Checking in on your friendly neighbourhood comedian
“I love lying about traffic, for sure. Anything car-related.”
Kate Hammer gives good advice. At 28, Hammer is a well-known stand-up comic, writer and performer in Montreal, who most notably wrote the sellout show The Peers which ran at Montreal’s 2019 Fringe Festival. Hammer’s been active, of course, until COVID-19 hit last winter. Since then, fans and concerned members of society can’t help but wonder: what have all these comics been doing without a stage and mic?
“My name is Kate Hammer, and it has been seven days since someone last came into my face and screamed ‘It’s Hammer time!’”
Hammer captured an audience last year in New York City with this introduction, followed by some lunging on stage. Clearly, they did theatre as a kid.
Known for their ambition and busy schedule, Hammer has a new perspective on work these days.
“Instead of saying yes to every show or trying to do as many shows as possible, take a step back,” Hammer says. “It’s that mindset of working smarter versus working a lot.”
This change of pace is big for Hammer, who grew up on a Lutheran farm in Stratford, Ontario that preached, “Eat whatever you want. Talk straight to God.” That, compounded with a strict farmer’s work ethic, “You can’t say no if you don’t feel well. Your livelihood depends on it.” Hammer is all about eating pudding, keeping your word, and investing in your dreams.
The “work smarter” attitude serves Hammer in their burgeoning career, as they recount doing three shows in one night during a snowstorm.
It’s like a big sense of just doing it, no matter how you feel.”
On the snowstorm occasion, Hammer leaned on their tried and true excuse for being late: traffic.
These days, Hammer’s beginning a master’s degree in TV Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University, and to that end, has moved and reshaped the direction of their life. Hammer studied Creative Writing at Concordia University, where they ran Concordia’s first comedy journal, The Hindwing Press, and created and hosted a monthly comedy show called INFEMOUS that aimed to create space for non-binary and female-identifying comedians in the stand-up community.
A lot of change came with Hammer’s shift in perspective towards working smart. With a focus on vulnerability, they see the obstacles that come from identifying as an artist, versus not. It can be hard when you haven’t accomplished your big project yet, or when you face scrutiny and constantly feel like you have to prove your chops. This insecurity is commonly known as imposter syndrome, and many artists come head-to-head with it at some point. Hammer’s tackling it head-on: “You’re not like an emerging or aspiring writer,” they continue. “If you’re writing, you’re a writer.”
The comedy scene has also changed recently. Online streaming services are investing a lot in comedy specials, with multi-million-dollar payouts for the first-tier talent, and five-figures for those second-tier comedians. Meanwhile, live comedy is no longer available with COVID-19 measures in place indefinitely. Alone, each of these changes would impact a comedian’s ability to “work smart.” Together, they’ve shifted the comedy world entirely.
Some artists adapted their stand-up structure to accommodate digital sets, like a Zoom game show or a podcast. Others, like Hammer, zeroed in on their writing aspirations.
“I think sussing out where you think your market is going,” Hammer says, “it’s always the smart move.”
Working smart can be difficult to do when your upbringing set the standard for a hard work ethic, like Hammer.
“I think the biggest thing is being forgiving to yourself, because working eight hours is bullshit. No one can work eight hours productively in a day.”
“One thing that can be helpful is to know when you are most efficient and when you need … higher level concentration,” says Montreal-based psychologist, Dr. Jade-Isis Lefebvre. This tactic helps maximize productivity so you don’t have to work too hard, but instead lean on your body’s natural rhythm to guide your workflow. Dr. Lefebvre believes a key determinant for success involves “tailoring your schedule as much as possible to … when you’re at your highest performance, when you’re the most energized.”
Instead of eight hours of unproductive work a day throughout the pandemic, Hammer is doubling down on self-care, and they want everyone to engage in it, too.
“It can just be hard to remember to do good things for yourself,” Hammer says. “I think that’s the biggest weird thing about this kind of collective rut, depression, sense of self-loss, sense of world-loss.”
By going outside a bit, getting into cooking, and taking care of plants, Hammer creates space for “little ways of meditating without actually meditating” with all the extra time left over from working smart.
Dr. Lefebvre agrees. “Creative endeavours are really good for building mindfulness, for expressing yourself, for understanding yourself, and getting more insight.” She wholly endorses the practice as a viable way to manage stress through these difficult times.
But most importantly, Hammer wants to make you laugh, especially as we’re living through a global pandemic. Joking is an important way to process what’s going on personally and collectively. That said, it’s important to consider the impact of your jokes. You have to ask yourself, “Where’s this coming from and what’s your point with it?” says Hammer.
“So what’s funny about the pandemic? Literally nothing,” Hammer says. “But everything around the pandemic, what’s happening with our actions and reactions, this shift in human behaviour and our needs — that’s hilarious.”
Feature photo by Jeremy Cabrera