Fall arts preview: Comedian Katie-Ellen Humphries opens up

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Trying to get Katie-Ellen Humphries to talk about herself is challenging. The 29-year-old standup comic’s natural inclination is to deflect. She quickly diminishes her credits and starts off on any other topic, be it amateur athletics or a recent Star Trek–themed wedding she attended. It takes a bit of work, but she’ll eventually open up.

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That’s off-stage. On-stage, Humphries is beginning to talk more about Humphries. On her terms. “I’ve only just started doing stuff that I would consider quite personal,” she said at a Main Street coffee shop. “I find it the most exciting.”

By choosing what she reveals, she has some control, unlike with a reporter’s probing questions. When she talks about her sex life, or lack thereof, in front of an audience, she’s got some distance. It’s the old show biz-axiom: tragedy plus time equals comedy: “When I was a super-old virgin, I didn’t tell anybody,” she says. “That was my big secret. Now it’s hilarious to me.”

Lots is hilarious to her now, but that wasn’t always the case. After moving here from Victoria in 2007 with the express intent of doing standup, she found herself spending her days lying on the floor staring at her ceiling.

“I didn’t go to shows. I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t even have cable,” she recalls of her first year on the mainland. “I was spending a lot of time alone and I wasn’t very active, which I’d always been.”

It took the former competitive swimmer a long time to figure out she was depressed. “It’s not an easy town to move into,” she says. “People aren’t superfriendly and I’m not outgoing.”

When she finally got herself up and out to watch comedy, she found herself at a show run by John Beuhler, where all the acts were professionals, rather than a pro-am open-mike night, which might have been less daunting. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, comedy in this town is for real! They’re not messing around. These people have all been on TV.’ ”

But Humphries finally climbed onto that big-city horse. “People would give me stage time and I tried my best not to make people hate comedy,” she says. She has since played the Bumbershoot festival twice, Portland’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and her hometown’s Blue Bridge Comedy Festival. And on the day of our chat, she signed with the Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club chain. There’s no more feeling out of place.

“I feel comfortable enough with the idea that I am someone doing comedy in this city and that it’s generally established by people that I admire that I’m not terrible at it,” she says.

No more days spent motionless on the ground.

“I feel super grateful for everything all the time,” she says now, before letting some of that patented Humphries self-deprecation seep in. “The only negative thought is, because I always feel so grateful, I’m like, ‘Hmm, I wonder if I have a brain tumour. Maybe the brain tumour is giving me this euphoria all the time.’ ”

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