“One love, no jerks”
Comedy is an art, one that LadyFest has been highlighting through the performances of female, femme-identifying and non-binary comedians for four years.
Co-producers Emma Wilkie, Sara Meleika, Lar Simms and Deirdre Trudeau created the festival to give comedians like Stacy Gagnidze the platform they need to share their funniest selves with the world. The festival includes a wide range of talent, from stand-up and storytelling, to improv and sketch comedy.
Gagnidze is a Concordia alumna from the John Molson School of Business (JMSB) and has been a comedian since she was a teenager. Today, she performs with Mess Hall and Colour Outside the Lines. Mess Hall, an impov-based comedy club, is dedicated to performing the Harold structure known for its specific and difficult format. The Harold structure consists of three unrelated, yet overlapping scenes and typically lasts between 25 and 40 minutes. Colour Outside the Lines is an improv team that’s all about diversity and uplifting voices from different racial, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. Gagnidze has also performed at Just For Laughs, and she identified the difference between the two festivals in their creative mission. LadyFest was created with a social mission, to uplift women’s voices in comedy, while Just for Laughs is just what the name suggests.
“Today, Just For Laughs is playing catch-up in this space,” she said. “LadyFest audiences who attend have made a conscious decision to come out and support female and female-identifying performers. As a performer, this offers me a safe space onstage where I can take risks and explore boundaries.”
LadyFest co-producer, Lar Simms also broke into comedy as a teenager in Winnipeg, taking improv classes and performing in plays. “When I moved to Montreal, taking improv classes at Montreal Improv in 2012 really helped me to build confidence and trust my comedic sensibilities, as well as develop a sense of group mind when collaborating with the imaginations of others,” Simms said.
Since then, she has added stand-up, sketch, clown, and other character performances to her theatre background.
“Performing, speaking your truth onstage or just being absurdly silly and having that resonate with a large crowd can be an empowering experience,”
she said, for both the audience and the performer. According to Simms, collective laughter can be cathartic and healing, making it important to strive for the space to do so, especially in an industry where comics have long been underrepresented in local and mainstream comedy.
That being so, attending comedy shows that are increasingly accessible to these kinds of audiences encourages funding for the creation and development of such spaces. A personal blog post by award winning stand-up comic, actor and writer, Sandra Battaglini, criticizes Canada for hosting Just For Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival, when the Canadian Council for the Arts still refuses to fund stand-up because it is recognized as entertainment, rather than art.
“We create art by stringing together words in such a way that culminates in laughter,” Battaglini writes. “It releases so many endorphins, you could say it saves lives. It certainly saved mine.”
Gagnidze will be performing with Colour Outside the Lines at Théâtre Ste-Catherine on Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. The troupe will be sharing the stage with Yas Kween, an ensemble of women of colour brought together by Nelu Handa, who stars on CBC’s Workin’ Moms.