Cool comedy in colonial Canada

Illustration by Bram Keast

In 2015, a shy Anishinaabek woman embarked on an exciting new journey to explore new destinations. She had been told by her mentors that even a writer needs to be able to speak in public, even if that writer’s desired brand was “like the Witch in The Blair Witch Project but with Better Aesthetics.”

She would discover many things on this adventure – some good, some bad, but all of it terrifying. Now, in 2017, she can finally speak in public without needing to pop a Xanax beforehand. Before you ask, yes, that woman was me, and that destination was the world of comedy.

For purposes of my exploration, I selected three specific destinations: sketch, improv and stand-up.

Sketch comedy is when a group of outgoing extroverts get together to try to write a short comedic play. Improv is when a group of outgoing extroverts try to write a short play in real-time without any kind of discussion beforehand. Stand-up is when individual introverts channel their anxiety solo in a desperate bid to be witnessed and celebrated before death, like a War Boy in Mad Max: Fury Road.

I like comedy, because it’s an exciting metaphor for Canada’s great culture war of Individuality vs. Collectivism.

Canada is a traditional land colonized by individualist beliefs. In my observation, comedy forms adhere to settler-colonial values, and that’s been reflected in its representation of mostly white men.

In a society where women and People of Colour have been taught to wait for space to be given, to graciously accept any platform, to give thanks for amplification and representation, it’s not surprising that comedy has been slower than other forms to make progress towards equality and inclusivity.

But in Winnipeg, that’s changing, fast. Several years ago, Dana Smith created Women’s Open Mic Comedy, a monthly stand-up show for women that has introduced the form to a wide sea of new audiences and has generated and inspired new performers.

Taking this a step further, Elissa Black Wolf Kixen co-founded WOKE Comedy Hour, an open mic for People of Colour, Indigenous people and Non-binary Folx of Colour.

Space is slowly but surely being shared, and with it, I hope to see the value trends of comedy shift towards inclusivity as well. The decolonization of comedy, or ultimately any power system, is undefinable. It’s never been done before. We get to be the first. That’s what makes it so scary… and so important.

As an occasionally aspiring comedian, I often wonder how I can participate in forms that are built upon values I do not share. For me, the first step is not in giving up our values, but creating new spaces, and ultimately new forms. Xanax optional.

Frances Koncan is an Anishinaabek artist from Couchiching First Nation. She currently lives in Winnipeg with her dog, Tucker, and owns five full IKEA dressers but still has nothing to wear.

Published in Volume 72, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 26, 2017)

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