We sat down in Montreal’s MainLine Theatre MainStage for a conversation with (left to right) Sara Meleika, Keith Waterfield, Sehar Manji, Adam Capriolo, Tranna Wintour, Kate Hammer and Tatyana Olal, to talk about comedy in Quebec. The group brings a breadth of knowledge of Quebec comedy from standup, improv, sketch, theatre, producing and improv to the table. The chat touched on funding their craft, diversity in the industry and really, what makes them laugh!?
The Spotlight feature on The Drama of Comedy sheds light on the intersection of theatre and comedy. The cover stars venture into a dialogue on the audience experience and where we’re going in Canadian comedic arts. MainLine Theatre proved a natural backdrop for the feature as a staple in the Quebec theatre community hosting community, independent, and professional theatre productions regularly and of course, annually producing the epic St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival.
SARA MELEIKA: I started Colour Outside the Lines (a diverse improv comedy ensemble) while the election was happening in the United States. That was definitely a moment where I felt this is serious so I need to do my part to try to reach as many people as possible to just break down walls, create connections and community.
SEHAR MANJI: I was in the audience(s) of these people who I, even when I went to stand up shows, I’m like, that material-it’s not what I would do. I don’t find it funny. So then I thought ‘oh, I’ll just try improv’. Then when I started, there’s spaces like Squad Laughs and all these new shows that are coming up, they are open to whatever anyone is. If you’re funny, you’re funny, you kind of can’t teach funny. You just are. There’s no book, there’s not one kind. I think it’s thanks to the producers that are going to create a space. ‘Fine. You guys won’t take me, but I’m going to find another stage’.
ADAM CAPRIOLO: The audience can tell if a performer is not trying to connect or if they’re not trying to entertain in some way. I think, in terms of connection, that stand-up is only really successful when the performer engages with the audience – it doesn’t matter what way they do it.
TRANNA WINTOUR: There’re so many things that I feel much more comfortable talking about live, onstage versus writing a Facebook status. There’s something about verbal communication and the nuance that comes with the way we speak, the tone and our body language that is just so lacking in most of our daily interactions. If we were to ever lose live-performance, if we do reach that point in time where we’re all just living in pods and watching our Netflix or even just like watching a live-show through the internet, I can’t handle that. The end of live-performance will be the end of humanity.
KATE HAMMER: Performance, of any type, is chasing after truth. We want new ways of exploring our truths, of being human and connecting to others. That’s why I love mixing storytelling in with stand-up because to me that’s what gets to the root of who I am, in hopefully hilarious ways. I was once told by a comedian that I wasn’t actually a stand-up comedian, I was a storyteller. It felt like a weird way of saying, “You don’t fit into the box of comedy that I have spent years learning to develop, and that scares me. Take up space somewhere else.”
The most personal is the most universal. You can tell when something strikes honestly right on the nose, you feel it in your bones. I love hearing different ways of looking at things, the absurd, the way out-there messes. Because no matter how far away from reality you get, if you can find resounding truth, relatable emotion, or just, like, how phone companies suck—I’m on board.
KEITH WATERFIELD: Empathy to me is when I’m watching performers and as an audience member, I have the ability to empathize with the performers struggle. Whether it’s theatre or comedy it’s just such a beautiful thing to relate to somebody. That’s why with Life Lessons, I try to get as many different stories and experiences on the show that the audience can relate to. It just feels like such a nice little hug.
TATYANA OLAL: I think after the show is very different from an audience standpoint. Sometimes after a comedy show like Squad Laughs, I’ll go for drinks or get pizza with some of my friends who came and attended the show. They’ll somehow feel funnier. Everyone will kind of just be riffing with each other and feeling really good! It’s just like, ‘Oh, okay! You want to do comedy too! You had a really nice time and now you also want to do this.’
SEHAR MANJI: I think at the root of comedy is truth. Whether you laugh because you’re scared or you laugh because you’re happy- it’s a cognitive response. Laughter seems to be the only sound you can produce when you’re in a seat. Even with theatre, it’s the universality of truth and emotion. You’ve had all of these different experiences you can distinguish like with taste buds. You know what’s spicy, bitter, sour and sweet. Even if you’ve never lived the horrible or amazing experience that someone else has, you can empathize with it
TATYANA OLAL: I am a grant writer, that’s mostly my job. So I process and understand (usually) what gets funded and what doesn’t. I think that if you do something at a certain skill level, you should have an ability to be able to live off of what you are good at. So maybe it’s a matter of considering certain things artful, and maybe not putting that capital A for Art on anything really. There’s some comedy that is artful, but like there’s also some comedy that isn’t.
There’s a change in comedy. Who’s able to get onstage? There’s also a change in what’s happening in funding. A year ago, Canada Council completely revamped their funding model, they made equity considerations for the first time. There are funding bodies that are shifting and turning towards minority communities, funding artists and arts organizations with an effort to represent larger numbers of marginalized identities. There are all of these ways in which funding is slowly moving towards targeting groups that have been overlooked. I think that could coincide really well with comedy being included. I like the idea of people who are doing something that is artful, and challenging, getting funded. However, then I worry about who makes those decisions. Who is the jury?
SARA MELEIKA: Marginalized audiences have had comedy that’s been so oppressive to them for so long. That’s why a lot of people I know have totally disengaged or don’t want to partake because going to a comedy show would leave you feeling upset rather than actually having a fun night. I think there’s also that process right now of people discovering people who are like them also doing comedy and feeling like, ‘Oh, there is comedy for me’. I think that will take time, but it’s happening.
TRANNA WINTOUR: As producers going into Stand Back with Nancy Webb and Rachel Gendron, a part of our mission was damage control because we have been hearing people feeling left out or just so repulsed by some of the people they were seeing onstage and that they would disengage and feel like comedy was not for them and stopped going. For us, it was really a focused effort. We want to bring these people back. I want to show them that there is comedy that is considerate. What blows me away is that so many of the more old school comedians think that they’re being silenced. No, you’re not being silenced. We’re not even saying what you can and can’t talk about. We’re just saying evolve, be considerate and come at it from another point of view.
KEITH WATERFIELD: I don’t know. I watch stand up comedy all the time. I watch funny movies. Consistently, I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s funny’. But I’m not laughing. To give a better answer: I would say my mom, and the way my mom texts. She makes me laugh. Her texts are hilarious. Yeah, the way my mom texts.
ADAM CAPRIOLO: The things that I take seriously.
TRANNA WINTOUR: I like authenticity- it’s a major one, but I also feel on the opposite side of the spectrum, what also equally makes me laugh is out of touchness, you know, people that are just, or concepts that are so out of touch. That kills me. That makes me laugh so much. So I draw a lot on on that.
Kate Hammer is a writer, producer, actor and improviser based out of Montreal, QC. You can find Kate at her monthly show, Infemous, weekly doing stand up through JOKES at Crobar. Kate will be a part of Sketchfest and can be seen in this upcoming Festival St-Ambroise Fringe de Montréal and Toronto Fringe with her production, The Peers. Kate is also Editor-in-Chief of the new comedy journal, Hindwing Press, which is to get more legitimacy for comedy in a published arena.
Sehar Manji is an improviser, improv teacher, actor, writer, standup, and sketch comedian based in Montreal, QC. You can find Sehar performing regularly around the city. Up next? Sketchfest with her sketch duo Damsel Washington.
Tatyana Olal is a comic and performer based in Montreal QC. She primarily does stand up and sketch comedy. Tatyana produces a monthly comedy show called Squad Laughs with her co-producer James Brown.
Tranna Wintour is a comedy writer, singer, songwriter, producer based in Montreal, QC. Tranna produces two monthly comedy shows including Stand Back, which is a monthly showcase for LGBTQ and female talent and Trannavision which is a pop culture commentary, film screening show. Tranna is also coproduce cabaret shows with my collaborator Thomas LeBlanc. Tranna is currently working on a musical album debut and first comedy album.
Adam Capriolo is an actor and writer based in Montreal, QC. Adam can be seen on Freeform’s The Bold Type now on its third season. Adam is also currently working on a film project that will be released this summer! You can find Adam performing regularly around Montreal at events like Trannavision.
Sara Meleika is an improviser, sketch comic, performer based out of Montreal, QC. Sara produces a show called Color Outside the Lines; a show to uplift people from marginalized backgrounds and ethnicities. She also works as the Inclusion Coordinator at Montreal Improv. Through Montreal Improv, she tries to equip marginalized people by teaching workshops, to supporting people who are trying to produce their own projects and give them the tools or support that they might need.
Keith Waterfield is a stand up performer and host of a comedic talk show called Life Lessons at MainLine Theatre for over six years. Keith is also a writer for video games, scripts and short films.