JERKS NEED NOT ATTEND
Ladyfest features 40 funny women
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.”
Sara Meleika, Erin Hall and Emma Wilkie are the founders and directors of the third annual Ladyfest, which runs from Sept. 4 to 10.