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Funny man offers 'laugh lessons' to local youth

Atomic Improv's Donovan Workun hosts motivational workshop at Bold Center

He's a well-known comedic personality across the Prairies and beyond, performing on stages at comedy festivals and clubs. He's also a familiar face from movies, radio, TV shows, commercials and promotions. And last week, that face was impossible to miss as Donovan Workun presented a virtual workshop ... on a 95-inch projection screen ... to a group of Lac La Biche and area youth at an FCSS workshop.

"My big face was up there looking down on them, like a giant potato," laughed Workun who's been a comedy staple for more than three decades, starting with his long-running Atomic Improv in Edmonton. Part of his many roles now includes motivational workshop presentations for corporate, private and child-focused groups.

The three-time world improvisational champion brought his workshop to a group of about two dozen youth in the spacious Devon Room at the Bold Center on August 16.

"It was a big room," said the comedian from his Edmonton studio where he has been doing similar online workshops to virtual audiences during the COVID restrictions. 

Explaining that most of his virtual shows have been viewed by groups on their own individual computer screens, the "one-big-screen and one-big-room" not only emphasized the size of his head, it also helped to quickly teach the young crowd how to adapt to challenges.

"The kids were great. They'd get out of their seats and come right up to the screen and camera so I could see and they'd be right there with me — and that's the nature of improv, to adapt as quickly as possible."

At 52, and performing as a comic for more than three decades, Workun told the young participants that comedy has taught him how to prepare for many aspects of life. Those aspects — three in particular — are also the main rules of improvisational humour.

"The three big ones are to always say yes, to be open to accept, and say yes. Then to listen — to really listen with your ears, your fingers, eyes and your heart, to empathize with your heart, and finally, to be positive — look for the positive and try to stay there."

Admitting that in a world where pandemics, climate change, poverty and massive social issues can make it a challenge to stay positive, Workun says that at the very least, the chance to smile or have a laugh and to stretch their imaginations can be a bit of a needed "booster" for his audiences.

His Lac La Biche workshop focused on several 'free-thinking' projects where the young participants would improvise a funny story or create imaginative and funny uses for everyday items. He also ran some improv scenarios fueled by audience participation with his Atomic Improv partner, comedian Mike Meer.

The foundation of the workshops, no matter if they are for teenagers in a northeastern Alberta community centre or executives at a high-end product launch, is the same.

"The nature of what I'm teaching is to stay positive. I want people to know that their ideas are great, they they are great, and for them to stick to it ... and have fun," said Workun.

Lac La Biche FCSS Outreach Worker Christine Martin helped to coordinate the workshop. She said the hand-on presentation put a lot of smiles on faces.

"The evening allowed the teens to sit back and watch the improv professionals showcase their craft, but they were also encouraged get involved in the show themselves," said Martin.  "It was a great night to get out of their comfort zone and have some laughs."

What he does

His Lac La Biche show, like the others on his busy schedule, produced a lot of laughs. From his video perch above the upturned faces, Workun said it was great to see the smiles. 

"I love it. Especially when you can look out there and catch that one kid that all of a sudden, you can see on their face that they get it ... that's what it's for," he said, admitting with a laugh he's happy to love his job and that audiences reciprocate — because he doesn't know what else he could do as a career if he wasn't making people laugh. "I'm 52 years old and I have no other discernable skills ... so this is it."