Comics unafraid of rockets and big ideas
Erica Sigurdson's explosive comedy dates in Afghanistan steeled her for the dangers of standup. Mark Mushet photos
To say Erica Sigurdson is one of the country's top female comics does her a disservice. Her work stands with anything on any stage across the dominion.
And chances are, she's performed on that stage herself. Seven years into her chosen profession, the 32-year-old has played every province and all but the Northwest Territories. A winter 2004 gig in Alert, Nunavut, the northernmost permanently peopled place on the planet, wasn't even her most dangerous one, despite travelling in full Arctic gear in case the plane went down.
Her most unnerving moment came playing Kandahar, Afghanistan, last December, when the show was interrupted by rocket attack–twice. After the first one, the crew spent half an hour in the bunker and then resumed the show, at which point missiles struck again. Sigurdson was next to go on-stage and wasn't sure how she'd handle it.
"I was very concerned that I wasn't going to be able to let it go, that I would be distracted when I was on-stage," she recalled at a Broadway coffee shop. "But as soon as I got on-stage I forgot about it."
She's philosophical about her travails. "Comics die on the road sometimes," she says, using the metaphorical sense of the verb before switching to the literal. "I'd rather die in Afghanistan than on my way to Moose Jaw."
If this were her last year, it would be a helluva bang to go out on. Let's see: she and fellow standup Peter Kelamis took home a best-screenwriting Leo award at the Geminis; she taped a half-hour special for CTV's Comedy Now!; she's become a regular on CBC Radio's The Debaters series (in fact, she'll be doing a live episode of the show Wednesday and next Thursday (September 19 and 20) at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, as part of the Global ComedyFest, before heading on to Yuk Yuk's to do her own sets from October 4 to 6); she performed at the first St. John's Comedy Festival in Newfoundland; in the fall, she'll be travelling to the first P.E.I. comedy fest; and she's the only western comic nominated for best female standup for the 2007 Canadian Comedy Awards. "So why do I only have $42 in my savings account?" Sigurdson wonders.
The exaggeration notwithstanding, it ain't easy striking it rich in Canadian show business, so many of our best head south. But Sigurdson is happy where she is. "I don't have a great interest to go to the States," she says. "I don't think it would be a wise move for me personally to have worked these past seven years to a point where I've done every festival and I'm getting more and more well known within the networks, to then say, 'I'm going to start right down at the very bottom in a population that's 100 times bigger than ours.' Not saying that I don't have the talent, because I do, but it's just not the route that I'm choosing."
The chosen route is getting her plenty of work and recognition. It's only a matter of time before fame and fortune follows.
"Sure, one day I want to be able to buy things, like a condo or a car, and have enough money to go out for dinner without wondering if I have enough money," she says. "But I really love what I'm doing. The thought of even going back and working a regular job now kills me. It keeps me going."
Charlie Demers (top) and Paul Bae turn verbal play into sketch gold as Bucket. Mark Mushet photos.
On their own, Charlie Demers and Paul Bae know how to get a laugh. The standup comics work all the rooms in town and, in the case of Bae, across the country. But together, they are a bucketful of funny.
Since forming in January last year, Bucket, their two-man sketch troupe, has exceeded what they accomplished as individuals.
"I've been doing standup for three years, and I've got maybe 40 minutes of material that I'm happy with," says Demers, the weighty white half of the self-proclaimed biracial, bisize-al duo. "We had been together for six months and had two-and-a-half hours of material that we were very happy with."
The pair bridges the divide between sketch and standup, which means at times they're almost a refreshing throwback to the heyday of the two-man comedy team. "Other sketch troupes have commented that they could tell we're standups doing sketch," says Bae, the straight man of the two. "We don't move around. We're very verbal. It's all in the words."
Some of their material is culled from jokes that failed in their solo careers, but what doesn't always work in standup turns into sketch gold for these guys. "Part of the economy of standup in this country is selling drinks. That's just the capitalism of it," says Demers, who is also a political activist and writer. "But in sketch, it's a theatregoing crowd, not a bargoing crowd. There's all kinds of psychological elements."
Formed a week before their first showcase, Bucket performed a 50-minute show at Sketchfest Vancouver just one month later. From there, they've twice been invited to Sketchingham in Bellingham and are currently developing a series for CBC Radio called Thinking Weekly, a news-magazine format described as "Harper's meets Mad magazine". (You can check out their latest material at two Global ComedyFest performances, September 18 and 22 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.)
It's an apt description because Bucket is a perfect blend of high and low comedy, equally unafraid of esoteric references and base gags. In the process, they create some of the most original, intelligent, and hilarious scenes you'll find anywhere. For example, in one sketch, a character consults a physician after having unprotected sex with an existentialist; his testicles are rolling pointlessly from leg to leg. The diagnosis: he's suffering from Sisyphus.
And then there are the hetero weightlifters who discover that ejaculate is a good protein supplement and use it for everything from tanning to Spackle to rodent extermination.
"To me, that's funny because it's actually some pretty complex ideas about masculinity and homophobia and homoeroticism and fascist body ideals," Demers says. "But the way it gets expressed is two guys eating sperm."