The following was submitted to QDFMusings by D.J. Mausner, co-creator of Joketown, one of Montreal’s most beloved comedy shows.
In Joketown 16, Travis Cannon (left) played ‘Bobby’, a man cursed to slowly turn into a honey bee after musing that his life was less than perfect. In the penultimate scene an antidote is revealed- but his time as an insect has changed him. Would life be better if he accepted and assumed what he had become? Musing about this, he reached down to pick up a residual ‘bee skull’ from a previous scene. The audience paused, confused. Lifting it to meet his gaze, and looking into the caverns where it’s two large compound eyes once sat, Travis began.
The audience erupted in laughter. The short play ran over by a few minutes due to an extensive applause break. And that might be the best description of the Dumb As Hell™ art that takes place in Joketown every month.
What started as a semi-drunk/semi-hungover conversation at a Just For Laughs 6am after-after party in July 2015 slowly emerged as a flagship show, one Saturday a month at Theatre Sainte Catherine. The method to Joketown is this: twelve green and veteran comedians from the stand up, sketch, improv, comedic acting, and clowning communities around Montreal have their names thrown into a hat, are drawn onto four teams of three, given a series of mismatched themes, and asked to write ten to twelve minute short comedy plays over the course of four days. Audience votes on the best play, electing a ‘Mayor’ by audience applause. Absurdity is encouraged. Inclusivity is paramount.
Myself and my co-creator, Alain Mercieca, initially created Joketown to encourage collaboration among different comedy communities and to discourage being too ‘precious’ about writing. The short time frame in which each team must create an entirely new comedic and heartwarming piece prioritizes saying ‘yes’ to teammates and their ideas. I have yet to see a Joketown play that centres on these principles result in anything less than success.
Over the two years the show has run, I have seen stand-ups play larger than life characters, improvisers learn full choreographed dances, sketch comedians carry sincere, and profound character arcs. Joketown asks its players to trust and lean into madness and when they do, it pays off tenfold.
Ladyfest Joketown is a particularly special edition of the show as the cast is entirely women, women-identifying, and non binary players. This decision was made apropos of the festival mandate, but also to aid in supporting inclusivity at it’s roots. Too many institutions that boast interest in diversity still leave fractures at the ground level of their programs, classes, and productions. This allows for unsafe spaces to fester at the very beginning of the comedy careers of folks with marginalized identities. Environments like these turn folks away from further participation, never allowing them to reach a place of mastery where they may make room for themselves and others who the system is not built to support. Unfortunately, it is easier to never return to those spaces again than to stick around in hopes of things getting better. Blending newer performers with seasoned ones who produce and perform around the city aids in building an environment for creative exploration and solidifying new connections and future projects.
Further, I can say without hesitation that the best Joketown top to bottom was last years Ladyfest edition. Deirdre Trudeau had a waterballoon dropped on her head from the mezzanine, which ricocheted off her shoulder and soaked Joketown veteran Emily Bilton. Of course, this clinched the win for their team and Deirdre was subsequently dubbed Queen of Joketown.
This year’s Ladyfest audience will be crowning a new monarch. You can’t miss it, this weekend Joketown will certainly be the place ‘to bee’.
Come see what all the buzz is about! Check out Joketown at Ladyfest Saturday September 9th at 8PM, $12 at Theatre Sainte Catherine. For more information and tickets, please click here.