“Comedy is so stupid, it should be fun”: Sasha Mark on creating connections through comedy
“If you’re hard to work with, you’re not coming on my show.” We’re an hour into what has been in turns a hilarious, touching, and politically pertinent chat when Sasha Mark lays down their rule of law. “Comedy is so stupid,” they say, “it should be fun.”
Mark burst onto the Vancouver scene after selling out shows in his native Winnipeg, and they haven’t slowed down since. Having got his start on APTM’s Indigenous news commentary The Laughing Drum, Mark set up his own comedy show, Sasha Ha Ha Show, which they now host monthly at Vancouver’s China Cloud Studios. They also teach a class for Blind Tiger Comedy, and have appeared on OutTV’s Killjoy Comedy and Storyhive’s YVR Funny!
“My first goal coming here was to book 10 shows in a year,” Mark tells me. “I met that goal within one day.” And if you spend any amount of time with the Cree-Metis comedian, you can see why. Mark’s sharp wit and take-no-shit attitude is tempered by a genuine warmth and humanity: he’ll make you think and make you want to do better, all while making you laugh so hard that tears run down your face.
What Mark wants most, however, is to make a connection. “People say that laughter is medicine and I think that’s true: it allows us to connect with each other and it allows us to have some levity about life’s hardships.”
Mark almost didn’t go into comedy at all. With a background in education, their main creative outlet was playwriting—but while taking a comedy writing course that would make his plays “less sad,” Mark found their true passion. “I realized that I could write a play, work really hard and make no money, or I could write a five-minute comedy set, work not hard… and make no money.”
With a style that they describe as “flirty but mischievous,” Mark aims to “take up space” and blaze a trail. “I know the people before me had to work 10 times as hard, and I'm so grateful to them. I just wanna make it easier for the people who come next.”
Identity is a huge part of Mark’s comedy, and other comics have confronted them about this. “They’re like, ‘Oh you’re using your identity for material’ and I’m like, ‘Hey, straight white man, so are you.’” Mark points out that when comedians reference their girlfriends, golf, or work, they’re talking about their experiences. And Mark wants to talk about his, as well. “Just because I talk about a boy on Grindr, that doesn’t mean I'm shoving gay stuff down your throat. I’m just talking about my life.”
This approach has really chimed with audiences. “I had someone yesterday, at this Indigenous showcase, say that my comedy was like medicine to them. It was such an uplifting moment.”
But Mark argues that Vancouver still has a ways to go. “A lot of people have difficulties seeing themselves in comedy because representation isn’t that great.”
This has the knock-on effect of making audiences hesitant to attend shows. “They see comedy as picking on people,” Mark explains, “a place where you’re gonna sit through jokes that are sexist, racist, and transphobic. It’s scared off a lot of people.” Comedy, Mark believes, should be a way to make audiences feel good. “I don’t think that edgelord material is gonna save comedy. I think it’s honestly killing comedy.”
Representation isn’t the only issue Mark has observed in Vancouver. Moving here because he was inspired by Vancouver’s “stars of comedy,” Mark encountered “culture shock” upon discovering that they had to pay for venues out of pocket—while in Winnipeg, venues pay comedians to host events. Mark pinpoints the pandemic as intensifying this problem. “Venues either shut down or they said ‘look, we’re struggling, we need to charge for this now.’”
But Mark is on a mission to make comedy more accessible, offering “newbie slots” as part of the Sasha Ha Ha Show. They want to “dismantle the scariness of comedy”—and every comedian on Mark’s stage is always paid, regardless of experience level. “That’s important for me, to create a really good experience for audience members, comedians, and the staff. I just want to make sure people are having a good time.”
Mark has a host of ideas for what to do next, including an outdoor comedy show-meets-hot dog cookout and a comedy album with a hilariously risque title that has yet to be officially announced. (The title is spit-your-coffee-all-over-your-laptop-screen funny. Not that I’m speaking from experience, or anything.)
He might even go back to writing, so if you’re in the mood for a subversive slasher movie with biting political commentary, watch this space. “I just want an excuse to make something big and hire all my friends. That’s my biggest dream.”
The next Sasha Ha Ha Show is on March 22 at China Cloud Studios. Tickets are available here.More