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culture

Local Ladies Who Make Us Laugh

20110602ladieslaugh.jpg
Back row, from left to right: Kayla Lorette, Georgea Brooks-Hancock, and Kathleen Phillips. Front row: Amy Lee and Heather Annis.


Comedy fans have been buoyed recently by the success of Bridesmaids, an R-rated comedy featuring women in most of the lead roles—especially considering that the film’s star and co-writer, Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig, was an unproven box office draw.
Part of the flick’s box office success was due to a strong grassroots push via social media, because of the perceived stakes: had Bridesmaids been a critical hit but a financial failure, pundits speculated, it would have been a long time before Hollywood bankrolled another R-rated comedy starring women. It also would have further reinforced a ridiculous but oft-repeated stereotype that “women aren’t as funny as men.”
Happily, the film continues to perform well at the box office, and we at Torontoist have decided to use that fact as an excuse to profile some of the women in our city who regularly disprove that “unfunny” stereotype. We gathered five performers from four different disciplines—character comic Kathleen Phillips, clowns Heather Annis and Amy Lee, improviser Kayla Lorette, and stand-up Georgea Brooks-Hancock—together for a photo shoot, and asked them what they’re working on, what their recent career highlights were, and which female performers in Toronto rank among their favourites.

Kathleen Phillips

One of Toronto’s preeminent character comics (NOW deemed her our best in 2007 and 2008), Phillips is the veteran performer in this round-up. The list of unique characters she’s created is long indeed (the Cowboy Poet, Portuguese Landlord, and Charlotte the Harlot are our particular favourites). Her comedic genius lies in her gifts as a writer and storyteller (not to mention a faculty with accents), talents that she’s put to good use on radio lately: CBC listeners might recognize her from her contributions to morning show Day 6 and current affairs satire This is That.
Phillips cites her many voice-over shorts (collected in part on her blog) as work she’s especially proud of: “They’re odd little things, my menagerie, but I love making that stuff, and other people seem to genuinely enjoy that I do.” Currently, she’s working on a new solo show: “‘Kathleen Phillips Is… the Mother of Odd Inventions?’ Or, ‘Kathleen Phillips is a TV and Radio Repair—?’… I’m working on a title, but I’ve got the material, man.”
Anticipating the other women would mention other comics, Phillips instead chose to give shout-outs to musicians and interdisciplinary creators in Toronto, including Maggie MacDonald of Betty Burke (Phillips appeared in MacDonald’s Rat King Opera), Magali Meagher (of The Phonemes, Hank Collective, and Sheezer), and Simone Schmidt of One Hundred Dollars: “I had the pleasure of opening for them at the Tranzac Club this winter, and was blown away. Recently [Schmidt] passed me on her bike and gave me the peace fingers; I totally blushed.”
Phillips has two shorts, What the Fud? and Airport Family, appearing in the World Wide Short Film Festival showcase For Giggles and Shorts at The Garrison tonight; she’ll also retire her Charlotte the Harlot character this Sunday June 5 at Laugh Sabbath’s final Let’s Get Hot!.

Heather Annis and Amy Lee

Annis and Lee first created their clown duo, Morro and Jasp, in 2005, while training in the Pochinko technique, and their work has matured as the mismatched sisters have, growing a wide base of fans. Starting with The FUNtastical Friendship of Morro and Jasp at the Toronto Fringe Festival‘s KidsFringe, the pair have dealt comically with issues such as environmentalism, bullying, and adolescence, “graduating” to the regular Fringe with Morro and Jasp do Puberty in 2009. “That was the first time we made a show exactly the way we wanted to make it, without worrying how it was going to be received,” says Lee. “It was liberating, and tons of fun.”
Their fifth and latest show, Morro and Jasp GONE WILD, was a hit of the 2010 Fringe Festivals in both Toronto and Winnipeg, and the now “teenage” clown siblings have become in-demand hosts and feature acts, appearing at Theatre Passe Muraille‘s Crapshoot series, the HarbourKIDS Festival, and this week’s Toronto Festival of Clowns (which we profiled yesterday).
“This summer is our first time in five years not doing our own show at the Toronto Fringe, but we couldn’t stay away completely,” says Annis. “Morro and Jasp will be appearing as ‘Lucky & Pozzo’ in the 54-hour-straight Waiting for Godot marathon, The Godot Cycle.” They’ll also be taking GONE WILD to the Edmonton Fringe, their first appearance at Canada’s largest Fringe.
Asked about their favourite local female talent, Annis and Lee list a diverse selection: playwrights/performers Anusree Roy and Kristen Thomson (“I, Claudia changed both our lives”), musical act The Good Lovelies, and Naomi Snieckus of The National Theatre of the World (“Impromptu Splendor knocks our socks off!”).
Morro and Jasp host The Red Light District tonight as part of the Toronto Festival of Clowns at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre.

Kayla Lorette

The youngest of the performers in this group, Lorette has the improv chops of someone decades older. A founding member of improv troupes The National Theatre of the World and Ghost Jail Theatre, she’s also familar to TV viewers for appearances on The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town and The Ron James Show, and most significantly, her feature role on YTV’s That’s So Weird!. “I’ll be heading to Halifax this summer to film the third season,” says Lorette of the sketch comedy show. “It’ll be two months of blissfully broad character choices and loud wigs. Youth-oriented comedy is ridiculous, and so much fun.”
Lorette recently became the first female champ at Rap Battlezz with a decisive win over reigning champ Docile—the match might not have been freestyle, but she won by committing completely to her over-the-top, police escorted jailhouse character Killerette. She’s also justifiably proud of her turn in the just concluded Feint of Hart residency series, a cabaret set in the 19th century that mixed comedy, music, and film. “I was honoured to play the grizzled old headmaster of Boyce Naval Academy. Personal highlight? Having my character dramatically die while stripped down to a very convincing male nude suit. I’m pretty sure that will be the peak of my whole career, so it’s all downhill from here.”
Lorette chose to mention two veteran comics with reputations for fearless (and occasionally shocking) performances: “Sandra Battaglini is a constant inspiration to me; She’s incredibly witty and sharp-tongued, while still being one of the sweetest performers I’ve ever met. Inessa Frantowski is another comedian I really look up to; she approaches everything she does with heart, and a colourful absurdity that I love so much.” (Battaglini appears at The Toronto Festival of Clowns in The Specials on Friday June 3, and Frantowski continues on the Second City Toronto Mainstage in This Party’s a Riot!.)
Lorette will defend her title this Friday June 3 at Rap Battlezz 15 at Comedy Bar.

Georgea Brooks-Hancock

The newest performer selected for this round-up, Brooks-Hancock dabbled in improv and sketch while studying at U of T before deciding to focus on stand-up in 2010. It was a smart choice: she was nominated for the year’s Tim Sims Award, making it to the finals at the Cream of Comedy showcase. In her sets, she oscillates between ditzy stereotypes (sample line: “Vapid.. that means super quick, right?“) and risqué but insightful jokes (referencing Jane Jacobs’s concept of “eyes on the street” as a downtown rape deterrent, say). Brooks-Hancock also co-produces and hosts a monthly show called Strip Comedy, where comics lose an article of clothing every time judges Mae Martin and Matt Folliott deem a joke not funny enough.
Besides Strip Comedy and her Cream of Comedy spot, she cites recent experiences like taking a breast cancer benefit show to the Prairies, and appearing on Andrew Johnston’s Bitch Salad showcase, as career highlights to date: “I was stoked to perform in Bitch Salad, because seeing that show in the past was one of the reasons I wanted to do stand up. Oh, and I just graduated university, which, considering throughout the five years I was there I repeatedly blew classes off for comedy, is amazing.”
Brooks-Hancock points to local stand-up contemporaries like Diana Love and Julia Hladkowicz as comics to watch: “Toronto has a ton of funny female comics!” She also credits Dawn Whitwell’s all-female stand-up classes for inspiring her to commit to the form, and praises fellow featured comics Kathleen Phillips and Kayla Lorette. “I’ve been influenced by Sara Hennessey and Alana Johnston, too, and more recently, I’ve been trying to emulate Rebecca Kohler and Mae Martin.”
Brooks-Hancock will host Strip Comedy on Tuesday June 7 at The Central.
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

CORRECTION: June 2, 11:58 AM We originally wrote that Morro and Jasp performed at this year’s HarbourKids festival. While Morro and Jasp have performed together at the HarbourKids festival in the past, only Morro (Amy Lee) participated in the most recent festival in May.

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