Published Jul 02, 2018It's time to stand up for standup comedy in Canada.
Canada's only exclusive stand-up and sketch comedy label, Comedy Records, has teamed up with Exclaim! to launch the Comedy Records Showcase, which takes place on the first Thursday of every month at Wenona Lodge (1069 Bloor St. W) in Toronto. Show times are at 9 p.m. sharp!
Our July 5 edition is a benefit — all proceeds will go to the Canadian Association of Stand-Up Comedians (CASC), featuring performances by Sandra Battaglini, Monty Scott and Frank Spadone.
"Standup comedians in Canada are seriously underrepresented," Sandra Battaglini explains. The Toronto comedy veteran explains that the CASC was formed to protect the rights of standup comedians, and to further their access to perform across borders.
"Standup comedians in Canada face what I call a circle of entrapment in Canada," she adds. "Once they've headlined a club or performed at Just for Laughs, they hit a ceiling. If they want to perform in the United States, they face a massive head tax of between $5,000-$10,000 for an 01 Visa. American comics don't need anything to cross the border. Maybe a letter, if that. Add to that the fact there's no arts funding available to standup comedians to create albums and tour, makes it a precarious living.
"As well, sometimes, when comedians pitch shows, we get the response from some [Canadian] networks that it's a great idea but go sell it in the United States because it's cheaper for us to buy American content. That statement alone says, 'We've sold off our identity.' This is incredibly troubling."
Monty Scott hails from Scarborough, but calls Toronto home and is due to release a standup album on Comedy Records soon.
"For some crazy reason, standup comedy is not considered an art by the Canadian Arts Council," Scott says, referring to one of these country's major arts funding organizations. "That means, of the $150 million the Canadian government gives [towards] art, standup comedy gets exactly nothing. They have grants for all measure of tomfoolery, yet nothing for the art that Canada takes every opportunity to brag about."
Scott believes the CASC has emerged out of necessity, but perhaps equally out of obliviousness.
"In fairness to the government, because comedians are such lone-wolf vagabond types, we never got together to ask to be included in arts and art funding. The time has come."
Frank Spadone lives in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, and will be hosting Vaughan Pizza Fest in July.
"Being more of a veteran of the scene, I've had to fend for myself," he says. "As my popularity grew, I had to take my career into my own hands, renting theatres, recording myself to make CDs or DVDs, which I sold at shows and people shared. But again, I had to do it all on my own and luckily enough having a niche market — my jokes initially had much of the ethnic flavour of growing up with Italian parents — I was able to get sponsors to help fund my projects. Our government does not allow us to apply for grants as a musician or live theatre would which would help us in this way."
Battaglini believes there's hope for comedians in Canada looking for financial and infrastructure support, because it's not exactly an unprecedented proposal.
"I would like to see standup in Canada go the road of the music industry and create a star system," she says. "A couple of decades ago, like-minded people from the music industry got together, like we are, and literally changed it. I'm inspired by that. Also we have the political will in Ottawa to help us do that."
"I would like to see the CASC convince our government to allow us to apply for grant money and allow us to work in the U.S. easier," he says. "I have been asked to work in the U.S. many times over my career and wasn't able to due to visa complications. In fact, in one instance I was approved to go to New York to record a live television taping on Nickelodeon and was denied entry because the agent would not confirm my visa approval.
"I would like to be able to work in the U.S. as easily as our neighbours are able to work in my country."
Come see these people put their foot down for standup on Thursday July 5 at the Wenona Lodge.
A ten-dollar ticket includes one pint of Steamwhistle. You can buy tickets in advance here.