere in the world,” he said, travelling to far-flung places such as South Africa or Kuala Lumpur (where he was once mistaken for a transvestite prostitute due to his kilt, he added).

Johnston describes himself as a bagpipe nerd and a big rock fan that got kicked out of two bands as a kid for playing songs like Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption on the pipes.

Johnston started comedy after attending an amateur night event in Portland in the 1980s, winning a free shirt and dinner in the process. While he initially focused on doing impressions of Mr. Rogers and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, a friend of his suggested he bring in the bagpipes.

“I started out in bars opening for strippers,” he said, and eventually moved up to corporate and cruise-ship gigs.

You might do as few as two shows in seven days on a cruise ship, and you get to see places such as Komodo Island and Ho Chi Minh City, Johnston said. On the other hand, you’re also playing for folks that can sleep through bagpipes.

A cruise ship director chastised him once for pointing out three snoozing seniors in the front row of one such show, he recalled.

“I just thought one was dead! And I’m pretty sure one was!”

Johnston said he likes doing small-town shows the most, as they’re closer to home and have more appreciative audiences.

“Making people laugh is a good thing,” he said, when asked why he had stuck with this job for so long. Each time you do that, you’re creating a relationship with everyone in the audience.

“It’s a rush.”

Also performing Saturday are Mike Dambra, Shelley Marshall, and Ben Proulx.

Headlining Friday’s show is American Alonzo Bodden, who has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Lenno and was the Season 3 winner of Last Comic Standing.

Based in Los Angeles, Bodden said he has been doing stand-up full time since 1997, getting his first big break at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival. He used to train mechanics to work on high-tech planes such as the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, but decided to give comedy a shot when he noticed he had more fun entertaining his students than teaching them.

He now entertains guests around the world with his biting observations of the local news.

“I was once called one of the spawn of George Carlin,” he said, referring to the famous comedian.

For his Friday show, Bodden said he’d try to explain why Americans are crazy.

“I’ll do my best to explain away Donald Trump.”

Performing with Bodden will be comedians Shayma Tash, JR De Guzman, and Lars Callieou.

Both shows are about 90 minutes and start at 8 p.m. Visit www.atbcomedy.com for details.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.