New TV series Killjoy Comedy punches up

Six diverse comedians poke fun at the status quo for OUTtvGO.

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      Close your eyes and picture the platonic ideal of a standup comic. Probably on stage at Yuk Yuk’s or something. Vancouver filmmaker Shana Myara suspects your go-to might be “a white guy on stage with a plaid shirt, or maybe a suit and tie.” 

      Comedy is a notoriously insular industry. It’s hard to break into, and the systems in power that long rewarded a certain kind of straight white dude are slow to change. But there’s always been great comedians who fall outside of one narrow range of experiences. And with her new series, Killjoy Comedy, Myara gives some of Canada’s most exciting new comics a platform to make more people laugh. 

      “We get to hear from folks who have maybe historically been the butt of the jokes, and suddenly they're the ones holding the mic and telling the jokes,” Myara tells the Straight over Zoom.

      Myara’s debut documentary feature, Well Rounded, challenged fatphobic assumptions about body size. It featured multi-hyphenate actor-comedian-broadcaster Candy Palmater, who “stole the documentary” with her humour and warmth, and inspired Myara to focus on marginalized comedians for her next project.

      “Candy Palmater really struck me because a comedian’s ability to synthesize and sort of skewer a ridiculous opinion is so persuasive,” Myara says. A good joke has “the sharp edge of a poet’s precision,” and the same ability to cut through someone’s thoughts. 

      After Palmater died suddenly in late 2021, Myara says she spent a long time looking for a cast that resonated: “I cast the show pretty carefully to try and find people who are funny as her, people who have the same sort of effect as her. [Palmater] always said she used comedy like a rubber sword: she wouldn’t draw blood, but she would make her point. So all of these comedians have the ability to do that in their own different ways.”

      Instead of a single film, Killjoy Comedy is a six-part series on OUTtvGO. Each half-hour episode follows a different comedian, interspersing standup footage with more personal conversations and goofing around. Each episode feels unique, as you get to know and parasocially bond with a different funny person from Rain City.  

      For actress, standup comedian and improv performer Ashlee Ferral, being on stage means being in charge. She tells me the story of her first-ever standup set.  

      “Some guy cat-called me immediately and was like ‘Yeah, hot stuff!’ and the improv brain took over. I went, ‘Oh, come on, Dad!’ The whole audience just lost it and then the rest of my set was so good,” she says over Zoom, laughing. “I like being heckled immediately, because then my sets always kill.”

      As her stage name may suggest, Ferral loves to be a little wild. She understands what Myara describes as “the seditious thing: if you make someone laugh, you can bring them over to your point of view.”   

      “When you start to talk about a situation, and it’s not someone else’s experience, of course their first reaction is doubt right? Which is really frustrating when it's like, well, you couldn't have this experience because we're different demographics or whatever, right?” Ferral says. “But when you set something up as a joke, people aren't defensive about it.” 

      Also, she adds, “it’s really hard to get mad at somebody when they’re making you laugh.” 

      In contrast to Ferral, comedian and poet Tin Lorica was a bundle of nerves for their first standup set and performed the whole thing sitting down. “Officially, my first standup set was about five years ago now,” they say. “And I say official because I was actually standing up for it.” 

      Lorica came up through queer comedy spaces, with their early material being rooted in their experience as “a non-binary, queer Filipino person.” As they moved into more mainstream rooms, their comedy evolved to find a way to bring more people into understanding their jokes. “In a way, I feel like it's been kind of translating it to people who might not be a queer audience,” they say.

      The show’s name had a special significance to Lorica, too. 

      “In Filipino slang, it’s like a colloquialism to call someone a KJ. We just use the acronym for killjoy when someone’s ruining our fun, and I definitely remember growing up being called this by my mom,” Lorica says. “I find it very satisfying to kill the joy of someone who laughs at shitty jokes.

      “That badge is like a badge of honour to me now.”  

      Killjoy Comedy releases on OUTtvGO on February 14. Ashlee Ferral performs weekly at Tightrope Theatre. Tin Lorica co-hosts Millennial Line and MSG Comedy and will perform at Just For Laughs Vancouver.