It’s a golden, almost unheard-of opportunity for Canadian comedians: showcases at Just for Laughs in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, as well as a small sum of $25,000.
After months of auditions across the country, 18 semifinalists have been named in SiriusXM’s search for Canada’s top comic. To advance to the next round—the final showcase will take place at JFL Toronto on September 29th—semifinalists are putting their fates in the hands of the voting public. Family, friends, and fans can watch the sets online and vote for their favourite once a day until August 18.
Vancouver comedy fans will recognize familiar faces Simon King, Jane Stanton, Kyle Bottom, Mayce Galoni, Gavin Matts, Kathleen McGee, and Jacob Samuel on the ballot. The Georgia Straight caught up with a few of these local talents to talk about their love for the craft, their campaign plans, and what the top spot means to them.
Jane Stanton started doing standup in Vancouver in the days of the Urban Well, when Robin Williams was known to give unannounced performances at the now-closed Kitsilano pub.
In fact, Stanton remembers being bumped from the lineup for her first paid gig because Williams showed up at the last minute.
“It was a really big deal for me, and I got there and the comic that ran it was like, ‘You’re not doing the show,’” Stanton says. “I was like, 'Oh, I get it.'”
She didn’t realize Williams was right behind her, and the two ended up chatting for hours about their shared love of comedy and scuba diving.
“I couldn’t really dwell on me not being on the show,” she recalls.
In the years since then, Stanton has become a Vancouver favourite in her own right. She describes her style as “I’m best friends with you, having a good time telling a story.” She’s been voted winner of Vancouver’s Funniest Female competition in 2006, and recently performed in the Western Canada tour of the award-winning Rape Is Real & Everywhere show. This past June, she opened for SNL’s Michael Che at the Vogue Theatre.
“I’ve gone to the Vogue for shows, so it was just amazing,” says Stanton.
Stanton is excited about the exposure and career mobility the Top Comic competition offers. Like most comedians on the list, Stanton works a day job—as a self-described “lunch lady” at a tech company. Her dream of touring the U.S. and Canada isn't an easy one to achieve, considering Vancouver’s high cost of living.
“You know, most people can’t really afford to be gone three months from a job,” says Stanton. “You come back and it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t have that job anymore.’”
For the moment, she’s fine-tuning new material and focusing on her social-media campaign—trying to reel in votes without overwhelming people with reminders.
“If you do it five times a day people will delete you from their feed, maybe even delete you as a friend on Facebook, and as an actual friend,” says Stanton. “I want to push it and I’m going to. I also want to make the finals and win some money, but yeah, fine line.”
As for what she would do with the prize money, Stanton declares “it’s already spent.”
“Pay off money, as in credit cards. Get paperwork done for a visa. Would I give any money to like, puppies or something? I love animals. So not that much, but just some. I was thinking, like, $50.”
Gavin Matts remembers the very date he decided to start performing standup. It was March 1, 2014. He was 19 when he stumbled upon an open mike in the basement of Goldie’s Pizza with some friends.
“I didn’t you know could do standup,” Matts recalls. “I just watched them do it and started going to all those open mikes and I haven’t stopped doing it since.”
The now 23-year-old performer, originally from New Westminster, has since worked his way into the Vancouver comedy scene. He does sets around the city almost every night, as well as performing in Seattle and L.A. His monthly show, Barely Legal, which he hosts with former roommate and 2016 Top Comic finalist Sophie Buddle, is one of the most popular underground shows in the city, showcasing local favourites and big names alike, including drop-ins from Iliza Shlesinger and Fortune Feimster.
He’s one of the youngest of Vancouver’s semifinalists—along with Mayce Galoni—and he felt it when he heard his name called after his audition.
“I had my backpack on, I was just ready to leave,” Matts remembers. “In the picture they took I looked so stupid. I just look like I’m going to high school.”
Matts has a dream of appearing on Conan, and becoming a regular at the Comedy Store in L.A. But he’s also had memorable experiences in Vancouver—like just a few weeks ago, when he and Buddle did a live taping of Barely Legal at the Slice of Life Gallery.
“We were pretty worried about it, but we had like 100 people at the taping and it went really well,” Matts says. “So that was a really cool moment for us to have, for a special show to have that many people come out and support us.”
As a young performer who completed a screenwriting degree at the Vancouver Film School, Matts gives a typical answer as to what he’d do with the prize money: “That’d be really great to get rid of student loans that I have”.
But he’d also put it toward a visa so he can work more in the U.S. While he’s only a few years in to his comedy career, Matts is confident that he’s hooked for life.
“I’m kind of all in now, I don’t think I’m going to not be doing standup at any point in my life,” says Matts. “I try not to take it too seriously, because if someone’s standing there with a microphone making jokes, I don’t think it’s a very serious job. But there’s something about it that’s real and amazing.”
Jacob Samuel grew up in Toronto, but calls himself a “very Vancouver comedian”.
“I’m used to a Vancouver audience, which tends to be a bit more detached. Whereas people in Toronto get very riled up if you yell at them. Like, they like that,” says Samuel. “I think there’s an attitude thing where people in Vancouver don’t want to see anyone trying hard.”
If there’s some truth to that, it hasn’t affected Samuel’s success in the local scene—and in other parts of the country. On top of being named a Top Comic semifinalist, the Vancouver-based comedian recently made his first appearance on CBC’s The Debaters. He’s also released his second book of cartoons, Slinky Hell, which sold out its first run.
“How’s it different from the first one? Well, it’s better,” Samuel declares. “It’s a more mature work.”
Samuel also recorded his first TV taping a few months ago at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. It was his first experience on a fully produced show, complete with a wardrobe department and a theatre as a venue.
But when asked about his favourite memories of standup, Samuel recalls experiences that posed a challenge—when he had to follow Brett Butt for his first paid weekend gig (“It was very hard”), or when he did a comedy-club performance during the Festival of Light with only 20 people in the audience.
“Some of those can be the most enjoyable to do because it’s the most ridiculous when it’s mostly empty,” says Samuel. “It’s very special to do a show like that and be like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t a disaster.’”
Samuel is being realistic about his expectations of the competition. He’s more excited about the exposure and festival opportunities than the cash, and he’s currently putting his creative efforts toward his social-media campaign.
“I might tape some Skype conversations with my dad. He’d an old Jewish guy, so the comedy just flows,” says Samuel. “I may do some things with other comedians, some things with other people in the competition. There might be some shade thrown, there might be some fake news planted, who knows.”
He doesn’t know what’s next after the Top Comic competition, but Samuel doesn't miss a beat when naming his biggest career aspiration.
“I want to meet the Muppets. That’s my dream. To do something with the Muppets… Then you can just shoot me in the head.”
More information on SiriusXM's Search for the Top Comic can be found here. Voting closes August 18.