Our third annual profiling of some talented performers and writers in Toronto who don't always get quite the attention they deserve.
It ain’t easy working in comedy. As a stand-up, you’re often paid in domestic beer bottles. As a sketch or improv performer, good luck even getting that—or getting stage time somewhere where the bar patrons don’t actively ignore you. Writers churn out spec script after spec script or play after play with little hope of having them seen by television (or theatre) producers, let alone by audiences. So it takes balls for a guy to try to make a career out of being funny.
It takes a lot more than that to be in comedy as a woman.
Male comics don’t have to deal with drunks yelling “Show us your tits!” or worry about getting fired when they complain about that behaviour to the management, as happened to Toronto’s Christina Walkinshaw recently at Casino Niagara. They don’t have to deal with bookers who worry that more than one woman on a bill is too many, as Amanda Brooke Perrin was told (by an out-of-town booker who also offered to “share her room”). They don’t have to worry about being the only one of their gender in a TV writing room; NBC’s The Tonight Show “made history” for late-night shows when they hired a second woman for their writing staff in 2011. And they don’t have to worry about the fact that their gender only accounts for 15 per cent of the writing gigs on the majority of movies screened in North America.
To make a name for yourself in comedy and show business as a woman, you have to be thick-skinned and quick-witted. You need to be committed to your own work and learn to work well with others—and find others who you want to work with. And above all, you have to be really, really funny.
These women are.
We talked to five of our favourite women who do funny things in Toronto about what they do, what they have coming up, and what other local women they admire. Then we gathered them for a photo shoot at a new sister club to Comedy Bar, a special events venue called Baltic Avenue (that’s started hosting comedy shows, too). We think these women are awesome, and if you haven’t seen them perform yet, here are some reasons you should.
Perrin started out as an improviser in her hometown of Calgary, playing as a teen at the Loose Moose Theatre, but the microphone soon beckoned. “I worked at a comedy club straight out of high school, and would sneak into stand-up shows to watch in the back. I finally tried stand-up in 2007 and fell in love with it.” That love brought her to Toronto in 2011; she’s been doing sets all over the city ever since. She’s polished her awkward and wry stage persona to the point that she’s now headlining locally, has opened for comics like Andy Kindler at the Bridgetown Comic Festival, and appeared on Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen, a Los Angeles variety show hosted by Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal.
Currently, she’s writing on a new CityTV series called Mother Up, with Mark McKinney and Laurie Elliott. Later this summer, Perrin will launch an interview web series called Women at Work with fellow writer Anne Donahue. And she’ll appear on several episodes of The Comedy Network’s Match Game when it returns this fall.
Perrin has no trouble listing off women in Toronto she admires. “Toronto is packed with awesome women. Anne Donahue is an exceptional writer; Laurie Elliott is a wonderful stand-up and writer; Sara Hennessey is a force; Stacey McGunnigle does amazing videos for HelloGiggles. Rhiannon Archer! Christina Walkinshaw! Rebecca Kohler! Monica Heisey! Sarah Hillier! Julia Hladkowicz! Steph Tolev! Debra DiGiovanni! ALL OF THEM ARE AMAZING! I CAN’T STAND IT!”
Perrin co-produces and co-hosts two regular shows with fellow stand-up Mikey Kolberg: That Was Great, the third Tuesday of every month at The Central; and Chuckle Co. on the second Wednesday of every month at Comedy Bar.
You may know Pornel as the most boisterous member of the long-running ensemble The Sketchersons, who perform every Sunday night at Comedy Bar. She’s also the current anchor of their news desk segment—the first woman to do that job solo. “When I was given the opportunity to do the news, I took it to challenge myself to write something other than sketches where the host was in love with me or had to kiss me (which I still do anyway).”
During the day, Pornel tamps down the more blue aspects of bar room sketch to perform with the Second City Education Company. “I get to perform and teach school-aged kids at 10 in the morning, so I’m pretty proud that I’m able to wake up and do comedy at that hour…they’re the most honest audience members I’ve ever had.” She ramps up the adult humour on a monthly basis with Filthy: The No Rules Cabaret; she loves playing Veronica Lodge in the improvised Archie parody show Double Digest at the Black Swan Tavern; and she and Sarah Hillier co-produce Love on Top, where they “invite our favourite performers to improvise with, listen to ‘Call Me Maybe’ way too much…and have a chip buffet for the audience. I’m really proud of that chip buffet.”
“The women I look up to the most are definitely Sarah Hillier, Inessa Frantowski, Paloma Nunez and Jan Caruana,” says Pornel. She also is full of praise for her female counterparts in the Sketchersons: Alexandra Wylie, Kaitlin Loftus, Jocelyn Geddie, Kirsten Rasmussen, Allison Hogg, and Alessandra Vite. “Every single one of these women I mentioned know how to twerk it in a wig.”
Pornel and Moniquea Marion are debuting an improv show called The Pre-Game on July 10 as part of Bad Dog Theatre’s Summer Test Drive. She’s also in Marni Van Dyk’s #GNO web series, and of course, weekly on Sunday Night Live at Comedy Bar.
Rosen’s most recognizable to Canuck comedy fans for her membership in the internet sketch project Picnicface. Sadly, the television show didn’t do so well. But since Picnicface released their movie Rollertown and went on an extended hiatus, Rosen has moved back to Toronto from Halifax (she’d originally gone to take a degree in philosophy at Dalhousie) and immersed herself in the local improv and stand-up scenes. She’s a member of Bad Dog Theatre‘s Repertory Company, and also teaches classes for them. She recently opened for Jen Kirkman at Comedy Bar, and is working all sorts of local material into her set, including a hilarious encounter in Parkdale. (Her strength as a stand-up is in large part due to her storytelling abilities.)
Currently, Rosen is on screen in the hit webseries Space Janitors, and writing for an upcoming CityTV prank show called Meet The Parents.
Rosen commends the other ladies in this series, past and present. “They have all inspired me at one time or another, some very personally. And the others I’ve admired from afar.” She also cites Rebecca Kohler (“One of my favourite comics to watch, and she’s always been very welcoming to me in a community that can at times be intimidating”); Becky Johnson and Kirsten Rasmussen (each are “particularly inspiring to me both in terms of their talent and their work ethic”); and Bad Dog Theatre’s artistic director Julie Dumais, who she calls “a fuckin’ powerhouse, and such an amazing facilitator.”
Rosen will be competing in Bad Dog Theatre’s Theatresports tournament series later this summer, and participating in their new repertory show. She and fellow Picnicface alumni Kyle Dooley are also collaborating on a new animated series called Squires for 9 Story Entertainment.
Talk to improvisers and they’ll tell you Caruana is one of the best in the country. She’s won a Canadian Comedy Award for it, in fact, and has a slew of other nominations. She’s also earned Gemini awards for screen writing for YTV’s That’s So Weird!.” I am very proud of that show…it isn’t easy to make television for young audiences funny. It ran for three seasons, and each one was better than the last.”
Currently, Caruana has one of the best sketch jobs in the country, as part of the mainstage revue cast for Second City Toronto. She’s particularly busy there right now, performing in The Meme-ing of Life while rehearsing the new show that will soon replace it. In the limited time she has off, Caruana performs a long form duo show with Second City alumnus Rob Baker called That Moment When, in a cabaret called Bonspiel on the last Sunday of every month, and she’s hoping to do a few shows of The Soaps, which is a last minute replacement at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July.
Caruana’s favourite female performers in Toronto? “Easy. Lisa Merchant and Kayla Lorette. I learn something new when ever I watch them.”
Caruna’s on stage at Second City Toronto all summer and fall with The Meme-ing of Life and the as yet untitled fall revue.
Sandler’s background is in theatre. She’s been an actor, but these days, she’s entirely focused on writing and producing plays—very funny plays—as the artistic director and resident playwright of Theatre Brouhaha. “I include humour in every script I ever write, because there’s no better way to broach big issues or tough, dark subject matter.” Since 2010, Sandler and Theatre Brouhaha have written and staged four plays—LOVESEXMONEY, Help Yourself, Delicacy, and Rock—and they’ve all been clever dark comedies with Sandler’s trademark gift for one-liners and plot turns. “I’m proud that people want to keep coming to our stuff, and leave laughing, or crying, and usually ready to have an argument at the bar that ends in someone getting laid. Or punched. Or both.”
The list of women that Sandler admires draws more heavily from the theatre and film communities. “Jessica Moss, an amazing performer and playwright; Caitlin Driscoll, who’s in our Fringe play; Kelly McCormack, an incredible actor and very talented writer who just finished filming her first feature film, Play; and Claire Armstrong, who is one of the hardest working actors I know. I love Julia Lederer’s writing, and I think Emma Hunter is hilarious and wonderful…I know too many talented ladies.”
Sandler’s newest play, We Are The Bomb, about a group of beer lovers who secede from the country while occupying their favourite watering hole (The Paddock at Queen and Bathurst), premieres at the Toronto Fringe Festival next week. In August, SummerWorks remounts Sandler’s play Delicacy, about two swinging couples’ disastrous second date. And in October, Theatre Brouhaha takes part in Nuit Blanche with their interactive theatre project Secrets & Lies.
Special thanks to Baltic Avenue, and especially to Mark Andrada for the lasers.