Culture | If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry

Feminist comedy show combines humour with social justice

The words “stand up comedy” and “open mic” often denote cringing at poorly timed jokes. This apprehension, however, was absolutely uncalled for at The Centre for Gender Advocacy’s 2nd annual Feminist Stand-up Comedy Night which took place on September 16. Those who had attended last year’s event would have known that they were in for a great night, and Reggie’s Bar was packed well before the evening had even kicked off.

The open mic comedians started the evening off, and it quickly became clear that no topic was off-limits. Dating, sex, family life, sexism, racism, and ableism were all explored. As several comedians expressed, comedy can be cathartic for both audience and performer. Or, as another commented, pouring your heart out on stage is “cheaper than therapy.” The night showcased a diverse range of eight women and femmes, all incredible comedians with great delivery. While some were fairly new to the comedy scene, others were seasoned performers.

[Comedy] can be cathartic for both audience and performer.

Toronto-based Ify Chiwetelu was the night’s headliner. Nigerian born and Calgary raised, Chiwetelu was winner of the 2015 Bad Dog Theatre Breakout Performer award. She brought the house down with a combination of laughter and empowerment. Ify drew attention to our society’s seemingly relentless need to categorize others’ gender and sexuality by relaying her own experience of individuals trying to “work out” her sexuality.

As the daughter of Biafra war survivors, Ify may have had an unconventional and complex upbringing, but managed to communicate her story to the audience in relatable terms. For example, it’s not uncommon to have a parent forbid you from doing something with friends, such as going camping in Ify’s case, but the reasons might not usually include “we didn’t escape the war and move to Canada for you to sleep outside!”

Like many of the other performers, Ify touched on her dating experiences, particularly having to navigate the dating scene as a woman of colour in a racist world. This world, oftentimes, is ignorant of its own racism, as illustrated by the stellar “pick up line” that cause her to delete her Tinder account: “I’ve never been with a black woman.” The evening’s goal wasn’t only to make the audience laugh, but to question society’s norms surrounding the objectification of women, the exoticization of women of colour, and the need to categorize people into neat, binary boxes.

As the event organisers pointed out, feminists can be hilarious, and it’s good to keep a sense of humour when fighting for social justice.

Kalyani Pandya, whose biography introduced her as holding the title of “Ottawa’s Funniest Dyke,” stood out in particular among a lineup of incredible performers. Kalyani’s set up, delivery, and in particular her character portrayal, was impeccable, making it clear she was very comfortable on stage.

As someone who is able-bodied and experiences white privilege, there were times during the evening where I felt uncomfortable as subjects of ableism and racism were touched on. However, I think this was a necessity. It helped me to question myself. Why do these things make me uncomfortable? How do I contribute to the perpetuation of these negative stereotypes or societal norms? Have I unwittingly been continuing to behave in a way that harms others?

As the event organisers pointed out, feminists can be hilarious, and it’s good to keep a sense of humour when fighting for social justice. The Center for Gender Advocacy organized an entertaining and informative night of comedy with a stellar line up. It’s exciting to see so many up-and-coming comedians from Montreal and the surrounding area, and refreshing to attend a comedy show that represented a multitude of voices.