JERKS NEED NOT AT­TEND

Ladyfest fea­tures 40 funny women

Montreal Gazette - - YOU - BILL BROWN­STEIN bbrown­stein@post­media.com twit­ter.com/ bill­brown­stein

The fes­ti­val’s mantra couldn’t be more to the point: “One love. No jerks.”

In fact, it could serve as the per­fect mantra for the planet.

But the or­ga­niz­ers of the third an­nual Ladyfest Mon­treal — Sept. 4 to 10 — are keep­ing pro­ceed­ings on a more mi­cro level. Their goal for now is sim­ply to elicit gig­gles and to wel­come all, save jerks, ei­ther to par­tic­i­pate therein or to soak up the laughs.

What be­gan three years ago as a week­end event at one venue with about a dozen acts has now mush­roomed into a week-long af­fair fea­tur­ing more than 40 funny women at an ar­ray of venues. Most are from Mon­treal, though they’ve got some Toron­to­nian al­lies and, yes, a sprin­kling of men. The per­form­ers cover the gamut of hu­mour, from standup to im­prov, sketch to sto­ry­telling. Although the ma­jor­ity of the acts are an­glo, there will be two franco shows and one bilin­gual spec­ta­cle at this year’s fest as well

The fact is that much has been made over the years of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of an­glo male comics in Mon­treal. (Ev­i­dently, in­se­cu­rity breeds much-needed chuck­les.) And while there was a time not long ago when there was a dearth of an­glo women cut-ups on a com­edy-night bill in this city, times have dra­mat­i­cally changed. The women wits are now more than hold­ing their own in num­bers and con­tent.

It’s worth not­ing that, this past sum­mer, lo­cal standup D.J. Maus­ner be­came the first woman ever to win the Just for Laughs Homegrown Comic Com­pe­ti­tion. Maus­ner will be cen­tre-stage for Ladyfest’s Standup Show­case, Sept. 7 at Théâtre Ste-Cather­ine, and can also be caught in her col­lab­o­ra­tive sketch show Joke­town — Sept. 9 at the same venue — which also fea­tures fes­ti­val pro­duc­ers Erin Hall and Deirdre Trudeau.

Def­i­nitely worth watch­ing out for is the im­prov show Colour Out­side the Lines — Sept. 8 at the

Mon­treal Im­prov Theatre — an en­sem­ble of di­verse per­form­ers fea­tur­ing the ac­claimed duo Coko & Daph­ney from Toronto.

Once again in­cor­po­rated into the fest lineup this year is Ladyfest Ajar Mic — Sept. 4 at the Blue Dog Mo­tel on the Main — fea­tur­ing a cast of es­tab­lished standups as well as sev­eral up-and-com­ing new­bies.

And what would Ladyfest be with­out its mas­cot, Narnie the Nar­whal, as in­ter­preted by im­prov wiz Lise Vigneault? She also hosts Mon­tréal Sketch­fest — Sept. 7 at Théâtre Ste-Cather­ine — with a lineup that in­cludes Ladyfest founder Katie Leg­gitt, the Toronto beat-po­etry duo The Def­i­ni­tion of Knowl­edge and Mon­treal troupers Tracy & Ali­son.

Emma Wilkie, the Mon­treal standup at the helm of the weekly There’s Some­thing Funny Go­ing On at the Blue Dog Mo­tel, has been a wit­ness to the fast-chang­ing times on the lo­cal com­edy scene. “In three short years, we’ve gath­ered a fol­low­ing and have suc­cess­fully cre­ated an­other stage for so many un­heard voices to be fi­nally heard,” ex­plains Wilkie, one of the Ladyfest pro­duc­ers. “As soon as that starts to hap­pen, per­form­ers start pick­ing up trac­tion. Look at the case of D.J. Maus­ner. She’s now get­ting the vis­i­bil­ity she de­serves.”

Fes­ti­val co-or­ga­nizer and Colour Out­side the Lines pro­ducer Sara Meleika feels it’s no ac­ci­dent that com­edy — fe­male and male — is flour­ish­ing in this city. “Mon­treal is a city where peo­ple are of­ten in tran­si­tion, and com­edy com­mu­ni­ties give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with one an­other. Com­edy has played a big role here in mak­ing peo­ple feel that they be­long and that they can be ac­cepted.”

“Re­ally, Mon­treal has al­ways been such an amaz­ing cre­ative in­cu­ba­tor,” adds Trudeau. “It’s amaz­ing how so many peo­ple are com­ing out of the wood­work and are com­ing to­gether to per­form to­gether. We’ve got im­prov per­form­ers try­ing standup now, and standups do­ing sketch. It’s such a dy­namic com­mu­nity.”

Wilkie points out that with more stage time avail­able to comics here, new­com­ers are gain­ing con­fi­dence to leap into the fray. “It’s ter­rific. Not only are there new voices, but per­form­ers are try­ing new things on stage and get­ting the com­edy out there. So the scene is re­ally blos­som­ing.”

Meleika notes that many women comics are not averse to tak­ing chances on stage. “I think be­cause women have to take an ex­tra leap of courage just to get them­selves out there on stage in the first place and be­cause they are go­ing to face more of a chal­lenge than a male comic would, they then seek to push the bound­aries a lit­tle more.”

Wilkie con­curs with Meleika. “I’m per­son­ally delv­ing more into the ab­surd. One of the shows I’m in­volved in, the Down­stairs Mix-up, in­vites standups, sketch artists and im­prov play­ers to try other ways to make peo­ple laugh on stage. It doesn’t have to be straight joke-telling. It can be a cos­tume or a char­ac­ter or a song. Any­thing.”

Bot­tom line, though, no mat­ter the comic form: One love. No jerks.

“Be­cause it’s called Ladyfest, some peo­ple might think it’s for a spe­cific au­di­ence, but that’s not the case at all,” Hall says. “The fes­ti­val has a joy­ous vibe, and we want ev­ery­one to come — ex­cept mean-spir­ited jerks.”

ALLEN McINNIS

Sara Meleika, Erin Hall and Emma Wilkie are the founders and direc­tors of the third an­nual Ladyfest, which runs from Sept. 4 to 10.

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