The We’re Funny That Way Comedy Festival is laughing all the way back to Toronto with both comedians and celebrities backing a cause.

We’re Funny That Way is the world’s original international queer comedy festival, a benefit for the We’re Funny That Way Foundation, which raises funds to support queer organizations across Canada.

Kicking off the festival is tonight’s gala at Toronto’s Buddies In Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.) with founder and host Maggie Cassella.

Cassella says this festival is great for anyone who likes to laugh.

“But (it’s) definitely not your average comedy festival,” Cassella says. “(Our) goal is simply to spread queer cheer.”

This year the foundation donated $35,000 to the Okanagan Rainbow Coalition (ORC) to pay the first year’s rent and expenses on their new community centre. The ORC provides peer support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered people.

“I’m most excited this year because we’re seeing the foundation achieve its primary goal of bankrolling projects in smaller communities with its grant to the Okanagan Rainbow Coalition,” says Cassella.

The list of festival talent includes storyteller and monologist Miss Coco Peru (To Wong Foo, Girls Will Be Girls), award-winning comedian Marga Gomez, N.Y.C. wallflower Julie Goldman (Big Gay Sketch Show), and Diane Flacks, to name a few.

Also taking part in the festival is Broadway performer and purported love-child of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine, Varla Jean Merman (All My Children, Girls Will Be Girls).

“I feel so honoured to be a part of the festival for a second time. When I was in Toronto two years ago, the audience was amazing and I was treated like a star,” says Merman. “Hopefully, this second appearance won’t end like most of my second dates — with me alone, crying under a table clutching a butter knife and an empty bottle of cheap Zinfandel.”

Eleven more comedy shows (between May 1 and 3) follow the gala. Tickets for all festival shows are pay-what-you-can and available at the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre box office (416-975-8555).

Gala tickets are $250 each or $2,000 for a table of 10, and can be purchased by e-mailing Cassella at or through the Buddies box office.

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