When it launched in the spring of 2014 She Dot Festival broke entirely new ground on the Canadian standup scene. The brainchild of four Toronto based comedians turned producers, the festival was first conceived (so the story goes) over an annual summer weekend at comedian Martha O’Neil’s cottage. The idea? To present an all-female lineup featuring comedians from across Canada and beyond. Beginning with a run of shows at Toronto’s famous Comedy Bar the festival became a huge hit. Not only adding to the annual array of comedy festivals here in the city, but providing a stage for acts we might not have seen or heard of yet, to an audience that came out in droves. The festival expanded into other venues around the city and soon drew in submissions from performers across North America. By the time iconic comedian (and undeniable trailblazer) Margaret Cho performed a festival closing gala at the Danforth Music hall, the She Dot Festival was a bonafide hit and a newly minted brand in Canadian comedy.
Returning this spring, She Dot Festival features some of our favourite comedians from around Canada and highlights some of the upcoming standup talent from stages coast to coast. And it wasn’t just local audiences who were watching. The festival expanded, adding industry workshops and keynotes from some of the who’s-who in comedy, and shining the spotlight on the seemingly endless wealth of independent production and content creation that’s changing our landscape in Canadian content and comedy. Last year, over a full day recording episodes of festival regular Amanda Day‘s hit #DateFail podcast we were introduced to some brilliantly funny female performers from comedy hubs across the map. Montreal, Philadelphia, New York, L.A, Louisville – all descending on Toronto to hit the festival stage.
This year, they’re taking it one step further. Teaming up with the producers and hosts of ‘Canada Laughs‘ on Sirius XM, She Dot Festival presents “She Did!” A lineup featuring some of the festival’s favourite alums and past performers, LIVE to tape, for an exclusive series of sets that will air on Sirius XM and be available on an upcoming comedy album
This Saturday Jan 7 at Comedy Bar, “She Did” presents special guest MC Adrienne Fish. A regular performer on the Yuk Yuks stage and a featured act on festivals across Canada. Along with Toronto’s own Precious Chong (of the Canadian Comedy Award nominated web series and podcast spinoff ‘Sex and the Single Parent‘) and Ottawa comic turned Toronto mainstay Rebecca Reeds. And headlining this album taping, the aforementioned Amanda Day. A Toronto based comedian, host and producer Amanda Day has appeared on the She Dot Festival along with festival stages across North America. She’s been featured on Boston’s ‘Women in Comedy’ festival and last year made her way down to L.A for the Laugh Riot Grrrl Festival. When she’s not on stage, on camera, or in studio recording new Date Fail episodes, Amanda is also the resident MC and producer of the long running cult comedy showcase ‘StonedUp Comedy‘ happening every Thursday at the Hotbox Cafe in Toronto’s Kensington Market.
At the tender age of 22, Canadian comedian Mayce Galoni has checked more career milestones off his bucket list than most of will work to claim through the course of our careers. A regular fixture on Yuk Yuks stages across the country, and already a featured headliner on the club’s flagship downtown Toronto stage (club founder Mark Breslin recently wrote that Mayce is “blowing away comics with two or three times his experience” and cited Mayce as a ‘force to be reckoned with’)
At 22, Galoni has already appeared on the big three of the major festivals on the Canadian circuit. Winnipeg, Halifax and the world renowned Just for Laughs in Montreal. This year alone he competed at the Montreal festival’s Homegrown competition – a rite of passage for comics of every stripe, and a widely coveted industry casting call. He was also in the running on Sirius XM’s Top Comic competition, which pitted him against some of the finest and fiercest in Canada’s current crop of comedy talent. And last month he went stateside and placed 2nd overall in Seattle’s Comedy Competition. If that doesn’t sound like a demanding enough schedule, he somehow found time to release his first standup album “Praying to See Boobs” through the independent production label TooFar.Tv – OH, and he also embarked on a comedy tour with two veteran headliners from his native Hamilton (the Steel Town Degenerates tour)… that’s it though, I think? No, wait, he also appeared in a taping on comedian Kevin Hart’s new LOL Network. And appeared on CBC Radio’s The Debaters. Mayce might have had a better 2016 than the rest of us.
He’s 22, works clean, writes sharp, carries himself onstage (and off, I might add) with the presence and professionalism of a seasoned comic who’s been at it for decades. Did that sentence make me ‘read old’? Fuck it, it’s true. If it wasn’t for the eagerness and perpetual babyface, you’d think Mayce Galoni had been at it since the Reeboks and sport-coat days of old. But no. He’s a card carrying Millennial born and bred of Generation Pokemon.
Is he human? Is he an anomaly? Or is he just that perfect storm of raw talent, tenacity and good naturedness that carries the rare few in Canadian comedy onto greener pastures and eventually away to the “golden coast”. Obviously I think so. Most in this country would agree, and American comics seem to support that notion too.
Standup heavyweight Doug Stanhope had Mayce open for him. So did the infamous and iconic Gilbert Gottfried, at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall.
Yeah, this kid’s got a few things going on.
Galoni is one of many comics at the forefront of a current generation that’s taking hold of Canada’s standup landscape and ushering in a new era of untapped talent, and drawing on some (sorely needed) fresh blood. At a time when independent producers, comedians and content creators are taking Canadian comedy by storm and kicking down doors that only a select few had the keys to for decades. We’re offering up fresh new voices for an audience that seems to be coming out to see standup again. It’s almost as if comedy in Canada is… wait for it… cool again? And for younger talent like Galoni, the industry is definitely taking notice.
If I had blown away most of the competition before my mid-20s, I’d probably be a real dick about it. I’d go full on, balls to the wall Bieber. But those of us who know Galoni know that just isn’t his style. I don’t think he’s capable of being unappreciative. He’s modest to a fault. Virginal, in the ego department. (Maybe in general, I’ve never asked. He does radiate innocence)
I think he’s really just a genuine fan of comedy first and foremost, and when he isn’t on stage he’s quietly working on his material and honing his jokes, or he’s in the back of the room at Yuk Yuks or some bar show out on the road – watching, and taking it all in. He’s a purist. And a quick study. And maybe that’s the most potent weapon in his arsenal. Aside from the fact that he’s apparently a born joke writer – he doesn’t sweat the small stuff, or get bogged down in the muck and the mire of the politics, infighting or jealousy that so many comics are drawn into. Why waste time? Why worry about what anyone else is doing? Write your material, work it out on stage and always focus on the next big gig or the next big get.
We all have a bad habit of laughing at the Millennials. But right now, in comedy, it’s a handful of 20-somethings like Mayce who have the most to laugh about. Personally, I’m only writing this article so Mayce let’s me open for him before I turn 35.
Got a chronic case of the Mondays? Amanda Day has just the remedy. The Toronto comic and producer behind the cult hit weekly standup show #StonedUpComedy (Thursdays in Toronto’s Kensington market), Day is also the host of the Date Fail podcast. Airing weekly on the Talkhole Comedy Podcast Network. This past year she was busy making the festival rounds, onstage here in Toronto at the She Dot Festival and heading down to L.A for the Laugh Riot Grrrl Festival. This Monday, Nov 21 the ever-busy comedian has pot (sorry, put) together a lineup featuring 5 of the city’s favourite standups, upcoming comics, and veteran storytellers for a rare and random showcase at Toronto’s famous Comedy Bar.
Monday Night Mirth aims to get a local crowd in from the cold and out of the Monday blahs for a night of comedy at one of Toronto’s top venues. And with everything going on in the world right now, while our redneck neighbours rapidly plummet our property value, chances are we could all use a chuckle. Luckily, putting together a well-assorted lineup of carefully cultivated comedy is kinda Amanda Day’s thang.
Monday Night Mirth (yours for the Low Low price of $5 online at www.comedybar.ca or $10 door) features Comedy Bar mainstay and Laugh Sabbath member Jackie Pirico. Master storyteller Paul Hutcheson. The razor-witted Queen of Twitter Jennifer McAuliffe. With comics on the rise Luba Magnus and Hisham Kilati rounding out what we don’t mind saying is a pretty packed l’il lineup all on a Monday night in Movember.
It’s an exciting time to be alive in Canadian comedy. I almost feel strangely… wait for it… vaguely optimistic about the future? I can’t be 100% sure, this is a new sensation.
And granted I might advise all of our readers to approach a lot of open mics with caution for the next four years to avoid hearing comics trot out the same tired Trump punchlines – but aside from that, right now, the audience generally wins. There’s a wealth of wildly original, independent comedy content readily available on every platform. Independent producers, promoters, content creators and a new generation of Canadian comics might just be ushering in the next “golden age” of standup on our own smaller scale. Getting Canadians to pay attention to the talent here at home has always been the great Canadian struggle, and without a doubt it always will. But suddenly, the traditional gatekeepers aren’t holding control of the entire industry anymore. There are newly paved inroads and opportunities to expose our talent to a wider audience.
From coast to coast, all across Canada, new and independent comedy clubs are sprouting up. Networks. Web series. Record labels. Comics are following in the footsteps of some of the original trailblazers we grew up watching on those classic Just for Laughs specials, and taking our own self-produced tours on the road and across the country. Peddling our jokes to prairie folk, the way crooked salesmen sold the Good Book during the dustbowl. And of course, social media and the Youtube generation has cracked open a whole new set of digital doors. And it seems like a new audience and the industry as a whole, are now taking note. On Sirius XM (Canada Laughs) you can hear live material and album samples from some of the best upcoming (and underexposed) standups on the scene today. In comedy hubs like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and points in between, you can walk into new alternative spaces on any given night and open your horizons to live comedy most Canadians might not otherwise know exists. Canadian networks are slowly, but hopefully, finally putting faith in our reputation as a comedy incubator and exporter. Content is being created and, it seems – even trusted to grow. New series like Letterkenny, the Beaverton and Baroness Von Sketch are finding a home on networks that up until recently preferred to dole out a 24/7 schedule of game show retreads and had a habit of pulling the plug on any comedy series’ that were deemed potentially noteworthy. This isn’t the first wave of bankable Canadian comedy content that mades its way through the cracks. This is after all the same country that produced landmark examples like Kids in the Hall (the series largely responsible for my entire generation of Canadian comics) and cult classics like Fubar and the Trailer Park Boys that found a wide and defiant audience here at home. And what about underappreciated gems like Less Than Kind. Didn’t we ALL love to hate on Winnipeg together? There are a lot of perfect examples of classic Canadiana in the comedy realm. But it’s what’s happening right now, again, that feels like a little bit of a groundswell.
So maybe it’s no surprise then that a record label, focused almost entirely on recording and releasing Rock music the traditional way – decided to run with this current comedy climate, and get “on board” (you’ll find out shortly why that boat pun makes perfect sense…) Enter 604 Records. A label co-founded by Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger (hold your jokes) Yes, Kroeger might have been labelled by some as the Dane Cook of Canadian power-Rock – if by that you mean he found a massive audience, made some serious bank, and sold out stadiums across North America regardless of the naysayers (he also built a cult following of Eh-sayers, on the radio here at home). 604 Records has been releasing upcoming Canadian bands and chart toppers from major Canadian acts into the wild and onto the airwaves since 2001. And now, they’ve set their sights on comedy. Releasing the first ever comedy album on a traditional label in Canada. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the only other label in this country releasing comedy is our friends over at Comedy Records, dedicated entirely to just that. Why would a label like 604 Records take a chance on standup?
Their choice was Vancouver comedian Kevin Banner. A regular on comedy festivals like Just for Laughs Northwest and performance festivals like Pemberton Music Festival and Blue Bridge Comedy Festival, maybe it’s no surprise that a comedian with established chops playing to larger audiences and mixing company with the music scene like Banner would be picked up by 604 Records’ first foray into the world of standup. Banner is known for his self-professed “dark” tone of humour, tackling tougher topics while drawing audiences in with a personable storytelling style and self-effacing charm. Banner is an original voice in Canadian comedy and an on-stage multi-threat. Accessible to a wider audience. Smart play on the part of 604 Records. Recorded over a 3-night run at Vancouver’s Comedy Mix (a favourite club of the west coast comedian), Dreamboat was given the full production treatment. Recorded by music producer Kevvy Maher, known for working with top-charting acts like Carly Rae Jepsen, Down with Webster and multi-platform personality Kat Von D.
It may sound funny at first, a record label breaking bread with comedians and lending support to standup. Aren’t we supposed to have some unspoken rivalry? (Musicians also claim to have more sex appeal which… yeah ok that part probably has some truth to it) But maybe this is a sign of things to come. If you record it, they will listen. And while our own industry is figuring out how to adapt to the “digital age” and the era of the Indie producer, maybe the music business likes what they’re hearing. Kevin Banner’s Dreamboat is available now from 604 Records, on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and everywhere fine comedy albums can be downloaded!
The average life expectancy for a weekly comedy open mic in Toronto is, ballpark, 1 to 3 years. Bars close. Venues change hands. Comedians come and go. As Canada’s comedy hub, Toronto is home to a thriving (and some might say over-saturated) standup scene. A proving ground where comedians from across Canada flock to fight their way up the comedy food chain. And not all the sea turtles make the swim. That’s nature, baby!
If Vancouver is Canada’s so-called ‘Hollywood North’, home to movie studios and production lots, then Toronto is certainly our standup stand-in for New York. Amateur comics and headliners alike from across Canada populate countless shows spread all over the city on any given night of the week. There are open mics, indie shows, clubs, pubs, dive bars, coffee shops, theatres, art spaces. All of which are home to a diverse array of shows and formats where audiences can connect with Canada’s current crop of comedy talent. Where crowds can watch some of our own TV fixtures and radio personalities live onstage, doing what they did from the very beginning – going out at night, and telling jokes.
I arrived on the Toronto standup scene in the summer of 2011, and have since hosted and produced 3 different long-running weekly shows, a multitude of monthly shows, showcases, indie tours and one-offs at venues ranging from Toronto’s famous Comedy Bar. Bad Dog Theatre. A Scottish pub. A Greek restaurant. A coffee shop. A burlesque bar. A waffle diner (two different locations). A punk and grunge bar. An Irish pub. And a few other places I’m forgetting. I’ve also performed in some pretty bizarre locales over the years. I once did standup in an art gallery as a “living installation”. And another time, I was hired to heckle Bar Mitzvah guests in the bathroom at the Ritz Carlton hotel. As a comedian in Toronto, you get the opportunity to work in just about every kind of room imaginable – and stretch your boundaries on a thousand different formats and themes. Some are great. Some are painful. Some come and go in the blink of an eye.
But then there are the iconic shows. The cult classic comedy shows. The standup shows that have over the years produced many of the country’s greatest comics. Shows that continue to this day, and have taken on legendary status. The shows you hear about as soon as you arrive, and you have to work your way towards. You prove your worth, you pay your dues – or at least, that’s supposed to be the idea. Shows like the Wednesday “open mic” (it’s booked) at Spirits on Church. Originally launched in ’96 by Jo-Anna Downey – a godmother of sorts to the Toronto comedy scene. Downey is a former standup and producer who’s widely respected across the country. And tragically had to retire in recent years due to her battle with ALS. At 20 years old, Spirits is one of the longest running weekly comedy shows in Canada. Same goes for Kenny Robinson’s ‘Nubian Night’. A showcase mainly featuring comedians of colour, Sunday nights at Toronto’s flagship Yuk Yuks. Nubian Night has been a career starter for countless young comics for 2 decades and counting.
Texas Comedy Massacre, one of my own local favourites, just passed the decade mark. Same goes for Brian Coughlin’s ‘Corktown Comedy’ Wednesday nights upstairs at Betty’s on King.
This is maybe what I love most about the Toronto standup scene, and why I can’t see myself ever leaving. Those long, tired winter nights running around from show to show with your hands in your pocket, maybe a few bucks in your wallet to reward yourself with a beer (as a comic in Toronto, you quickly get to know just about every bar tender and venue owner across the city) Just trying to get through the hustle. Like a standup version of Llewyn Davis.
As a comic, I think discomfort is ultimately essential to our existence. How many career comedians have we seen fade into obscurity because they rested on their laurels. Relying on the same old tried and true 20 minutes of polished material. Tiredly trotting it out in front of audiences in banquet halls and corporate shows. As a comic, we have to write. We have to stay fresh, and fluid, and current. We have to constantly evolve, hone our voice and keep our teeth sharp. You have to try new material and you have to try it everywhere. And sometimes, it’s going to fucking hurt.
Some shows seem to exist solely for this purpose. Comedy gyms, I like to call them. Rooms where you step outside of your comfort zone and float those new jokes out into the atmosphere. Because occasionally, we have to fall flat on our ass. It’s essential to growth. Once in a while, you need a good healthy bomb. You need that callus on your soul, that scar tissue.
Ein Stein’s on College Street in Toronto is the very definition a comedy gym. And we’re not talking about the sleek, polished fitness club kind – we’re talking about raw, real open mic madness. A weekly standup show that encompasses the art of the struggle. At times it’s known as one of the toughest comedy rooms to navigate on the Toronto standup scene – and it’s been a proving ground and a workshop for upcoming Canadian comics for 20 years. On any given Sunday (if you’ll pardon me hijacking the phrase) comics passing across the Ein Stein’s stage can find themselves honing new material in front of raucous U. of T. students. Competing for the attention and adulation of rowdy regulars. And fighting over the cacophonic ‘clacks’ of the pool tables to stage right. Some would argue this theory, but I’ve always found it essential to keep my teeth sharp and my nerves occasionally rattled in this kind of environment. In fact, I’d admit I’ve grown pretty comfortable with it over the years. If you can’t fight your way through a sparse crowd on occasion, or a muffled amplifier in a busy bar – then how will you fair out on the road? In legion halls, or corporate gigs, or packed pubs, or even the most respected of comedy clubs on an off night? Comics aren’t meant to live in perpetual comfort. Sometimes, it’s supposed to be a struggle. And it’s essential to our health.
The first show at Ein Stein’s began in 1996 when original show runner Arie Kizel produced it as a one-off showcase, for a packed crowd of University students (the 1st graduating class of the dental program, as the official story goes). The Bier Halle was filled, and the show became a regular event. In 2000, Toronto based comic/producer David Reuben (we all know him as ‘Ruby’) took to the stage, and by 2003 he was coordinating the show as main booker, and co-producing with Kizel and O.J – the O.G of Ein Stein’s. Over the past decade and a half, the show has been a testing ground (sometimes very much trial and error) for comedy contests, festivals, showcases, special events. And for 20 years, the stage has been populated by amateur comics who came and went – and, frequented by some of the biggest names still working here in Canada and overseas, today.
It ain’t always smooth sailing, sure. (See what I did there? With the overseas thing) But there’s something to be said for a show – even a BAR in Toronto – to survive 20 years and keep right on going. The way Ruby looks at it is simple. Comics live and thrive on stage time. That’s what Ein Stein’s offers – stage time. And a crowd that’s yours for the taking if you work to take them along with you. Isn’t that the whole essence of the art form to begin with? And yes, make no mistake, standup comedy IS an art form. The most original North American art form at that, after maybe Jazz. And Blues. And baseball. But comedy isn’t pretty. On Sunday October 16th, Ein Stein’s officially celebrates 20 years. With a lineup of some of the most regularly appearing comics and pros who have passed across the stage over the years and moved on. I’ll be there. Along with comics like Tyler Morrison (Cottage Country Comedy Festival, Dark Comedy Festival) Jennifer McAuliffe (a frequent face at Ein Stein’s) Caitlin Langalier (another room regular in recent years) Mike McGregor, Pat MacDonald (Superstars of Comedy, Yuk Yuks) and more. And of course, the house DJ with the worst laugh and arguably the most maniacal laugh in the business – Dave Shuken. Regulars of the room know him well.
I’m not one to subscribe to that “10,000” hours bullshit. BUT if there’s any truth to it at all – Ein Stein’s is one of the few shows that’s hit that watermark and then some. And in this scene, that’s something to take note of.