Friday, April 25, 2014

Bonus Feature: Martha O'Neill on SheDot

Funny Peculiar; Funny Ha-Ha
by Martha O'Neill

Comedy is a funny business; as in, both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha (hands up, who misses Les Nessman?).

Comedians live in a separate space in the entertainment world; we write our own material, can truly only rehearse in front of a live audience, we book our own shows, create our own websites, hustle, fail, triumph – it’s really all down to an individual effort.  (With the exception of those who have managed to rise to the top – those (very) few often have managers and agents who help them book shows, promote themselves). Truly, it’s a look-out-for-number-one business.

Once we have spent years honing our craft and begin to work professional shows, we still deal with the promotion of those shows, the bringing the funny under sometimes less than ideal circumstances (read: late show Friday = drunk people from who we often need to wrestle the spotlight), poor pay… Also, dealing with hecklers (honestly, how this has been allowed to become a thing, I’ll never understand… you’re not helping the show!), fighting to get our pay, driving hundreds of kilometres to a gig that barely pays the gas money… on and on.  My point being, comedy is hard. I mean, not roofing-in-the-height-of-summer hard, but for a creative person, it can wear on the soul.

Now, add being an anomaly in that world. In my case, it’s being a woman. Believe it or not, it’s a safe estimation that only one in 10 professional comedians are women. Not to mention the pre-conceived notion that 'women aren’t funny'… don’t even get me started on that! Suffice it to say that I’ve had dozens of audience members come up to me over the years and say something along the lines of: “normally, I don’t like female comics, but you were really funny!” Rest assured, I always reply with a thank you, but also add a polite “why don’t you like female comics?” Which is usually answered with an awkward, “Dunno”.

Which brings me to SheDot Festival, and how it was conceived - before I dive into the nitty-gritty, please understand that while I pointed out that comedy is a very individual enterprise, we comedians are a very tight-knit community. Very few understand what we go through to “make it”. Very few are wired like us. We get each other. We look out for each other.  And very few understand each other more than the women who pursue this weird, gratifying form of entertainment.

Years ago, I opened my family’s cottage to any and all comics who were women. Everyone was invited, no exceptions. I called it “Festi-Vag”. It’s become something of a thing in the community. It has been very cool. And, it made me realize how many incredibly talented women there are performing comedy. It also made me realize how much we needed a way to showcase, to elevate the women who make people laugh.

So, despite my own comedy aspirations, my job in radio, even my kids, I thought 'Hey, what Toronto needs is a festival for the funny women!' I turned to three of my favourite women in comedy and asked them what they thought, and they all said an immediate and enthusiastic “YES” – and my god, one year later, here we are – about to launch a 4-day, 13 show festival featuring some of the most talented women in North America.  Pray for me. And please, come out and laugh. 

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