Kate Berlant Comedy Bar, Toronto ON, July 26
Published Jul 27, 2015Kate Berlant is a witch.
These aren't my words. This is how opener John Early describes his "favourite comedian" as he introduces her to the stage, ("Thanks everyone for coming out tonight to see a witch. That's so progressive of you.")
Actually, let's start with John — he was great. High emotion and high energy, John Early did a fantastic job setting things up for Kate Berlant's set at Comedy Bar, as the final show in their JFL42 in July preview shows. Favourite jokes include having his mom trying to let him know it was okay to be gay ("I mean, I used to have dreams about horses…"), or how he's so sick of people romanticizing New York's grit and grime ("Sorry, I can't hear you because your copy of Just Kids is right in front of your face."). He also does amazing characters, including Toni Collette and larvae, so SNL, where are you?
And then there was Kate, the witch. These still aren't my words. This is how Kate described herself at one point in her set, and there definitely is something magical about her. Taking the stage, Kate let the audience know very quickly ("I didn't expect to get into this so soon…") that she recently found out that she was psychic. What followed was some of the best crowd work I have maybe ever seen. Berlant bounded around the stage in her platform shoes ("You people paid money to see a hard-shoe-show!"), jumping so quickly through psychic readings of audience members that she claimed to have hurt her neck on multiple occasions.
Comedy shows always have that tension between hope and scepticism. Everyone wants the people on stage to be funny and successful, but we don't want to give up our laughs too easily — we want it to be real, we want to be won over. By adding the layer of the spiritual to her set, though, Berlant brilliantly heightens these tensions to a whole new plane.
Now, not only do we hope that Berlant is funny and successful, but we also kind of hope that she is sensing our dead grandma's energies ("She worked with her hands, didn't she?"). And it's also great to see her roll with the breaks and the flubs, like when a vacuum started up outside of Comedy Bar's Cabaret Space ("I've been a 'Comic to Watch' for 15 years."), or when she can't quite locate the source of her psychic readings ("Is there a Kyle over here? A Kai? A K?… Is anybody over here having a Kyle situation?").
In between readings, Berlant kept the audience spellbound with abstract non-sequiturs about materialism, industrialism, feminism, and her detest of map culture. Somehow there is a connection between our history as a loom-based society, and in how you existed in one of your mother's eggs the moment that she was born. As she said, "I want to explain this to you in a way that makes you go 'Oh!'" After last night's set, I've never felt so enlightened.