Olympics: a laughing matter 

USA Luge Education Foundation hosts comedy fundraisers in Whistler, Vancouver during Olympics

What: The "Official" Winter Sports Comedy Show

When: Wednesday, Feb. 17, doors at 8:30 p.m.

Where: Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Macdonald Ballroom

Cost: $95, $150 and $245

You'd think that lugers would be sick of being the butt of jokes by now - come on, "lugers?" - but apparently these athletes have a great sense of humour. At least, the USA Luge Education Foundation does.

The non-profit foundation has hired the team at Second City Communications to create The "Official" Winter Sports Comedy Show, a performance that pokes fun at winter sports and international competitions in hopes of raising funds for their organization.

"They did a wonderful job at Second City putting this together," Brett West, co-chair of the USA Luge Education Foundation, explained in a recent interview. "It's a fully customized show; we sat down with them and said, 'look, we're going to do this at the Olympics and the group of people who are going to be coming to the event will be Olympic fans, and we want a comedy show really centred around all winter sports.' We didn't want to make it only a luge show, we wanted it about the Olympics and all the various sports."

The theatrical spoof isn't a play or stand-up, but a collection of short comedic skits, almost like watching Saturday Night Live.

"(Second City) have a whole troupe that comes out and we're also going to mix in with it some athletes who will be participating," he added.

People who buy "gold" tickets will have a chance to be part of a meet and greet with both the comedians and athletes after the show.

"It should be a really fun evening," West said. "And in Whistler, too, we were looking for one of the best venues and we think we got it at the Chateau!"

An evening of comedy wasn't always in the cards for the foundation.

"We wanted a big event and first we started thinking it would be a music act; you know, bring in a big name," he explained.

But they got some advice that hosting a concert would be a very expensive endeavour, plus, there were already lots of big-name concerts being hosted in both Whistler and Vancouver for free as part of the Olympic entertainment lineup. So, they decided to take the comedy route, an innovative concept for a sport fundraiser.

"We didn't have any model to really follow," West said. "We kind of pioneered this and we've got a big investment in this endeavour, so we're very, very hopeful that people buy tickets."

While the ticket prices may seem a bit steep at $95, $150 and $245 depending on the selected package and seats, all of the money raised will go towards providing educational opportunities to future winter athletes as they train for luge during high school.

"We raise money and distribute money for all of the athletes within USA Luge for their educational endeavours," West explained. "What's unique about luge - I'm assuming it's the same in Canada - is down in the United States, there are just two luge tracks, one in Lake Placid and one in Park City, yet they recruit kids from all over the country to start luge."

In order to get good enough at luge to compete on the World Cup or Olympic level athletes need to start learning the sport when they are very young - around 10 to 12 years of age.

"You can't just pick up luge and next year, be at the Olympics," West said. "It takes years and years to get good enough."

Of course, the problem then becomes the amount of school these young athletes miss as they travel to the two tracks throughout the winter months.

"Historically, the educational aspects within the luge program have always been a challenge, so the Education Foundation was formed to solve these challenges and really make sure that these athletes are continuing with their education as if they were at home."

The bulk of their funds go towards paying these young athletes' tuition at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, New York and additional educational expenses like tutors. And as a non-profit foundation, they rely entirely on fundraising events like the comedy show and donations.

The Whistler performance takes place Wednesday, Feb. 18. It will be followed by a performance in Vancouver the following evening.




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