Young Comics Get Encouragement and Cash at Second City
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Young Comics Get Encouragement and Cash at Second City

Regina transplant Christi Olson wins this year's Tim Sims Award.

Five of the city’s most promising young comic talents took to the Second City stage as part of the annual Cream of Comedy Show, presented by Second City and The Tim Sims Encouragement Fund. The five acts, consisting of four stand-ups and one sketch duo, were finalists for the 17th Tim Sims Award.

The award is named for Tim Sims, an improvisor, actor, stand-up, and sketch comedian. Sims was a member of the Second City cast, and was best known for playing Rory Tate, Circle Researcher in a series of early ’90s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ads. Within the comedy community, however, he was known for mentoring and encouraging other comics. Sims died in 1995, at the age of 33. His widow, comedic actor Lindsay Leese, founded the award that same year. It’s meant to provide encouragement, recognition, and financial support to promising local comedians, as identified by a jury of local comedy scene veterans.

“Comedy is something that really should be nurtured,” said Leese. “It’s one of our greatest exports.”

She says that she was particularly impressed by the fact that this year’s finalists included both stand-ups and sketch comedians.

“I wanted this to represent all of comedy—not just sketch, not just stand up, not just improv—and I was really happy to see the diversity within comedy represented,” she said.

While all five acts put on strong performances, Christi Olson was the eventual recipient of the novelty-sized cheque. She beat out Ben Beauchemin, Robert Keller, Jamie O’Connor, and a sketch duo called The Templeton Philharmonic. Olson, a 25-year-old Saskatchewan native, has been performing for less than two years, and has only been living in Toronto since February. She’s trying to launch her career despite an unusual obstacle: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare gentic disorder that results in, among other things, loose joints and nervous-system dysfunction triggered by changes in temperature, including heat from stage lights.

“Every time I get under stage lights, it’s a countdown until I throw up or pass out, so I wrote two sets for tonight,” said Olson. “One if I got sick, one if I did the full fifteen.”

Olson not only made it through the full fifteen minutes, she killed. Her deadpan, unblinking delivery was the perfect accompaniment to her dark material, which deals with her medical situation and other topics, including bizarre sexual fetishes. Her act provoked both big laughs and occasional shocked silences.

This year’s jury consisted of 2011 Sims Award Winners British Teeth, MTV Canada host Dave Merheje, Naomi Snieckus from CBC’s Mr. D, YTV showrunner Gary Pearson, and Peter Hill, the president of the Board of Directors for the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival. Hill says they chose Olson both because of her raw honesty and her well-constructed jokes.

“For someone so recent on the scene, Christi has such a defined sense of her voice and a real clarity and precision to her joke construction,” Hill said. “But there was also a fearlessness and realness and rawness in her set that took people who weren’t really on board with her humour and brought them in. She built a rapport by being so true to herself.”

Olson says that, in her mind, all good comedy comes from honesty and lived experience.

“I don’t like jokes where you can tell it has no basis in reality,” she said. “If it didn’t happen, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Hill adds that Olson has the potential to rise in comedy, given how far she’s come in her first year-and-a-half of performing.

“She’s young and very new at this, and has already discovered so many of those foundation basics and has such precision. You can only imagine where she’s going to go next,” he said.

Olson says that, given her medical situation, it’s hard for her to make long-term plans for her comedy career. But she’s hoping the $5,000 prize will help her keep her condition under control and allow her to play more shows.

“I’m going to spend most of the money on medicine,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do longer sets and eventually be able to headline without being violently ill and throwing up on the audience.”

CORRECTION: October 30, 2:45 PM Lindsay Leese’s name was previously misspelled as “Reese” in the third paragraph. The correction to the post has been made.