Changing society with humour

Sarasvàti changes up its annual comedy fundraiser

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

When a feminist organization wants to have a fun and lighthearted fundraiser, sometimes they need to have full control of the event.

Sarasvàti Productions has hosted comedy nights at comedy clubs the last few years to raise money for its theatre productions, but there’s been a change for the upcoming Nov. 16 event.

“They apparently had a pretty rough time one year with a really sexist and racist male comedian,” Dana Smith says.

A local comedian herself, Smith hosts an open mic night in Winnipeg for women-identifying comedians.

Smith says Sarasvàti approached her about partnering on one of her events, because they wanted a fundraiser that would be a safe space for everyone, including audience members.

“The women’s open mic is nothing if not that,” Smith says.

Sarasvàti artistic director Hope McIntyre says the issue with hosting their fundraiser at a comedy club was that they had no say over who the comedians taking the stage would be.

While they could plan the event for a date when a comedian they approved of was supposed to be on stage, sometimes the line-up is changed last minute. That’s what happened last year.

“That led to a really great conversation about the fact that we have so many talented comics in the city that rather than holding an event at Rumor’s Restaurant and Comedy Club, where they’re bringing in a comic from away, it would be great to do what is important to us, which is to feature local artists and emerging artists,” McIntyre says.

Sarasvàti’s vision is to change society through theatre. While there’s no evidence this upcoming fundraiser will do that, it has started some conversations.

“It’s been interesting, because in talking up the event, a lot of people have been saying that age old thing of, you know, ‘Are women funny?’ It’s been interesting to say, ‘Well, why are we even asking that question?’ Let’s just assume that these comics are funny, and that’s why they’re doing this,” McIntyre says.

She was surprised by this reaction.

“That should just be a norm. Yes, women are funny. And, yeah, it’s just great to go out and be entertained by a comic, regardless of gender,” McIntyre says.

Smith is well aware of how this sentiment stops some women from getting on stage.

“A lot of people think that if you’re starting comedy – especially women, because we’re told we’re not funny – you should be good right away, because otherwise you’re fulfilling all of the self-made prophecies,” Smith says.

In the past, there were several women comedians in Winnipeg who had a great deal of experience on stage, but Smith says they moved to larger cities.

“As much as we have an amazing scene, there wasn’t as many women involved in it until more recently, until the women’s open mic started picking up steam,” Smith says.

With the women’s-only open mic creating a space where Smith can tell women it’s okay to suck at first and get good in front of an audience, she says the community of women comedians in the city is growing.

The Women’s Comedy Night: a fundraiser for Sarasvàti Productions is happening on Nov. 16 at the King’s Head Pub. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 at the door or by calling 204-586-2236.

Published in Volume 71, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 10, 2016)

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