9 Comedy Acts To Get You Through The Second Wave
by Alison Lang
Joan Rivers once wrote: “If you laugh at it, you can deal with it,” and for many of us, this sentiment has never been truer. As the world is reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying political, social, and environmental upheaval, laughter has never felt more important—or more vital—as a coping tool. Whether we howl through uproarious Zoom happy hours, or burrow into the couch and watch 20 episodes of Nailed It! in a row, it feels better than ever to surrender to LOLZ—and maybe even develop some insights about our global situation in the process.
This year has also presented some unique challenges for those who make people laugh for a living, with tours and shows getting cancelled and projects getting postponed or adapted for a wild and untested new virtual frontier. Here’s a list of funny people you can find on Side Door who may help distract you with their standup, storytelling, performances, and podcasts.
Alicia Dattner’s introduction to socially conscious stand-up began as a child, watching and rewatching her VHS copy of an HBO Comic Relief special. “As a kid I had developed a kind of messiah complex around saving the planet from environmental catastrophe, and I also had a deep emotional need to be ‘seen’ by people,” recalls the comedian and creative coach, now based in San Francisco. “Put those together, and you have the perfect storm to create a standup comedian.”
This sensibility is apparent in her most recent comedy special, Are You Dressed for the Apocalypse, where Dattner ruminates on gender politics, the lies of Instagram, and the impending doom of climate change, as well as in her practice as a creative coach, where she facilitates writing and storytelling workshops on Zoom. “Our silence, our numbness, and our fatigue is what keeps things as they are. But art lets us start exactly where we are... and share it, in a magical way,” she says.
Nat’s What I Reckon
While you may not immediately know the Nat’s What I Reckon YouTube series by name, chances are you’ve recently seen a clip of Nat (no surname) himself chopping veggies, frying up a curry, or cursing his way through a halfhearted run on Bondi Beach. The tattooed, foul-mouthed Australian metalhead has been running his channel for over a decade, but it was only during quarantine—and following his pivot to a cooking show format—when thousands of people all over the world began taking notice, including the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.
Nat has a simple crusade: he wants to show us how to make healthy meals at home without resorting to the cans of prepared sauces that many of us grabbed during our initial bouts of pandemic panic-buying. The result brings episodes titled “Wham Bam Thank you Lamb,” “Quarantine Spirit Risotto” and “Chili Con Can’t Go Outside”—where Nat curses and smashes his way through healthy and easy staples and chats amiably with his audience, who he refers to as “champions.” How can you stay in the dumps after that? You can catch Nat on his On Purpose Virtual World Tour when it drops into Side Door on October 14.
Rabbit Hole Podcast/Late Night Alternative
Like many of us, UK-based radio host Iain Lee and broadcasting partner Katherine Boyle have faced their share of professional challenges in 2020. In June, their popular TalkRadio show The Late Night Alternative with Iain Lee was axed suddenly after four years. The duo have since pivoted to the streaming platform Twitch; the newly re-named The Late Night Alternative with Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle now streams every weeknight from Lee’s Buckinghamshire home studio, featuring the off-kilter banter, weird little songs, and audience phone-in sessions that fans know and love.
Lee, who won a radio award in 2018 for a segment where he kept an overdosing man talking live on air until an ambulance arrived, highlights the importance of mental health in each show and focuses on maintaining a bond with its devoted listener community. Recent highlights have included a chat with octogenarian longtime caller “Barry from Watford” and charming technical glitches featuring Lee’s cat wandering obliviously in the background. Check it out at twitch.tv/iainlee.
Taggart and Torrens
Over the past six years, everyone’s favourite “bahds” Jeremy Taggart (the former drummer of Our Lady Peace) and Jonathan Torrens (Trailer Park Boys, Jonovision) have built a hoser comedy mini-empire out of their bi-monthly podcast series Taggart and Torrens. And unsurprisingly, the pandemic hasn’t slowed these two down—in June, they released their first album BAHDS on Dine Alone Records, and they’ve also waded into the streaming realm, with a live podcast hosted here on Side Door. Along with some quarantine-specific recurring jokes—including a hilarious segment about #dadtexts featuring listeners sharing stories and photos of their mundane outdoor projects—T & T have devoted time on recent episodes sharing their own struggles and growth during the pandemic, including the importance of speaking openly about fear, depression and empathy with their children. Good job, boys.
Imagine getting a dream job as a producer of a theatre festival, and then learning you’ll have to move the entire event online for the first time...ever.
As associate producer of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, actor Franny McCabe-Bennett realized the fest would have to adapt in order to survive, so she buckled down with her team to produce an online/physically distant mini-Fringe in late July called What the Fest? It featured streaming performances, digital workshops, a free daytime kids’ workshop series and a “curbside theatre delivery” service of short plays that Hamiltonians could “order” to various spots around the city.
“We were able to offer programs we've never offered before, and ended up paying out 80-plus artists a total of over $12,000,” McCabe-Bennett says. “It was very successful but I also worked 250 additional hours in July!”
McCabe-Bennett also spent her summer acting in a virtual adaptation of the musical Disenchanted, with rehearsals and performances (featuring group vocal performances and choreography) all taking place over Zoom and the audio platform Jamulus. While the final product was executed with an almost eerie precision, McCabe-Bennett admits the process was “one of weirdest things I've ever done.”
Creating an episodic comedy show with one’s partner while stuck in quarantine? Sounds either impossibly twee or like a waking nightmare. In Alistair Ogden’s case, he and his girlfriend Pascal Lamonthe-Kipnes did their best to make lemons out of COVID-19 lemonade with their quarantine webseries, ComedyPants. The series—hosted by Ogden, a former winner of CBC’s Next Up comedy contest—took place in the before times at Vancouver’s Avant-Garden, and has since pivoted to the confines of Ogden and Lamonthe-Kipnes’ Chinatown apartment.
Ogden uses an Unsolved Mysteries-esque format to explore the mundane issues of his makeshift studio, including mice and stories of bedbugs past. There are also featured comedians from the Vancouver scene, virtually cracking jokes and performing weird psychedelic skits about drinking the contents of their fridges. Lamonthe-Kipnes does the “set design,” which usually involves a pair of pink “comedypants” hung on the wall. Each episode raises funds for various charities. It’s all very charming and shows how a little bit of creativity can go a long way in keeping the cabin fever at bay.
Indigenous Erotica (Stephanie Pangowish)
“I believe Indigenous people are natural born comedians,” says Stephanie Pangowish. As a child growing up in Wiikwemkoong and Sagamok First Nation on Manitoulin Island, the performer and artist recalls her mother, her aunties, and grandfather roaring with laughter, telling stories and teasing each other. As an adult, after Pangowish got the opportunity to participate in a Comedy Girl workshop—the famed Toronto classes led by Dawn Whitwell intended to get more women into comedy—she got hooked and formed one of the country’s first Indigenous women’s comedy collectives, Manifest Destiny’s Child, who went on to perform at TIFF and the Royal Ontario Museum.
These days, Pangowish is working on getting her Masters in Education from York University, creating art with her daughter, and providing beading/storytelling workshops. One thing she’s not doing is making sourdough: “I’m a horrible baker and I've also learned that I cannot keep plants alive,” she says. “So if the apocalypse does happen, I will exchange laughter and deadly beadwork for food.”
Breton Like the Crackers
If you’re looking for an electrifying burst of energy, go visit the Instagram page of Halifax performer Breton LaLama—specifically, the video clip of their audition for Neptune Theatre’s production of Rocky Horror Picture Show. This show-stopping rendition of “Over at the Frankenstein Place” helped them win the role of Riff Raff in Neptune’s production, and they moved from Toronto to Halifax with their partner—only to learn that COVID-19 had put plans for the show on hold.
“Provincial borders were literally shutting down as we drove our big gay U-Haul van across the country,” LaLama says, laughing. It hasn't been easy but LaLama has made it work in their new city with various side hustles and a strong support system—and in the end, it's these daily survival tasks that have sustained them. “Everything feeds everything, from working my joe jobs to performing stand-up to taking out the garbage to working on a new piece—it’s all part of the ultimate practice of being a person, because it is this human practice that shapes my artistic practice,” they say. And they’ve kept busy—they were recently accepted into Nightwood Theatre’s year-long play development program (“I’m writing a play about two queer pals and a lot of Fruit Roll-ups”), they’re finishing a playbuilding contract at Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, they’re learning to skateboard, and they’re working on some upcoming virtual shows with drag performers.
It’s not terribly surprising that Toronto-based comedian and host Steve Patterson would be adept at keeping busy, even during lockdown. Between balancing his own standup, hosting and writing work, Patterson has spent nearly 15 years hosting the beloved CBC program The Debaters, which launched into its 15th season in mid-September (featuring pre-recorded episodes so far, including a brilliant back-and-forth on home birth that will have you howling.)
Like many comedians, Patterson launched a Zoom/YouTube show titled The Steve Patterson Projecttt that ran for a few months over the summer during his Debaters break, featuring local comedian pals like Jeremy Woodcock, tips on exercising at home and staying creative, and musical performances from CanCon luminaries like Sarah Slean. On top of this, Patterson just completed his first non-fiction book, DAD UP!, about his childhood and the ups and downs of being a dad.