With COVID-19 in our midst, we’re living in some intense, uncertain, life-altering times right now—and, frankly, we could probably all use a good laugh. Here’s a little smile: a throwback to my first stand-up performance with Dawn Whitwell’s Comedy Girl Level One class at Comedy Bar in Toronto. With thanks to my sis Colleen McKim for shooting/editing.
Wash your hands, practise social distancing, stay home if you’re sick, and keep up-to-date from medical officials and reputable news sources. And be kind to each other. We’re in this together—and we’ll get through this together. xo
Combining storytelling, improv and performance art, McGee gets us from the get go. Dressed in a bright orange vintage dress and wearing a bleach blonde wig, she’s a woman on a mission. She’s invited us to the theatre to celebrate her man’s birthday—and be his first major standup audience. Checking in with stage manager Robin (Munro), and making the rounds to ensure that everyone’s had their shot of vodka, she’s a flurry of super planning activity. And as we sit waiting in the dark for his arrival, she explains what will happen and we get ourselves ready to welcome him.
He’s running late, so the lights come up and we get some history. Her ever alert ear on the door, pricked by any possible sound of entry, she tells us how this engineer/amateur comic caught her attention. He made her laugh. And she really needed that. She finds it difficult to commit and—navigating emotional highs and lows on medication—we hear about how she made herself fit into the relationship so she could keep it.
Of course, things went astray. When he finally does arrive (the ex-boyfriend is played by a different actor each night), things don’t go exactly as planned—and even fantasy can betray. But there’s mini-cupcakes.
McGee is a powerhouse of storytelling and entertainment, connecting with us in this immersive space. Conveying focus that shifts from razor sharp to scattered, a fragile psyche, and an endless capacity to feel hope and despair, she gives a quirky, genuine performance that is both entertaining and poignant. Touching on issues of relationships, mental health and obsession, I’m Doing This For You highlights the difference between needing and wanting a romantic partnership, and how we can be really attracted to something about someone even when we’re not that into them. And the crazy things we all do to maintain or avoid intimacy, and the regrets and after thoughts that go through our minds when it’s over. This woman is a super kooky, fun gal who’s seriously derailed herself—and we really come to care about her during this 65-minute journey.
With shouts to lighting/set/props designer Shannon Lea Doyle for the trippy performance art set, full of white and transparent balloons. Combined with McGee’s retro costume, the design is a flashback to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (for those of us old enough to remember that sketch comedy show).
Big surprise romantic gestures, coming together and falling apart in the endearing, fragile, funny I’m Doing This For You.
I’m Doing This For You continues in the Michael Young Theatre in the Young Centre till this Saturday (May 6); this show is for adults aged 19+ (proof of age required) and booking in advance is strongly recommended. Get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.
Written and performed by Cullen and Johnson, who also collaborated on the lyrics, with music by Johnson, Stupidhead! is a part musical, part stand-up, part personal storytelling journey of Cullen’s experience living with dyslexia.
Stupidhead! is Cullen’s childhood dream of being in a musical come true. And, despite her lack of training, experience and self-reported ability, she was determined to make it happen; and recruited her good friend Johnson to help her write the music. Johnson joins her onstage, accompanying her on piano and back-up vocals—reacting to Cullen’s performance throughout, sometimes cracking up along with the audience.
Pointing out that dyslexia affects people differently, Cullen has no trouble with reading and writing—and as a child enjoyed escaping into writing poetry, and stories about the adventures of a silly koala and rabbit. Diagnosed at a young age, Cullen relates her struggles with math, organizational skills and directions, finding herself mentally lost at school and physically lost in her own neighbourhood—and, above all, labelled. And that label put her in the position of having to deal with ignorance and lack of compassion from others, making her sense of otherness feel even more isolating and humiliating, and becoming a part of her identity.
Her anecdotes about trying to fit in are both hilarious and moving—from her grade three poetry contest nemesis (now a CFL football player), to being lost on her own street, to two weeks in a puppet camp in Vermont as a young adult and her love of Jesus Christ Superstar—all delivered with genuine feeling and gusto. While it’s a show about the “glamour of failure,” it’s also a show about throwing off the chains of shame and isolation. In the end, Cullen avoids tying it up neatly, but emerges from the darker moments of her experience into a place of hope and determination.
Cullen shines onstage. An engaging, genuine and charming performer, she’s gutsy and kick-ass, but also vulnerable and fragile. As she schools us on dyslexia, she gives us the straight goods about what it’s like to live inside her head. And she gives ‘er with the music, putting her all into performing the songs, from belted out numbers to gentle, heartfelt ballads. She and Johnson make a terrific duo. Johnson is pretty damn funny herself; and there’s a lovely tender moment of compassion and understanding between them that rings with friendship and love. And their anthem of “don’t give up!” brought tears to my eyes.
With big shouts to set designer Anahita Dehbonehie and lighting designer Jennifer Lennon for the cool and beautiful neurosciencey environment.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sing along in your heart with the brilliant, hilarious and deeply poignant Stupidhead!
Set within the framework of an evening at a comedy club, Stolfi becomes a one-man line-up, playing the whole cast of characters, including himself. The awkward, uncomfortable host Mark Tipps tells bad jokes (all written by Manuel, who he keeps hidden in the back) and it’s a relief when he finally gets the guest performers onstage: an Italian comic with an intimidating wise guy edge; a fumbling razzle dazzle gesturing magician; a delightful classical clown music act; and a gay spoken word storyteller of few words and big, loaded facial expressions. In between acts, Stolfi (as himself) paces in the green room, trying to keep his overwhelming anxiety and the threat of explosive diarrhea in check as he tries to get his comic mojo back. He’s up last and hates his material – and is desperately grasping for the now elusive funny.
It is in these moments where the true magic happens. In the midst of all the self-doubt and self-torture, Stolfi finds himself back at the place where it all began: as a six-year-old in the schoolyard playground. This is when someone told him he was good at something. And this is where the first joke happened. And it wasn’t about himself or the glory of performing – it was for his audience. This is when he got the comic calling.
Stolfi shifts adeptly between sharply drawn characters, each one representing a facet of the entertainment industry in all its light, dark and seedy glory. The result is a funny, moving and extremely engaging and entertaining performance.
A hilarious and touching stand-up origin story in Finding Funny.
So 2014 is my official year of doing scary shit. And, by “scary shit,” I mean stuff that’s anxiety-inducing to me personally – so you may not find these activities scary at all.
I’ve managed to accomplish one of my nerve-wracking goals: posting the photo shoot I did recently in the Alumnae Theatre studio space – where I dressed in period drag – working with photographer Lisa MacIntosh and makeup artist Rebecca Kupferstein, who are both awesome. My nerves were not so much about the shoot itself – though I felt like I had the right amount of nervous excitement – but more about posting it on the blog and making the pictures public, as I tend to shy away from putting myself out there on the blog. After all, the main purpose of the blog is to shout out local indie and emerging artists and arts/culture events. But, since I’d already decided to post more short fiction and creative non-fiction anyway, I thought it would be fun to show another side of myself.
The current scary thing is Comedy Girl, a beginner’s stand-up comedy class for women with Dawn Whitwell at Comedy Bar, which started on April 17. Next to improv, stand-up always seemed like one of the scariest performing gigs out there – and it’s something I’ve been thinking about trying for a while. So, I thought, what the hell? Two classes in, I’m having a blast. It’s still a bit scary – but I’m working with a group of amazing, funny women and it’s a very supportive atmosphere. We’ve still got our training wheels on, and Dawn is jogging along beside us as we bring in our ideas and work them into bits. All working towards coming up with a short set and performing at a class show.
Next up: I’ll be doing the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower. This is also something I’ve wanted to do for a while – so much so, I put it out there to my family as a birthday gift possibility. My sibs got me a gift certificate for a walk at my 50th (yes, I’m 50) last year. I originally planned to do the walk last fall, but got sidelined by my cranky knees and a physiotherapy schedule. I’m aiming to schedule this in May/June – will keep all y’all posted.
Are you doing anything scary on purpose this year?
A fabulous, fun time was had by all at WonderFest 2014 and I was so glad to join in the festivities at the concert last night, closing off a day of learning, collaborating and positive interaction at Revival Bar. And after a full day of workshops (A Capella Jam with Niki Andre and a Synergy Session with Madette), the gang was engergized and ready to go.
LMG Productions organizers Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan hosted an amazing line-up of talent (aka Wonder Women & Super Men) from a variety of arts disciplines, including music, spoken word, stand-up comedy and visual arts. Visual artists included paintings – which were featured onstage – by Dorothy Knight, Rohan Moore and Stephanie Payne, and face painting by Lisa Diane.
The stellar roster of concert performers, in order of appearance, included: