Laughter Is Medicine mixes culture and comedy

Indigenous comedy event returns to the West End Cultural Centre

Laughter is Medicine is a hit. Back for its third installment on March 15, the night of ingenious Indigenous comedy has sold out both its previous shows.

Florence Spence is a stand-up comic from York Factory Cree Nation and has been Laughter is Medicine’s rising star. She did a set at the event’s first iteration, hosted the second and will  headline the third. She says, as an Indigenous comic, Laughter is Medicine has truly lived up to its name.

“My stepping stones were always going into bar shows and other shows that I had been asked to do. The audience members are predominantly not Indigenous, so you have to craft your humour to fit what they will like to get good,” she says.

“When you go into an event like Laughter is Medicine, when the majority of the audience is Indigenous themselves, it’s almost like a relief, because you can be more yourself. They understand you more. They see your perspective, because they’ve all lived it.”

Event producer Ashley Richard is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine, a media platform that celebrates and promotes Indigenous voices and creates events like Laughter is Medicine. She says the idea for Red Rising came out of a conversation with her friends after a day spent raising awareness for the Shoal Lake 40 crisis.

“We got to talking about Indigenous representation in the media and how we are not portrayed in the light we wish to be, so we decided to create our own platform for Indigenous youth to share their unfiltered voices,” she says.

Richard says that Laughter is Medicine was the brainchild of Red Rising co-founder Kevin Settee.

“It started out the way every single one of our ideas starts: a Facebook post in our private group, this time by Kevin Settee: ‘let’s do an Indigenous comedy night.’ Instantly, everyone was on board. I've always loved stand-up comedy so I have loved every second of planning the show.”

Florence Spence says that while she grew up wanting to do comedy, she didn’t have any role models.

“I’d never seen an Aboriginal woman do comedy, even though I’d always wanted to do comedy, so I had to break those barriers down,” she says.

“My growing stage was maybe a bit longer than most comics', because I was trying to figure that out for myself while maintaining my own identity as an Aboriginal woman.”

With its lineup of Indigenous comics from across the country, Laughter is Medicine shows that things are changing.

“We’ve had comedians from Toronto and Saskatoon perform at Laughter (is Medicine),” Richard says.

“We think it is a really awesome way to showcase Indigenous comics who are up-and-coming in their local scenes, even if they don’t live here in Winnipeg.”

Richard says Laughter is Medicine brings together culture and comedy and that the intersection of the two enriches them both.

“It’s important for Indigenous people to find humour in the stories that we carry,” she says.

“There’s a lot of pain in our community, so to be able to help create a show that fills up an entire theatre with the laughter of our people is an indescribable feeling ... These comics really are inspiring the next generation.”

Tickets are still available at the West End Cultural Centre and on eventbrite.ca.

Published in Volume 73, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 7, 2019)

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