Student Life

Braving the world of stand-up comedy

After getting out of a bad relationship where she felt powerless, and dealing with health issues consisting of debilitating migraine attacks, Diana Gerasimov found herself in a very dark place. For months, she felt that there was nothing that interested or captivated her. 

One day she was scrolling through Facebook when she saw a post calling for people who wanted to try stand-up comedy. She signed up, feeling reckless and thinking that this would be a one time thing. Turns out, she was wrong.

“No one was expecting me to do this. I didn’t expect myself to do this and I didn’t really care if it turns out bad,” she said.

The process of getting ready for her first show helped change Gerasimov’s outlook. “I didn’t feel motivated by anything, as one does when their mental health is poor,” she said. “This gave me a sense of purpose that I hadn’t felt in a while.” At the end of her first show at Barfly in Montreal at the start of the year, she felt extremely proud of herself.

Gerasimov finds inspiration for her jokes in many places. For one, she was raised by her single mother who is a Russian immigrant. She was always able to make people around her laugh by imitating her mother’s accent or pointing out her superstitious ways. She built jokes around what her friends thought was funny about her cultural background.

I exploited the stereotypes against me, and now I’m reclaiming them,” she said. Gerasimov also gets inspired by her environment. “I’m a big eavesdropper, on transportation especially, and I try to build a context around whatever joke or punchline I’ve written.”

Gerasimov is a Concordia student, studying communications and cultural studies. Even though she works hard on her stand-up, she doesn’t find that it really interferes with her schooling.

“Juggling school work and stand-up feel pretty easy,” said Gerasimov. “They both compliment each other, where stand-up kind of feels like eating a greasy poutine and school is like eating a jar of pickled beets.”

Being a 22-year-old woman, there aren’t many comics like Gerasimov. Comedy is a male-dominated space and can often feel intimidating; because of this, Gerasimov didn’t expect to find such a feeling of togetherness through this craft.

“I found a sense of community and support. People are inviting you to shows and people want you to meet other comedians,” she said. But it was more than that for Gerasimov: she noticed that people are interested in specifically seeing her do stand-up. She says that most people that do stand-up are 35 years old and over, and are typically male. She loves surprising people on stage because she doesn’t look like your typical stand-up comedian.

Gerasimov explained that this surprise comes from a lack of representation. “You are constantly put in a box as a woman,” she said. “You’re either smart, pretty or funny. You can’t have it all. You can’t be multidimensional and complex. You have to be one thing.”

“During my last set, a 50-year-old guy came up to me after and was grazing my arm for four minutes,” she recounted. “This was before he gave me advice on how I should go forward with my set and telling me that my tone was too monotone. He also said he found me to be extremely hilarious.”

Her routine often includes men and sexism, although not without repercussions from the audience. When she does certain jokes, she sometimes gets bombarded by unwanted suggestions at the end of her shows.

A few times, Gerasimov has been heckled or cat-called during a performance. While this can be quite alarming, she explained it’s important to try and tie the comment into her joke somehow. If she’s doing a bit about how men are frustrating and a man yells “I love you,” she can use this to help her own joke and make her point. This helps her regain control, because problems can arise when she lets something like that destabilize her.

One of Gerasimov’s favourite times performing was at LadyFest, a female-run comedy festival in Montreal that’s been going on for five years and showcases female performers. She attended as a guest and didn’t expect to be performing, but then received a last minute opportunity.

“I think it went well because I didn’t have so much time to psych myself out, which I normally tend to do,” said Gerasimov. “I analyze a joke for so long it becomes unfunny to me.”

Sometimes Gerasimov suffers from imposter syndrome; she often questions if she is even allowed to call herself a comic.

“Men don’t have a problem calling themselves comics after a few times performing, and women constantly have to prove they are funny to an audience,” she said.

If Gerasimov could become very successful, she would do comedy as a career, but otherwise, it is a difficult thing to pursue professionally.

“It’s either you’re doing comedy and several other things to keep you afloat or you’re super successful,” she said. Gerasimov is also interested in script writing. She’s written a few episodes for a web series, and hopes to continue to develop skills that she’s learned from writing stand-up routines.

“[Comedy has] given me so much more confidence in day-to-day interactions, networking, approaching people and putting myself out there for different opportunities,” said Gerasimov.

She also explained that comedy can be terrifying because it’s so vulnerable. It’s not like a music show where it’s polite to clap whether a performer is good or bad; it all comes down to audience responses. It’s automatic, and you don’t have any control over it. You are truly at the mercy of your audience. “It almost seems pathetic to be like, ‘let me make you laugh’,” she said. “I’m basically on stage begging for people to laugh at me.”

“If you really must joke about something that might offend, be ready for the commentary,” said Gerasimov, noting that accountability in stand-up is becoming more of a priority. “But to be quite blunt, if you feel as though you have nothing to joke about because ‘everyone is so sensitive,’ then you’re just a lazy writer.” She explained that this doesn’t mean issues shouldn’t be addressed in comedy.

“There are ways to write jokes that offer a commentary on the state of the world, I think it just comes down to intention,” she said.

This past week, Gerasimov performed twice at the Diving Bell Social Club. Keep an ear out for her next show on Facebook – it might just be the study break you need right now!

Photo by Cecilia Piga


All are welcome at LadyFest’s annual comedy extravaganza

“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.

Student Life

Attending my first feminist comedy event

Belly laughs and feminism came together at Concordia’s cozy and intimate Café X on Friday, March 31 for a night of feminist stand-up comedy.

The space was beautiful, with twinkly blue lights, potted plants and comfortable couches—as an artistic person, I felt at home, surrounded by other creative and beautiful women.

I sat down with Emily Karcz before the event to talk about her experience organizing the night of comedy. She said one of the challenges in setting up such an event is social media promotion—making sure people hear about it, and that they actually show up.

Café X is entirely student-run and open to collaboration with other people, organizations and groups for special events or exhibitions. It offers an alternative space for emerging artists.

The night started with a casual ice-breaker game where volunteers were invited up to the microphones to “verbally vomit” out any words that popped into their minds. This game made for some deep stories about hair colour, heavy drugs and annoying cats. I volunteered to participate and had a lot of difficulty forming a story with random words. This made me realize how difficult it is to build a chronological plotline on the spot. I could see how this game would help creative individuals build on their vocabulary.

Two hilarious women performed interesting comedic monologues. Menstruation, awkward first dates, ways of saving money on tampons… no topic was off-limits.

“I think feminist comedy is still something that people have to understand. Everyone who will present tonight will probably have a different view on feminism,” said Karcz. “There’s a healthy way to cope with things that are going on. Women are hilarious—I have great conversations with my girlfriends. People in oppressed positions often experience a lot and they rip on that,” she added.

“Yeah, that was my first time doing comedy. I felt great, definitely a very welcoming atmosphere,” said Emily Estelle Belanger, one of the stand-up comedians.

“Everyone is super supportive, no hecklers for sure. I spent the last week making all my friends listen to it. My speech is typed up in a draft email to myself. I would love to do more of these things in the future if the opportunities were there,” said Belanger.

Comedy helps women laugh about their stressful experiences and transform hardships into something positive and bright. I am incredibly happy I went to this event because it made me feel empowered as a woman and ready to take on the world without fear. I appreciate my female friends even more now and feel so thankful for their constant love and support.


Feminist comedians take over Reggie’s

Funny women took to the stage Friday night  to talk life, love and get some laughs

Concordia students crowded into Reggie’s as the second annual Feminist Stand-Up Comedy Night kicked off on Sept. 16. Put on by the Centre for Gender Advocacy, the evening’s lineup of comedians featured some newbies as well as a few veterans. The event began with an open mic session and was followed by sets from two renowned feminist comedians, Kalyani Pandya and Ify Chiwetelu.

The packed event kicked off with local comedian Nicole, who is relatively new to the comedy circuit. Last year’s Feminist Stand-Up Comedy Night was one of her first forays into the stand-up world. Originally from Saskatchewan, she started off by welcoming everyone to group therapy, and followed up with some poignant jokes about the cost of therapy and women’s haircuts. “When I do my finances every month, I’m like okay, do I want to be a functioning member of society or do I want to look good,” she said amidst applause. “We can all tell by my hair which one I chose this month.”

Right before the headlining act, Pandya took the stage and treated everyone to her hilarious stand-up, which focused on the fact she is queer and South Asian. She kept the room laughing during her entire set with jokes about her parents and their trip back to India. However, while she impersonated her parents for the skit, she also made it clear that cultural appropriation would not be tolerated.  “Now when I say these stories, I am going to use [my parents] accents, because it is their voices and I couldn’t hear it any other way,” she said. “But it is not okay for you to go and make those accents unless you are related to them or know them.” Branded “Ottawa’s funniest dyke” by Ottawa Xtra!, Pandya was part of the CBC’s Human Library series. She has performed at various venues across Canada, including Yuk Yuk’s, the Palais des congrés, and the Vancouver Queer International Film Festival.

Following Pandya was the night’s headliner, Toronto-based comedian Ify Chiwetelu. Winner of the 2015 Bad Dog Theatre Breakout Performer award, she joked about growing up black in Calgary and modern-day dating and using Tinder. Walking back and forth across the stage, she described what it was like to use the popular hook-up app after a weird or uncomfortable interaction: “You delete the app for like an hour, then look beside you like, oh my bed’s still empty, time to re-download that shit.” Featuring jokes about boobs, boys and life with parents who had escaped a civil war in Nigeria, Chiwetelu provided a set that was also relevant to all kids who grew up in Canadian cities and loved rap music way too much.

This event was part of the Centre for Gender Advocacy’s annual fall event series, Another Word for Gender: An Intro to Feminist Organizing and Action. The fall series runs until Oct. 4. The next event, an ask-and-answer with multi-disciplinary artists Vivek Shraya and Chase Joynt, will take place on Sept. 22.

For a full schedule of the events check out the fall events series page on Facebook.

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