For King and Country – Vimy Ridge Day at SoCap

Tonight, I’m producing an improv show which brings together my love of improvisation as well as my passion for World War One history. For those of you who did not know me before moving to France, I was once (or twice, or four times) a Tour Guide at the Vimy National Canadian War Memorial, in France.

The whole experience had an extremely profound impact on my life and today, on the 98th Anniversary of the Four Canadian Divisions storming the ridge, all together in formation for the first time in our history, I and several of my hilarious colleagues, will be presenting:

WWIMprov

All funds raised will be going to the Vimy Foundation and Wounded Warriors Canada.

It’s a worthy cause, so…

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The Future of Canadian Comedy

At work today, as I was trying to get some people jazzed about their impending participation in a daytime television studio audience, I saw four female comedy writers/improvisors walk through the halls of the CBC. They stopped briefly to chat, one having recognized me from an earlier improv event we had both attended.  (eee!)

She proceeded to inform me they were headed to a meeting upstairs.

…And for a second, I felt really great about the future of Canadian comedy on CBC.

0505beaver

***

(Sidenote: I hope they remember this encounter if/when they get green-lit)

Canadian Comedy Awards: 2013 Edition

OK – I just finished my last thing interfering with Conservatory this past weekend, so all posts until December, and then maybe a little bit in January, should be about this final process of the Second City Conservatory program.  We’re getting down to crunch time, and our scenes are coming together, I think,  and I want to work on my scenes and write about the whole process and let you know how cool it is… but I can’t yet… because I have to talk about this minor interruption.

The 2013 Canadian Comedy Awards Festival

If you’re a connection of mine on LinkedIn, and you should be, you’ll note that this year, I was asked to help out with the Canadian Comedy Awards Festival in Communications; predominantly social media.  So, I signed up for HootSuite and off I went.  I took on a number of different duties since my initial on-boarding, such as translation, submission vetting, and most recently; taxi service.  Ironically, I did very little social media work while I was in Ottawa for the festival this past weekend – most of the time was spent running around trying to meet various arrival/departure timings of guests and nominees and coordinate other people doing any number of the numerous tasks that needed to be done to, you know, make the festival happen.  I wish there was a way to simply describe to you how the weekend turned out from the perspective of a volunteer – well, not just a volunteer, but a coordinator of volunteers amongst other things.  The best I can come up with is “AAARHG!?!!!!$^@GOGOGOGOGOGOGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  Yeah. I think that sums it up nicely.

Though the organization of the festival was the butt of many of Awards host Ryan Belleville’s jokes at the award ceremony, I was very pleased to hear how appreciative many of the attendees were of the organizers and volunteers who worked really really really really really really really REALLY hard to make the CCAF happen.  (Did I mention it was hard work?)

And beyond the simple happening of the festival, it was really cool that this year seems to have sparked a deeper level of conversation about the very nature of Canadian Comedy.  Example, Naomi Sniekus & Lauren Ash’s speeches at the Awards ceremony and Steve Patterson’s HuffPo piece:

It’s Time to Take Canadian Comedy More Seriously

This was my 4th year volunteering with the Canadian Comedy Awards.  I volunteer because I think our comedic talent should be celebrated.  And I think we owe it to each other to support each other and the institutions that help us keep doing what we do.  That’s why I help out – I’ve met some great people in the community through this festival – people I hope to work with down the line, people who’ve become close confidants within the industry, and people who are just, plain and simple, awesome and hilarious.

I may still be quite green to this world (yup, 3 years is still green, Mom & Dad)  (Oh, green is industry talk for “new”)  (See, I am learning stuff) – but if there’s one thing the Canadian Comedy Award makes me want to do than anything else, it’s create comedy and be a part of this great pool of hilarious and talented people who makes the country laugh, make our great cities laugh, and hell just make each other laugh after working over 12 hours driving people to-and-from the Ottawa suburbs in an overcrowded van.

But the Festival is over – no more interruptions, I’m going to work on this Con show to make it blow your minds and bust your guts!  I’ve got some COMEDY to birth, Canada!

Keeping Your Head Above Water

Blink once and you’re trying to stay awake driving to Montreal in a rental car because your own recently decided the breaks didn’t want to work and the tires were on strike. Blink again and you’re over two weeks later, riding first class on a VIA Rail train, eating zucchini, potatoes and scrambled eggs that taste vaguely like ham, even though I don’t remember if it said ham on the menu, and sleeping off the two-week long blur that was the Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE Montréal.

This was my first experience ever performing in a Fringe Festival. I’ve attended some Fringe festivals in the past, notably last year in Toronto and my last summer in Ottawa, where I volunteered in exchange for a few free performances. Let me tell you folks, performing is a whole nother ball game!

But one totally worth mentioning in CCC as the next great leap into comedy performance outside the protective walls of clown college. Even though clown college helped out a bit along the way. The truth is, Fringe is tough! In general, and particularly when you have to leave half-way through the festival to go back to your day-job on those few days you don’t have shows.

I ain’t no Spring chicken any more either, if you know what I’m saying. When I drive somewhere and arrive at 2am, I find it pretty damn tough to be fresh as a daisy and raring to go the next day. Which, apparently, is crucial in promoting your Fringe show. Luckily, my trusty partner was available and on location throughout the entire duration of the Montreal Fringe, and did more than her share of promoting, being interviewed, flyering, postering and chatting to friends and strangers alike trying to promote our show.

One thing I’ve learned, is that it’s helpful to have a tag-line. And I totally just thought about that, even though it makes sense, as that’s precisely what you need if you’re pitching TV shows, or movies or whatever because inevitably, people will ask over and over again “What’s your show about?” When your show is entitled “Water Wings,” it’s sortof vague, (which is amazing and appropriate, because vague is the French word for wave… oh I amuse myself,) it helps to have a quick, catchy way to summarize it in order to peak people’s curiosities and spark their desire in seeing your show.  With help from our wonderful director Pamela Barker, we’ve settled on a theme, rather than a tag.  And that theme is transitions.  Water Wings are a major transition – they help keep you afloat while you’re learning to swim on your own.  Just as each of our scenes, in one way or another, reflect transitions, both actual and metaphorical – relationships beginning and ending, people growing and learning, half-genie/half-horses using magical powers to turn people into inanimate objects.  You know, life!

Blink once again and you’re at the airport, waiting for your delayed late-night flight to Winnipeg, ready to do it all again.

Pilot Inspektor

My old friend

Last week was Reading Week.  While many students take the week as an opportunity to spend their parents money on cheap vacations down south, I believe I have spent every Reading Week I’ve ever had working.  This year was no exception, except that I didn’t get paid for it.  Unless you consider experience payment.  And I do.  So I did.  I guess. Get paid. What? Gah.

What I’m trying to say is… I spent half of my reading week working/interning as a Production Assistant on a pilot for what will hopefully become a television show for the Comedy Network starring stand-up comedian Tim Steeves.

This guy.

The whole experience was really quite interesting as the only experience I’ve ever had with television, apart from watching copious amounts of it as a child and teen, was going to a taping of The Ron James Show earlier this year, and taking a tour of NBC Studios when I visited New York a few years back.  It was neat to get to see the inside of the CTV Masonic Temple, to see the place go from an empty stage and space, into the Tim Steeves project – an idea that’s gone as far as it possibly can before actually making it onto television.

They did teach us about the process of pitching television pilots at Humber, but there’s no doubt something more tangible about working on the real deal.

Over the week, my tasks included:

  • several coffee runs
  • discussing the huge importance of Twitter in our day-to-day lives
  • waiting
  • sitting
  • salivating over deli corned beef sandwiches (and pickles… oh HEAVENS, those pickles…)
  • standing-in for the host/panelists on the stage for the camera-operators (FUN!)
  • assembling IKEA chairs
  • coffee runs
  • sitting
  • waiting
  • drinking water
  • sitting
  • waiting
  • seat-filling during the taping
  • recycling stuff
  • hanging out with the Luke, Rachel & Eli.
  • escorting guests to the Green Room …

(Huzzah for Canadian talent!)

 

What an ultimately thrilling experience!  It’s funny how even sitting and waiting are made that much more exciting when you’re in a TV studio.

This little taste of DOING TV Comedy was delicious and I hunger for more.  Much much more.

Chomp chomp.

Don Ferguson’s Centennial Project

This post is several weeks in the making – this past January 30th, a Canadian comic icon, Don Ferguson, of the epically successful Royal  Canadian Air Farce came to speak to the students of the Humber School of Comedy.

Here’s what I got out of it:

When I got the music, I got a place to go!

The Air Farce got their start back in old days of r-a-dio…. radio.  Is that how you pronounce that?  Radio?  Ferguson and the late Roger Abbott met in Montreal, where they began performing sketch comedy together in front of live audiences.  They would perform in theatres before they got picked up to do radio, which was advantageous to them because they learned by the reception of the audience what went well, what didn’t go so well and ultimately what worked.

It was then that they understood how much the audience wanted topical, current material. *For those of you who don’t remember, Ferguson took the role of many a politician on Air Farce, including this one:*

(Oddly enough, a similar reaction to that which I had when leaving Ottawa.)

Here’s what you could do with a live audience and with radio vs. on TV with a laugh track:

  • You can hear the audience laughing;
  • You can be plugged in to what they think is funny & relevant;
  • You can go more places (it’s almost like animation the amount of places you can go! But CHEAPER!)
  • Radio gets into people’s head & taps into their imagination;
  • Did I mention how much cheaper it is than TV?  Because it’s cheaper.

Ferguson mentioned how comedy, and particularly Air Farce’s TV sketches, demands precision.  Something can be funny if written a certain way, but then if you re-word it, the message won’t come across quite as clearly.  THIS is something extremely relevant to all aspects of writing for comedy, and probably especially to stand-up.  I’m currently in the process of conducting some massive edits to my stand-up bits.  It’s true, sometimes it hurts to kill your babies, or at least to dismember them, but it ends up with more laughs, then bye bye toesies!

Don Ferguson’s method for making it as a comedian in Canada:

  1. Get a show

  2. Be a hit

  3. Remain a hit

It’s as easy as that!   The pressure, he said, isn’t off as soon as you get a show.

Get a Show

“You can’t let up for a MOMENT.  It’s like being a pro-athlete.”

Crossing the Border = Security

If any of us Humber kids are in the mindset that comedy will provide us with any kind of job security, Ferguson reminded us that his longest contract was one of five years.  That’s it.  Everything else was shorter than that, normally one or two-year contracts with Air Farce.  That might make some people nervous, but Ferguson believes security can breed complacency in a business like this one.  The anxiety, fear and nervousness is what a comedian needs to stay sharp.

How’s that for noble, eh?

Ferguson and Abbott were asked to work on the American sit-com TAXI, but they declined as they’d realized “what Air Farce was doing on Radio was more important to [Canadian] listeners than ANY sitcom would mean to US viewers.”

Writing for Andy Kaufman would have been pretty... fun?

___

At this point, we skipped into a Q&A with Ferguson in which he gave us tips, tricks, encouragement and advice.  Because I pay so much for tuition, I’m going to keep this segment of our Prime Time with Don Ferguson private.  If you want more details, be sure to check this book out; a work that will serve to remind us how relevant; how important Air Farce really was for Canadians ever since their days back in R-A-D-I-O.

... no big deal. (!!!)

(Next on the schedule… Brie needs to dye her hair again!)

Canadian Comedy Awards – Year 2

Some things just can’t be the same the second time around, but, you make of them what you can.  This was my second year volunteering at the Canadian Comedy Awards.  This was its 12th year and was originally supposed to be held in Ottawa. I have no idea why they decided to bring it back to Toronto, but hey, who’s complaining?

I volunteered by checking in award nominees when they arrived to the Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto.  I got to meet a lot of fun performers just sitting at a table, handing out sweet swag bags.

By chance, a man I had met last year, who organizes the Stand-Up gala portion of the Awards weekend recognized me and asked me to help out at the gala.  I turned him down, obviously.  What?  No.  Of course not, I went and met Shaun Majumder, who was hosting (and was a super nice guy!) and some of the other featured performers for the evening.

By virtue of my selfless acts of volunteering, I was allowed to attend two nights of after-parties, which were both very fun.

Was it because the Kids in the Hall were there last year?  Some of my heroes?  That I actually got to see the Awards show?  That it was my first time surrounded by such talent because I hadn’t been up that often performing yet?  Was it the booze?  I don’t know, last year’s party just seemed a bit crazier, a bit more exciting.

But it was still a great time and I’m excited to even have been allowed into an “industry-only” event.  I’d encourage any of the Humber students to volunteer, except, then I might not have got my spot and would have had to fight more people off to get into the after-party.  So.  Yeah, stay at home and watch TV, kids!

I need to go to bed now.