The directors of the Improv Embassy recently sat down with Chantel Marostica, a hilarious Toronto standup who brought their touring comedy show Queer and Present Danger to Ottawa’s Yuk Yuks and taught a workshop at the Embassy on finding your unique standup voice.
The following interview has been edited for length.
Why should someone do standup?
If you wake up and you think about it, then do it. If you wake up in the morning and all you can think about is singing, then you’re meant to be a singer. And with anything you should just fucking follow your dreams, especially if you’re super vanilla and you don’t do things enough, but if you feel excluded by comedy clubs and you don’t feel like your voice is being heard when you go to a show or go to a club then you should do it because your voice is so important, and nobody can tell you what funny is, so you make your own story. With anything, like SHADE [a Toronto showcase for comedians of colour, LGBTQ+ performers and women] or Woke [a diverse comedy show in Winnipeg], Queer and Present Danger, it’s like, the audience is there. You aren’t the only person that is like you, but you’re the only person that is you, so do it and make your voice be heard and be the loudest, proudest you.
How does someone start doing comedy?
When I started, people were like, “You can’t learn comedy, you know, you can’t be taught comedy.” If you are like, ugh, how do I start, you can do what I do when I was like, “Nobody can teach me,” but there was also no classes when I started, right? Either go to an open mic and just be like, “I’m so scared!” and write what you think 5 minutes is, and go and do it, and then just grind from there and edit, edit, edit, like when you think you have 5 minutes, cut it down. When you think you have 5 minutes again, keep cutting it down until the 5 minutes is like, “This should be a special,” you know, until it’s strong and sure. Sign up for a course. If you have something like Improv Embassy at your disposal, even if you have to go to Chicago or the Second City in Toronto. Or email a comedian, if you’re a straight white guy, email a comedian that you think is accessible, or if you’re a Queer person, email a Queer person, “Can I pick your brain? I’d like to buy you a coffee.” If you don’t have the money to take a class or you’re too scared to go to an open mic, reach out to somebody cause there’s somebody who has gone the same route as you, who will be willing to give you their time, but don’t bogart it, and buy them a coffee and make sure they know that you’re appreciative.
What is the importance of shows that highlight performers from underrepresented groups?
I think everybody has an opinion about why something could be wrong, because you can, even as a Queer person, you can write your jokes and be as inclusive as possible but you’re gonna still offend somebody so the, “Oh, an all-female showcase, that’s rude against non-binary people,” or that’s this against this person, every person, it’s not for you. Every person deserves a stage, and when you’re marginalized, you don’t have that, the world was made by white men. Everything we see, everything we do, if you’re a white guy, even if you’re a cis white female, you don’t see it because you’re so used to it. Living as a trans person, I’m like “this isn’t for me.” Nothing is really for you, so you need to create space, and if people are mad about it, then they’re going to be mad about it because it’s not for them. If they’re mad about something, it’s not for you, so don’t go to it. You don’t like it, “oh, an all-female space? That means like that you’re excluding this person,” it’s not, we’re just highlighting a voice.
What advice would you give someone who has something funny but is worried about expressing themselves?
You don’t know until you try? I dunno, you’re never going to know until you do it. Honestly, if you’re like, I think I have it in me, I think that I could do comedy or express myself in that way. I started in improv then I went and I concentrated on standup, but I like character acting and sketch more but you don’t know until you try. And all you can do is just give yourself the chance. Like YOLO, WWJAD, What would Jann Arden do? Do it.