Canadian comedy fans see more of Courtney Gilmour than they do of their own friends. Did you take in shows at the JFL42 comedy festival? For two years running, Gilmour has been one of the only Canadian women included in the 42 acts. Making the pilgrimage to Just for Laughs in Montreal? Last year, she was the first woman in the competition’s 19-year history to win the Homegrown Comic Competition, and this year she did a Comedy Network taping at the fest. She has also opened for Chris Gethard and Sasheer Zamata. Gilmour, 33, is everywhere. Zaniest of all? This is only the Waterloo, Ont., native’s first year doing standup full-time.
Gilmour, who was born without a left leg or forearms, delves into her experiences with disability in her act. She talks about how some people seem let down by her origin story—so she makes up new ones. Her favourite? Abortion survivor. “I fought back!” she crows. “I had someone describe my comedy as ‘a tiny woman screaming vulnerabilities at you,’” says Gilmour. “And I loved that.” She skewers people’s reactions to what she affectionately refers to as her “nubs,” describing a cab driver who equated her lack of limbs with his wife’s occasional back problems.
Hearing what Gilmour has to endure is jaw-dropping at times, but in an entertainment world populated almost entirely by able-bodied folks, it’s a narrative we don’t hear enough. “I’m annoyed when people ask if I feel obligated to talk about being an amputee or ‘How do you balance writing that material with regular material?’” she says. “If I wanted to tell [amputee] jokes just to get it out of the way, I’d write hacky puns about hand jobs or whatever. Being an amputee is my life, and I need to talk about it. It’s funny how people think of it as a novelty act and then a guy goes up and does 15 minutes on how crazy his girlfriend is and no one’s like ‘Oh, it’s the Crazy Girlfriend guy!’”