Smash Comedy Fest aims for inclusion

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      The old days of male-dominated comedy shows are… Well, they’re still here. Slowly but surely, though, things are getting better.

      The inaugural Smash Comedy Fest is one small step toward total inclusion. A modest three-night affair, the festival features standup, sketch, improv, and workshops featuring some of the top comedic “women/trans*/femme” and "(WT*F)" performers in the city.

      “We’re still learning and trying to be inclusive of everybody,” explains Stacey McLachlan, festival codirector and one of the 10 improvisers in the Nasty Women troupe. “We know there are performers out there who aren’t just necessarily identifying as cis women, or queer women, either. So after a lot of discussion we came up with what we thought was maybe the best terminology. It’s not perfect. I don’t think as a community or society we’ve decided what the right way to talk about gender and the ever-evolving fluidity of that as yet. We’re doing our best.”

      They decided to add an asterisk to trans to signify it’s so much more than that. “There’s transgender, transsexual, transvestite, gender-queer, gender-fluid, nonbinary, genderless, agender, nongender, third-gender, two-spirit, bigender, trans men, and trans women,” adds Racquel Belmonte, also a festival organizer and improviser with Nasty Women. “This has been a learning experience for us, learning about these different groups that aren’t us.”

      Those same Nasty Women open the weekend with a show at the Biltmore along with the standup of Julie Kim, followed by a dance party. Subsequent nights at Little Mountain Gallery will see a sketch and improv sampler, a sleepover-themed show (featuring improv inspired by games like Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle), and even comedy karaoke, with various workshops held during the day at LMG.

      Belmonte got the comedy bug in high school, but it’s only in the past five-and-a-half years that she’s gone all in. Even in that short time, she’s noticed an improvement.

      “Nothing is perfect,” she says. “I know before it was much worse, but I do think over the past five years I’ve seen more of an effort from the people within the comedy community to make it more of an inclusive space.”

      “I think something special about our festival is that it is all local performers, and we’re able to sell three days' worth of content, eight shows, with all amazing, Vancouver-specific comedians,” says McLachlan. “We have a wonderful pool of talent here. With so many shows, there are one or two women in the lineup. I think it’s cool to be able to show that you can actually fill a whole show with amazing talented women; it’s not just a token gesture.”

      She describes her experience working with women as a “joy", not taking anything away from her time on-stage with guys the rest of the year.

      “I’ve been very fortunate in my comedy career to never feel like men were getting me down or that guys were particularly awful, but it’s just a different experience sharing the stage with all women," she says. "There’s a real confidence and playfulness and comfort. It sounds so corny, but we have a really beautiful friendship up there.”

      The Smash Comedy Fest runs Thursday through Saturday (January 24 to 26) at the Biltmore Cabaret and Little Mountain Gallery.