Comedy comes to Old Montreal

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Jess Salomon and DeAnne Smith. Photo by Kayla Marie Hillier

DeAnne Smith. Photo by Mandee Johnson
Hometown: Upstate New York
How long have you been bringin’ the ha-ha: 8-ish years
How’d you get into the biz: “I have no other skills and I have an insatiable need for attention and approval — but I started how people start, you just go to open mics. I came to Montreal ostensibly to do a Masters in writing, and then I just deferred and started doing open mics and decided to do that instead.”
Greatest accomplishment thus far comic-ly speaking: “I think being able to live from doing comedy is a pretty big deal.”
Strange stage moment: “Well, the most recent thing that happened when I was in Ottawa — I made a woman in the front row cry actual tears, down her face. I was doing my “Die Song,” and I make eye contact with people… I make eye contact with the first woman, and sing “And you’re gonna die,” and then even before I had a chance to make eye contact with the next person — immediate tears, streaming down her face. Then I spent the rest of the four minutes of the song, singing it, but also processing everything that was happening. Just slow motion realization: oh yeah, you thought her hair looked like a wig. Oh yeah she kinda doesn’t look that healthy… I just wanted her to let me get to the end because it’s actually about love. And we are all going to die, it wasn’t just her. So that was pretty traumatic.”
Comedy Hero: “Someone that I really love is Maria Bamford, I think she’s awesome and super inspiring — I just love her comedy.”

When local comedian Jess Salomon went on the hunt to start a new comedy show, she teamed up with newcomer Brad MacDonald, with Mile End in mind. “I wanted to give back a little bit and create stage time for other people, so I decided to partner up with Brad,” says Salomon.

What she didn’t expect was to have an opportunity present itself in her own Old Montreal neighbourhood. “A friend of mine who went to Peopl to party met Jojo the DJ there, who also programs what they do. He mentioned that they wanted to do comedy and she put me in touch with him.”

This meeting of minds resulted in Salomon and MacDonald also teaming up with Jojo’s pal Freddie James to produce The Peopl’s Comedy, a monthly event highlighting some of the best comedians the city has to offer. The team is also starting a free open mic night the second Wednesday of every month, allowing the comedians who do well on that show to be offered a paid spot on The Peopl’s Comedy at the end of the month. “It’s an empire,” jokes Salomon.

This month’s headliner is local celebrity (she does have her face immortalized on the wall of Théâtre Ste-Catherine) DeAnne Smith, who happens to be a close friend of Salomon’s. I sat down with the pair to chat about friendship, the Internet and the Montreal comedy scene.

Kayla Marie Hillier: So, how did you meet?
Jess Salomon: She didn’t even want to be my friend at first.
DeAnne Smith: It’s true.
JS: It was DeAnne’s ex-girlfriend who assumed that she would want me at her goodbye party. She thought we were friends but we were just acquaintances … I was flattered so I said yeah, but I definitely thought it was a step forward. And yet, it wasn’t really DeAnne who had put me on the list, it was her girlfriend.
DS: She just thought we were friends.
JS: And that’s how we became friends.
DS: And that’s my greatest accomplishment.

KMH: How would you describe the Montreal comedy scene?
JS: I would describe it as small, supportive, but not very competitive because there’s not too much to compete for here. It feels like a good place to live as an artist, as opposed to a lot of other places because it’s less expensive — so there’s that. I feel inspired here to write comedy. When I went to L.A., I wondered how anyone can feel inspired trying to write comedy there ’cause it’s so beautiful all the time. It doesn’t seem like a real place, it seems like a vacation space. I think that there’s always a lot of new rooms starting up and the only bad thing is eventually, you kind of have to leave. There’s always a feeling of temporality.

Jess Salomon. Photo by Elias Touil
Hometown: Montreal
How long have you been bringin’ the ha-ha: 4-ish years
How’d you get into the biz: “I wasn’t loving what I was doing. I was working in law and I didn’t love law. I watched a lot of comedy and I got excited about the idea of writing a sitcom based on my workplace — which was the initial jumping-off point, which I still haven’t done. But as I was learning how to write scripts that first year I took off work, I took a stand-up comedy class and that’s where I first tried it.”
Greatest accomplishment thus far comic-ly speaking: “I’ve had many accomplishments in comedy, I guess — there’s little steps along the way that make you proud. But I feel like the time I’m the proudest is when I get back on stage after a really bad night.”
Strange stage moment: “I have people come and tell me crazy things about their lives because I talk about bisexuality, or I’m flirtatious on stage or I might seem like I wouldn’t judge anybody’s sex lives. So I have had a surprising number of guys tell me about their gay male experiences. That’s been interesting. People tend to open up about stuff.”
Comedy hero: “Paul F. Tompkins is someone who I love and Tig Notaro too and Maria Bamford is great. Kyle Kinane… I guess people who are just unbelievable storytellers.”

KMH: Has the scene changed at all since you first started?
DS: For me, for sure. There were hardly any comics when I started. There were a few really good ones, but there was like no women on the scene. It was like Heidi Foss and then me. Before that Rebecca Kohler had been in town but people just talked about her, she was like myth, I never met her. Then Eman started and then Jess and Robby [Hoffman]. There’s been a huge influx of more and more people doing comedy, which is cool. That’s one way that it’s changed — a lot more independent shows. When I started, there was just Comedyworks and Comedy Nest and that’s it, and no independent shows. So yeah, there’s a lot more stage time now than when I started, which is good.

KMH: There’s a lot of chat about people leaving Montreal to do comedy elsewhere. Do you have to leave?
JS: DeAnne is an example of someone who is largely based here but has travelled and has spent a lot of time abroad. Every year going to Australia, doing the Fringe tour, goin’ to Edinburgh — travelling is essential for stand-up, for sure. It’s good to see what other people are doing.
DS: Even if you live in New York or L.A., you’re based there — if you’re working as a stand-up, you have to travel.

KMH: There can be some stigma attached to being a lady in comedy. Is this something that’s improving?
JS: Yeah, to a certain extent, it’s improving. There’s more female comics, and there’s more well-known female comics that have had a lot of success. There’s still prejudices that exist. We get into this debate about whether or not women are funny, which shouldn’t even be a question. We’ve all had the backhanded comments like, “I don’t really like female comics, but I really like you.”
DS: There’s also this weird stereotype that’s not even true, about women talking about having their periods all the time. That’s never happened I don’t think. This year in the Homegrown competition [at Just for Laughs] it was all dudes and at least three of them had period jokes. When the first one came on, it was a good joke, okay fine. Then throughout the evening you see the second guy do it and you’re like, “Okay whatever,” then you see the third guy and you’re like “Really?! Is another dude going to tell all of us what that’s like?” If anything it’s a stereotype that guys do that kind of humour.
JS: It’s crazy, that’s absolutely true. It’s the most inaccurate stereotype. That one and that Jews are cheap. That’s not true. That makes me so angry all the time.
DS: And that the Internet is not useful.
JS: It’s so useful! Give it a shot. ■

The Peopl’s Comedy happens this Wednesday, Aug. 28 at Club Peopl (390 Notre Dame W., St-Helene entrance ), doors at 8 p.m., $10

You can also check out DeAnne Smith at the Royal Riot on Tuesday, Aug. 27 or listen to her podcast, Questionable at Best, every Thursday.

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