Content warning: mention of transphobia, mention of mental illness and trauma
In a cozy venue on St. Denis, several comedians – some first-timers, some Montreal comedy veterans, gathered for a brand new show, titled “Comedy Support Line: A Resillyence Benefit Show.” The show was set in a recently opened anti-café and co-working space, Club Insiders Plateau, which seemed perfectly suited to the fall weather, although I was told the appropriately-themed orange and black colour scheme was simply a happy accident. The audience lounged on velvet couches while passing around tea and cookies provided by the venue, creating a perfectly intimate ambience for a chilly autumn night.
The show, hosted by Alo Azimov and guest co-host Kaja de La Vie, featured a diverse array of performers, including women, people of colour, and trans and non-binary comedians, who tackled important subjects such as mental health and gender identity. Proceeds from the show went to Action Santé Transvesti(e)s et Transexue(le)s du Québec (ASSTeQ), a project which “aims to promote the health and well-being of trans people through peer support and advocacy, education and outreach, and community empowerment and mobilization.” ASSTeQ is part of CACTUS-Montréal, a non-profit organization focused on the health and well-being of a variety of marginalized groups including trans people, sex workers, and drug users. They utilize preventative strategies within a harm reduction framework to work on issues relating to sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs). The donation was made in the name of Hayden Muller, a non-binary community activist who recently passed away from breast cancer, after having faced consistent discrimination at the hands of medical professionals.
A highlight of the night was Inés Anaya’s performance, which recounted the hilarious twists and turns of her tragic seven-year quest for a Quebec doctor, a tale all too relatable for those of us who have struggled to find adequate healthcare in a new city. Anaya can be found performing at venues across the city and is a host and co-producer of “Stand-up Story Slam.”
However, not all of the performances were as laugh-inducing; many performances included brutally honest depictions of mental illness resulting in long stretches of uncomfortable silence in which the jokes were few and far between, and a somber attitude not typically expected of a comedy show. While the de-stigmatization of mental illness is certainly an important cause, some performances didn’t quite put the “silly” in “resillyence,” an experience which could be quite jarring and possibly triggering for some. The hosts seemed to be aware of this, with Azimov offering me an unprompted apology after the show for the lack of content warning, an essential part of any event dealing with such sensitive topics. The comedians should certainly be applauded for their bravery; however, the nature of the show could have been better reflected in the event branding and description in order to better prepare the audience.
Despite this, “Comedy Support Line” definitely managed to distinguish itself as an important space for experimentation within comedy. The show embodied the phrase “pushing boundaries” in the truest sense of the phrase; not as a justification for pseudo-edginess, but as an honest acknowledgement that great comedy involves taking risks. A few wrinkles need to be worked out, but this isn’t outside the ordinary for a brand new show, particularly one with such a bold vision. It will certainly be exciting to see how this show evolves, as “Comedy Support Line” will be returning at some point within the next couple of months.