Chapter 15: The Shitteth Has Hit The Fanneth

I’ve never been good at telling people I’m a comedian. It took me years- almost decades. And once I did start blasting the fact, I was annoyed cuz then someone always says,

“You’re a comedian? Tell me a joke.”

But in my younger years, I always felt like I had to say, 

“I’m a comedian/bartender.”

Cuz that was the honest truth. Humble? Maybe…

But that second job always helped me cross the border.

(Canadians know what I’m talking about.)

When the customs agent asked what I do for a living I was swift to pick the better of the two careers. 

“I work at Boston Pizza!”

Sure, “worked” would have been more accurate, since technically I was moving to Huntington Beach for a guy who convinced me I was his soulmate in a nightclub in Las Vegas, but why mention THAT? I still have a warm pay stub in my purse with OVER TIME on it because I’ll need to buy Billabong shirts once I land.

Even if they call my boss to verify I work there he probably won’t hear the phone ring. He’s still using his keys as Q-Tips to clean his ears. Every other word is always,

“WHAT?”

But luckily it didn’t come to that, so I continued into Little America, aka that part of every major Canadian airport where your passport says you’re officially in the States, even though you’re still on Canadian soil eating Tim Bits. (Donut testicles.)  

As I get on the plane, I hope I have a seat close to the TV screen. I lost my glasses sometime after I “finished” university but never replaced them because who cares? I don’t have to read chalkboards anymore. Why waste the money? But in this moment, I was really worried about how I was going to watch Cameron Diaz in The Sweetest Thing.

When I land at LAX, my first fear is,

“What if I don’t recognize him…”

Maybe I DID need new glasses.

But I got a new passport and that seemed responsible enough. I was quite confused by the fact this was the first year they DIDN’T let you smile in your photo. Weird… Isn’t dental work how they identify dead bodies? Why would they want you to hide teeth in an essential picture? They should MAKE you smile. Added security, cuz every one notices an over bite or snaggletooth. Anyway, this is just a round about way of saying I’ve looked like shit in all my passport photos every since.

As I walk into the arrivals area to look for my suitcase and now boyfriend, I’m approached by an older man.

“Hi, how are you? I’m so sorry to do this, but my bag got lost by the airline and all my travelers cheques were in there. I just need $20 to get a cab. Could you please help me?”

Seems legit. I hand over $20, even though the Canadian dollar was so tragic it cost me $1.46 to buy one American dollar, so my life savings turned into $1600 USD. Whatever. That should last for a while.

I see a guy I think could be Mr. Huntington Beach, wearing checkered Vans and a Hurley baseball cap, looking bored sitting on a bench. It’s 2002, pre-smart phones. If you didn’t bring a book to pick someone up at the airport you were staring at baggage carrousels and counting fanny packs. He looks up and gives me a nervous wave. I walk over.

“Is it you?”

(Facetime really would have helped. All these phone calls and AOL chats didn’t do anything for remembering what he looked like.)

“Yes!”

He seems a little upset I forgot what he looked like. Or he’s pissed I missed my first flight. But I sit down beside him and hug him. He warms up immediately.

“You’re just as hot as I remember.”

“You are!”

Phew. I was so scared I looked gross after traveling across the continent. Plus I’m so much paler than him. I tried going to the tanning bed a couple of times in Ottawa, but I always got scared it would break and I’d land on all the burning hot bulbs. (I think that eventually made it into a plot point of one of the Final Destination deaths.)

We cruise south on the 405 in his Ford F150, the preferred ride of surfer dudes in SoCal. He blasts punk music, appeasing me only slightly with a version “A Thousand Miles” I had never heard before. Due to my lack of knowledge in this genre of music, I assumed all songs were by Blink 182.

The exit for Beach Blvd approaches. I can’t believe I’m going to LIVE on BEACH BLVD… it all seems so surreal… (A phrase we all use at 23, eh?) We ditch the two suitcases I narrowed my life down to in his townhouse and head to Fred’s Mexican Cantina to meet his friends. 

The Huntington Beach pier looks so cool. As I hear the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash, I feel so far away from Ottawa. I can’t help but think,

How crazy is it that you can just LIVE somewhere else in the world when fate takes over…

 (By spontaneously purging your job, car, boyfriend and apartment.)

I’m a little spaced out and tired at Fred’s. I didn’t worry too much about my lack of personality since I was fighting a three hour time difference. Plus I had already met his roommate in Vegas (who I liked) and my “bf” had trash talked the other girl at the table so hard I didn’t worry too much about impressing her. (Classic 2000’s! Trash talking people you hang out with on the reg. lololol.) On the way home, he took me to the Del Taco drive-thru, because I had never had it before, and he said it was a California delicacy. 

But as I woke up the next morning, I realized there were a few loose ends I forgot to tie up before I left Canada…

Like for instance…

I forgot to tell my parents I was moving.

Oopsies. It must have slipped my mind. They live in Vancouver. I couldn’t even use them for a ride to the airport, so how were they to know?

And remember how I refused to give my family my cell phone number?

Well, Daddy Walkinshaw sure did call my sweet Glebe apartment in Ottawa. And my roommate sure was home and picked up.

“Hi, is Christina around?”

“No, she JUST moved to California, but if you talk to her can you tell her Kïrsten says HI!”

A few days later, I get an email from my cousin Debbie in Surrey. (Ya, Kristeen. I said SURREY! I know you’re excited.) The subject line reads:

THE SHITTETH HAS HIT THE FANNETH!

To be fair, the part of this conversation I was avoiding was less about moving to Orange Country and more about my issues with discussing boyfriends with my parents. A girl with my level of turnover can’t mention EVERY guy to mummy and daddy. (Using those words makes me sound posh but I assure you I was upper white trash at best.) I had to be sure a guy was lasting at least four months first before my introducing them to family.

Soooooo….

Should I wait another two months to respond to the email?

(This is me and my cousin Debbie and she will LOVE I used this pic.)

Chapter 12: A Relationship, Marijuana and 23-Year Old Female Comedian Walk Into a Bar…

I caved. I got a cell phone. It’s 2002- who knows? These things might actually become the norm. My plan includes 200 minutes Mon-Fri, and unlimited calls after 6pm and on weekends. Since I want to keep the bill down, I’m not giving my number to my boss and family. They can still believe I only have a land line. 

I’m also starting to have solid turn over in my love life- a sign you’re a true comedian! I have no patterns with dating, I just like who I like. My latest boyfriend is pretty much the opposite of the last one. He’s a bartender (so he has money) and also grows pot. His roommate didn’t want me to know, but I figured it out. I had questions, like,

“Who lives in your third bedroom and why are his lights always on?”

I was smoking a lot of pot myself, leading to many late nights of Bronson Pizza combos. Ottawa has a serious deep fried zucchini scene. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city with this as a staple on every menu in town. 

I started writing bits about my new vice. 

“I moved to Ottawa cuz I heard Parliament Hill was having a joint session.”

“I have a friend who doesn’t smoke pot, so I asked why and he said, “Cuz one time, I was smoking THE marijuana, and I was high for five days….” I’m thinking “Fuck… my dealer sucks. I have the stuff where you pass out with chicken tenders in your lap watching Ally McBeal .”

I was trying to figure out if I should call them chicken strips, tenders or fingers. Even without reading Judy Carter’s book, I was gravitating towards funny words.

The Ottawa comedy scene was really becoming a tight knit group. Rick Kaulbars wrote a movie called Hell Gig that we were all gonna be in. The whole gang- me, Ben Miner, Jon Steinberg, Jon Dore, Jen Grant, Oliver Gross, Mike Beatty, Don Kelly, Wendi Reed, Jason Laurans. Rick would direct it, and somehow the whole thing would be made in days, AND in Ottawa. I didn’t even know you could make movies in Ottawa. I tried in my last year at Carleton, but my tech skills were so bad I ended up with a cassette for my audio, and VHS for the actual movie. I had to hit play on both machines at the same time to present my project to my class.

(Me, Jen Grant and Rick Kaulbars. And I’m guessing Alexander Keith’s cuz that’s all anybody drank back then.)

Things were going pretty well. My boyfriend had finally come to one of my shows. It took a while. He had zero interest in stand up. If he wasn’t staying home to play online poker (which he told his parents was not real money,) he was busy with this foosball league. Our relationship was actually quite good, even if I did fake being Catholic in front of his family. (I took communion in their church lololol.*)

I was smoking a lot of pot. Sometimes I did my dishes so high, I’d hide all the knives afterward just in case someone broke into my apartment and didn’t bring their own. (CANADA, baby! Even high, I never worried about guns.) Meanwhile I’d pass out with my lava lamp still on and who knows what days of the week I was actually taking my Tri-Cyclen. 

I was also over thinking my relationship- BIG TIME. 

I was dating someone who had NO interest in comedy.

Was it my comedy, or comedy in general?

(Cut to me in 2021 not wanting any guy I’m interested in watching my comedy cuz I’m scared he won’t want to fuck me anymore.)

I had big dreams. But what were his dreams? Was foosball a good prospect for the future? Or growing weed? (In hindsight, it actually probably was.) It sounds cheesy to write now, but these diaries from 20 years ago pour it out. After returning from the Canada Loves New York rally at the end of 2001, I wrote this:

Here’s my little trick that will help determine whether or not you’ve found your ultimate goal in life and how I know what mine is: When you think about your passion for something and cannot fathom how anyone else in the world wouldn’t want to do the exact same thing, you have your dream.

(Remember I’m high, it’s post 9/11 and I’m 23. Don’t judge me.)

I didn’t feel like I was dating a guy with a dream. 

And it bothered me.

As much as I loved him, I decided we needed to break up. I was barely out of my old technique where I just avoided a guy until they broke up with me. This one would have to be done properly. I was really growing up.

I played Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” on repeat every night for weeks. It didn’t really help me figure out how to do it, but I did learn all the words.

I managed to get it done, but it didn’t take.

I make it sound like I was this straight forward about my reasons for breaking up to him, but in reality I probably said:

“So ya ummmm I think we should break up, but I’ll see you at work! Let’s see if we can get different shifts!”

A week later, we met at Irene’s, a classic dive pub on Bank Street in the Glebe. (Is it still there? Tell me it is!) It was such a weird location for an emotional conversation. The only goal I ever had at this bar was getting the cranky old waitress to like me. But now my barely ex was asking for clarification on our break up.

“Why…? We get along great.”

He was right. We really did. Sagittarius/Aquarius combo. Things that really meant something back then. I took a big gulp of my Keith’s and decided to spit out the corny truth.

“I have dreams… BIG ones… I don’t want to live in Ottawa forever. Don’t you have dreams…?”

And he responded with something so powerful I don’t even need my diary to remember:

“Maybe my dream is just to be in love with a great girl.”

Fuck. 

That’s a good one. 

I’m a dick. 

Instantly that line won me back.

And he added in another fun invite.

“Why don’t you come with me to my foosball tournament in Vegas? It’ll be fun.”

Oh that does sound like fun! We haven’t been anywhere other than Pembroke together. I’m IN!

Besides, what could possibly happen with a rocky relationship in Vegas…

To Be Continued…

(Because blogs don’t get red lights.)

*I finally came clean about not being Catholic. I tried to make it better by explaining my that family did go to church, we just went to a United one. (I left out the “once a year” part.) His uncle responded, “Ohhh, UNITED… just in case there’s a God…” I’ve never forgotten that. 

(Also, I fear this blog drifted between past and present tense. As a writer, I need you to know this bothers me. How did they do it in The Wonder Years?)

I’m bummed I don’t have more old shots of the Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s scene, but we didn’t live life on phones back then. Here’s one though: Jon Steinberg, Howard Wagman, Wafik Nasralla, me, Allison Dore, Tracey MacDonald, Jen Grant, Don Kelly and Pete Zedlacher even though he was from Toronto.

Also, here’s a clip from Hell Gig. I’m not even in this one, but it made me laugh my ass off.

https://www.facebook.com/kaulbars/videos/10150091150045525

*

Chapter 11: Too Soon

I’m 22 years old and three years into comedy. Cell phones are becoming more popular, and not just something only dads and cab drivers have. I am vehemently against getting one.

Hell no. The thought of people being able to get ahold of me 24/7 scares the shit out of me.

Straight from my diary, May 15th, 2001. (That’s right! I have all my diaries from this date forward here in my apartment, so I’ll be able to plagiarize my old self, and you can mock my EXACT dated thoughts!)

My supplementary job and boyfriend had changed. I quit my job at CD Warehouse shortly after the Spice Girls broke up. What was the point? Sure I bought Geri’s solo album, but “Look At Me” was the only good song. I got a job serving at Canada’s finest restaurant, Boston Pizza. (An Edmonton based chain, obvi.) After winning employee of the year at the end of 2000, I was feeling on top of the world. I took the DVD player I won and exclusively fed it Sex & the City season one DVDs.

I broke up with Marcus, but only after we did acid together. He tried to video tape the trip, but the second I started to feel it, I made him turn the camera off. To be honest, I REALLY wish I let it roll. I’d love to watch that now. That wasn’t the tipping point by any means. My break up was a solid reason:

“I just really need to focus on the sorority right now.”

My focus on comedy was building too, which was awkward having a restaurant job. Both these industries have the same busy nights of the week. But I thrived off slow days like Monday and Tuesday, cuz I could rock my friendly Canadian personality and sometimes get the full 15% tip I deserved out of the cheaper side of Ottawa. (WINNING!)

My material was coming along too. I replaced my first closer:

“Guys, if you go out later tonight, just remember, NO means NO… NO also means I’m not drunk enough, you’re not rich enough and your dick is way too small.”

(OOOOOF I am cringing writing that. I would NEVER make fun of penis size today. Those guys are great at oral. And I always date broke guys. And… well, I have a solid tolerance. I’m never drunk enough. That holds up.)

But my new and improved closer is way better:

“My best friend has a tongue ring…”

(HI, MEGHAN!)

“I think we know what they’re good for… I’m too scared to get one. I think it might hurt and make me talk funny, so I’ve just decided if a guy wants that texture in my blow job, I’ll just pop a marble in my mouth… It’ll be the best game of Hungry Hungry Hippos he’s ever played.”

The joke was a quality closer. Something I could count on even if the middle of my set wasn’t going well. And I was finally trying to write more than just stand up. I wanted to write a SCREENPLAY! Something like Reality Bites, obvi. I was incredibly optimistic about the future. I was really starting to think anything was possible.

And then…

I woke up one Tuesday morning in September. (As a diary writer, I can confirm I’m never sure of the date when I pick up the pen.) I had to work at 10:00am. I hopped in the shower around 8:45. My mom was selling AVON at the time, so she had gifted me a shower radio. I’d blast Magic 100fm, cuz even at 22, I enjoyed some Phil Collins. All of a sudden, the sultry voice of the female DJ came back on after “Against All Odds.”

“We just learned news of a devastating plane crash at the World Trade Center in New York. Our hearts go out to every one effected.” 

What happened? 

I run out of the shower, and turn on the TV. That’s when I see it.

And then I see it again…

But this time it’s the other tower.

I don’t need to explain to you what happened. 

It was the most traumatic thing I had seen on TV since The Challenger. But this was something different. You could convince yourself after the first tower got hit, it must have been an accident, but the second… 

All of a sudden every dream, goal and worry you had yesterday seems to be superfluous. 

By the time I got to work, it seemed like the whole world had fallen apart. Normally we’d have sports on our big screens, but today it’s news, and everyone is glued to it. Nobody knew what to say, how to act or even work. My boss was sticking his keys in his ears like they were Q-Tips, which he only did when something was bothering him.

We kept the TVs on CNN all day with sound. Something we had never done before. All the government buildings in the city were being locked down. Planes were being diverted up to Canada. I didn’t really think we’d get attacked too, but it was a possibility. I worked with a lot of people from Lebanon and Afghanistan who were able to explain way more about terrorist groups than I ever knew. It’s embarrassing how it takes something catastrophic to happen before you choose to learn more.

I was always a big smiler, but I couldn’t do it today. If I saw any tables laughing I’d literally get pissed off. I was on a split shift, but after watching replays of the planes crashing into the twin towers all day long, I eventually broke down. Incontrollable sobbing. I couldn’t pretend I or anything was okay. My boss sent me home. 

Yuk Yuk’s cancelled the show on Wednesday. Thank God. I couldn’t imagine trying to make people laugh at a time like this. I didn’t feel like being funny nor could I pretend I had the power to cheer people up.

But when the club did open back up, I had to go. I wasn’t on the show, but I wanted to see how professionals would deal with it. The headliner was from Toronto. Ottawa comics had an interesting take on Toronto. Some of them had tried out the city, hated it, and came back. Some found the Toronto comics arrogant.

“Let me see you Twirl” man was from Toronto, so I could understand. But surely on a week like this, they wouldn’t try to make jokes about a terrorist attack that was surely leading us to war, right?

Wrong. 

As I sat on the bar stool close to Tommy (the bartender) in case I needed another pint of Keiths for the pain, I PRAYED nobody would try to make jokes about Tuesday. It was DEFINITELY too soon. I don’t even think the phrase “Too Soon” was in my vocabulary until this particular week. The first few local comics seemed to get through their sets respectfully. The crowds were polite, but low energy, which was to be expected.

But then the Toronto guy went on stage.

And you KNOW he had to try to make a joke about it.

I was horrified. The whole crowd was uncomfortable. 

It took a certain calibre of comic to talk about 9/11. Three years in, I knew it wasn’t me. Jon Stewart did it right.

But not many people in between.

I actually really like this comic today, but that was an awkward first impression.

I had only been to New York two times at this point in my life. Most comedians dream of performing there. But after that day, I feared it might never happen.

But guess what?

Dreams do come true.

I finally moved here…

March 1st, 2020.

P.S. Pretty sure learning of 9/11 in the shower has scarred me out of proper hygiene to this day.

P.P.S. If you watched Sex & the City back then, that first season the towers weren’t in the beginning anymore was a sad reminder.

P.P.P.S. I know this is a LOT of P.S.’s, but that first pic is of me and my sorority sister/friend Natasha when we drove to NYC for a “Canada Loves New York” Rally. Didn’t want to say that in the beginning, cuz I didn’t want spoilers. Was it obvious I was writing about 9/11? You can tell me…

Chapter 9: What Are You Wearing?

I was starting to get more comfortable hanging out at Yuk Yuk’s. The wait staff finally knew my name (they probably warmed up to me after I stopped standing in their way,) and I was enjoying singing my newly written Britney parody song in the greenroom.

(To the tune of “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”)

I’m not an amateur…

Not yet a headliner…

All I neeeeeeed is time,

Twenty minutes that is mine,

While I’m in between…

I was also figuring out some idiosyncrasies of the people in the crowd. Like why was I doing so well on some nights, but falling flat on others? I was starting to really look at the crowd, as opposed to staring into the abyss of the glaring lights.

I’d see a lot of people on dates. As mentioned last week, I started comedy before the “women support women” movement, and some nights you could also feel that from the audience.

Comedy clubs are a great date night spot. The more I got on stage, the more I made eye contact with my fellow gender from the wooden pedestal people who tell dick jokes get to stand on. Jawbreaker was currently in theatre, and while seeing a bunch of women in a movie was palatable, comedy clubs were a different game. There’s an accessibility with stand up comics that’s more intimate than other forms of entertainment. We’re actual human beings. We’re so close. We might even talk to you.

I noticed women gripping the legs of their boyfriends under the table, seemingly not happy their man was staring up at another woman. It was a weird energy since most of my jokes were for women, by a woman. Even though I heard crap like,

“All female comics do is talk about their periods.”

I was unscathed. I was quite sure my period jokes were funny. Classic hits like:

“My sister actually refers to her period as “blow job season…” NOBODY lends her chapstick.”

(Honestly that was about me, I just said it was my sister.)  

But still, it seemed like some chicks in the crowd just hated me. While having drinks after a show at D’Arcy McGee’s (a local haunt for comics around the corner from the club,) I vented about how I felt. Tracey MacDonald straight up gave me a clue.

“That’s cuz you wear see-thru tops on stage.”

What? No I don’t. I was so confused. I wasn’t tonight… but then I re-thought some of my wardrobe…

Yes, I would often dress for the bar. Sometimes I’d have to go straight from Yuk Yuk’s to On Tap. (I was out-growing Olivers.) Maybe this is why I have a collection of big purses. I’m always packing a wardrobe that will appease everyone I see in a day. 

But then I figured out what she mean by “see-thru” tops. There was a particular style of shirt that was popular back then. It was a full collared blouse, buttons down the front, (that I kept done up!) but it was mesh from the ribs down. Does anyone remember this? I swear I scoured the internet looking for a pic, but couldn’t find one. I hopped into a few vintage shops in my hood this week- they knew what I was talking about, but they are not left to be found on the racks. It seems as though my late 90’s/early 2000’s styles are NOT making a comeback.

But she was on to something. These women in the crowd were not appreciating my Le Chateau stylings. Even worse, the shirts from Stitches and Dynamite. I swear from the waist down I was all Silver jeans and chunky Steve Madden heels. I needed the Silver jeans specifically for my denim dick bit.

“Ladies, do you ever sit down in a pair of jeans and get one of these… the Denim Dick?”

(Me sitting on the stool, while my jeans gave me a boner. I had the opposite of camel toe.)

“Pops up every time like a foreplay airbag… So you start trying to push it back in, but that just makes you look weirder. And what’s worse, I’m looking around the room right now thinking, “OH NO… Mine’s bigger than his…”

(Nikki Payne still calls me Denim Dick to this day. I love it.)

Between Tracey calling out my partially mesh tops, and suffering intense insomnia over the way women in the crowd were perceiving me, I knew the wardrobe needed a re-vamp. It was about this time my style as a comedian drastically changed. I started dressing down- wearing sneakers, hoodies and always put my hair in a ponytail. To this day, I still feel more comfortable performing this way.

I don’t want people to just look at me…

I want them to listen to me. 

I wish I had that epiphany before this one particular weekend.

I was finally getting road work. It always felt weird saying “the road” as a Canadian comic, because all I ever really did was drive a few hours to do a weekend of shows then drove back. I maybe went three days without seeing my apartment. It was swift, and sometimes we didn’t even get hotels, we just drove back and forth every night. (Maybe we were actually more “road comics” than Americans and their fancy Southwest flights.)

I was doing an all women’s weekend in Kingston, Ontario. Kingston is a cute, super fun university town. I even had a friend living there who I had a huge crush on. Luckily he came to the smokin’ good Thursday show, cuz something weird happened on the Friday night. 

What I didn’t know at the time, is the late show Friday can suck.

(Like the blouse, I just scoured the internet looking for a quote I’m pretty sure is from Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up.” It came out much later in my comedy career, but in the book he says something like, “I’ll do comedy anytime, any place, any city- but I hate the late show Friday.” Please fix this quote if you know it.)

Being new to road gigs, I was enjoying the little things. I loved staying in hotels. I’d take the pen from each room as a souvenir. This particular hotel was attached to a Lone Star Cafe. I was so excited, cuz they had the best fajitas. Something about their flour tortillas that were better than everywhere else. Since I didn’t have the chance to eat there Thursday, Friday I was definitely feasting. 

Probably not the best idea. I’m sure the whole front row thought I smelt like mesquite. 

There was four of us on the show. The host did an unusually long amount of time off the top. (My recollection is 45 minutes, but honestly, I don’t have diaries pre- 2001 here in NYC, so I could be wrong.) Then me, my fellow split middle Wendi, and the headliner. 

Compared to the Thursday show that was fire, this one was a bit of a dud. I figured Saturday would bounce back. 

But…

The next day we got a call from the club owner. I was sharing a room with Wendi, and we were informed together that they got SO many people phoning and complaining over last night’s show that tonight they were bringing in Jim McNally. We would all still perform, just with less time, then Jim would headline.

They were bringing in a man to headline the last night of an all women’s weekend.

And guess what else?

He would be staying in OUR hotel room, so me and Wendi would have to share a bed.

(I’m laughing my ass off as I write this cuz my iTunes is on shuffle and a Natalie Norman track just popped up. The newer generation of female comics would not stand for this.)

Me and Wendi weren’t exactly the fighting type. I think we gave the situation a full blown…

“Oh well…”

The Saturday night show was a blast from start to finish. Since the “male comic” went last, I know the show as it was supposed to be, would have been a success if given the chance.

For the record, Jim was a gentleman. He felt just as uncomfortable being in our room as we did. I think part of me felt guilty he even got the call. As we all tried to fall asleep, Jim made jokes from his bed, and me and Wendi laughed from ours. A classic comedian slumber party, incited by a weak comedy club owner. 

There was no social media to start a riot when something didn’t go your way. Not that I would have posted about it back then anyway. It was embarrassing. It was better no one had to know. You could just go back to the city you live in, and pretend like everything went great.

Complaining probably wouldn’t have got you anywhere anyway.

All you could do was keep going.

Chapter 6: The First Comedian I Ever Dated

When you first start comedy a woman who’s either another comic or a form of God will come up to you and say, 

“Don’t date the comics.”

But just like that paperwork you signed when you got hired at McDonalds that says you are not to engage in personal relationships with fellow staff, you immediately ignore it and blow the Crew Chief. 

To be honest, when comedians first started flirting with me, I thought they were just kidding. I laughed everything off. I was still processing how comics interact with each other. There were only a few flirty ones, but I usually showed up in my clothes all ready for Olivers, my on campus bar that was very popular on Wednesday nights. I had to make my outfit both appropriate for the comedy stage and for dancing on a speaker later. 

There was this one comic… well, I didn’t actually know he was a comedian at first. Like I’ve already mentioned before, stage time in Ottawa in the late 90’s wasn’t exactly ample. Neither was finding it on TV. Internet was still dial up, no Netflix or YouTube. Even Bob Hope was starting to to slow with his specials, and my dad calling me with his Jack Benny jokes wasn’t exactly cutting it. So if you wanted to immerse yourself in stand up, you really had to come to Yuk Yuk’s.

He was always casually sitting in the area where the comics sat, seemed to know everyone, yet I had never seen him perform. I thought maybe he was a groupy. He’d come sit next to me, be friendly, strike up a chat. Our conversations were always great but I found it quite distracting the way he would eat every ice cube at the bottom of his glass once his drink was done. It was a lot of crunching sounds, and I was worried about his teeth. 

Then one Wednesday I came down for my spot and he was on the show. Ohhhhhh so he is a comedian! I didn’t let him in on my assumption he was a groupy. That wouldn’t have gone over so well since I already knew he was a Leo. (Hey, I get the information I want. Don’t judge me.)

I was nervous watching him that first time. I liked him, and wanted him to do well. Is this how Lesley felt, but in a less sexual way? (Or same sexual way. You can tell me, Lesley.)

I’m not one of these people who tells the younger generation not to date the comics. There are lots of comedian couples who are going strong. Julia Hladkowicz and Matt O’Brien, Jen Grant and Julien Dionne, Bonnie McFarlane and Rich Vos. What I would say though, is don’t fuck a comic before you see his act. That’s a level of shame much higher than your average one night stand, cuz now your creative integrity has been compromised. 

But his jokes were goooooooood. 

My parents have friends staying with us right now from the U.K. and they don’t seem to be grasping the enormity of our country. I asked them what they were planning on doing today and they said, “Well, Marcus, we’ve renting bicycles and we’re going to Calgary.” (Beat.) Might want to pack a lunch.

And his bit impersonating the fifth Beatle.

I left the Beatles in 1962 to form a a samba band. I regret nothing. You gonna finish those chips?

Oh and this one that I think was ahead of it’s time:

I recently saw Ice-T in concert… He was talking to the crowd between songs, “You know when you’re driving in your car, listening to your music loud, so the cops pull you over for no reason and you wanna shoot him in his mother fucking face?!” (Making a stunned face.) It’s just a bunch of Ottawa teenagers trying to get drunk looking at each other worried…. “No! You should move!”

He also did a Sean Connery impression but I’m gonna glaze over that. As it turns out, he placed third in the search for Canada’s Funniest Person competition. Def not a groupy. And obviously….

Now that I knew he was funny, I was intrigued.

But what should two comedians do on their first date? I didn’t want to come in with a weak idea, so I suggested Cosmic, the annual rave the architecture students at my school put on. They’d turn four full levels of our student union building into something that resembled a Montreal nightclub. (I really did go to university in a different time, eh?) I mean what could go wrong, doing your first hit of ecstasy on your first date with a comedian? 

We didn’t actually go together. We got tickets separately and met up in line with mutual friends. I wore a Le Chateau shimmery blue tank top with a black stripe across the front, with what can only be described today as yoga pants. (Back then me and my other BFF Stinder called them hoochy mama pants.) My BFF, Meghan rocked a visor similar to the one I wear currently when I play tennis.

I was very nervous about trying this drug- ANY drug, really. I hadn’t even tried marijuana yet. At the time, I was so young I didn’t even know if you put a case of Corona in the freezer to make it colder faster, you’d come home to an exploded case of Corona in the freezer. (I dedicate that memory to Meghan as well.) I knew if I did this pill, I wasn’t touching alcohol though. One thing at a time. 

Each room at Cosmic had different DJ’s and themes. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a better event. Paul Shaffer even once ranked it as one of the best parties in Canada. 

I had my one hit of E and a glow stick ready to go. To be honest, I didn’t think the drug was gonna work on me. I thought maybe they were just placebos people had to fit in on a dance floor. (Psych minor.) I was already shocked by how good the Ottawa comedy scene was, but my faith in our nation’s capital drug scene was non-existent. But an hour and a half in to swallowing that little pill….

I started to feel it. 

Most people were dancing, but I found a spongey room where you could just sit on a bouncy neon floor and listen to music. Being told the hit was “pure MDMA” I was apparently having more of a “mashy” time. I just wanted to bond with people.

Marcus made me feel very comfortable. It was weird seeing my worlds collide. This guy from my dream world of becoming a stand up comic, and the reality of being in school doing what I was supposed to do in life. Get a degree. Get a job. Get married. Have kids… all futures I had zero visions of. I was really opening up to him. I’ve always been a naturally positive person, but there’s a ton of depression lurking in this industry, not that I knew it at the time.

Full disclosure, I’m no role model in this chapter. I loved my first time on this drug. I felt a blissful feeling of just being alive. A feeling I literally used to have as a kid, where I could just space out and feel how magical it is to just exist. Marcus had an interest in LSD psychotherapy, and was more knowledgable about drugs than me. I was peaking. 

Our first date wasn’t a night of two comics roasting each other.

We were just two comics trying to feel happy together. 

Was Marcus the only comedian I would date in my life time?

Oh, no baby. I was just opening Pandora’s Box.

Marcus is a yoga instructor now. Here’s us in 2015 after he tried to murder me with his “class.” Check out his book “Shamanic Graffiti: 100,000 Years of Drugs, 100 Years of Prohibition.”

Chapter 5: Revenge of the Nerves

If you’ve made it this far, I want to thank you. I have a feeling a lot of people just like the pictures on Instagram, but don’t actually open this blog. I had no idea I’m seeking a niche audience… readers.

I already need to print a retraction. I should mention that here in New York, I only have diaries from 2001 and on, so these memories of the late 90’s are a little foggy. After last week’s post, re: my first time on stage, Lesley politely fixed things in the comments:

I remember this slightly different. You called me at work and begged me to allow you to pick me up. Which made no sense as it was out of your way and I would be quicker on the bus. But you insisted, when you got to my work you busted in the doors already saying your jokes and you were nervous which was very unlike you, as you never really got nervous. This totally threw me off. In the car you were asking me if the jokes were funny and I thought oh f&>% this is a lose lose situation for me. If I say i think they are funny but no one else laughs that is going to be a nightmare. I was so nervous I am not sure I even heard all the jokes but at every pause a loud laugh came outta me, as funny or not I was going to laugh. But you rocked it! I kept going to your shows, hoping the anxiety would go away, but nope. And it didn’t matter if it was in Huntington Beach, a bowling alley in Hollywood, or over zoom… I’m still anxious.

Isn’t it funny how comedians down play our nerves? 

Sure I threw in one tiny line saying I wanted to “shit my pants,” but that doesn’t really describe the anxiety and fear I literally still get today when I go on stage. And it’s not just the performance that makes me nervous. It’s everything:

-Looking for a parking spot close to the club

-Praying that spot is free

-Hoping the door girl doesn’t charge me cover even though I’m on the show

-Wanting the other comics on the show to like me- both on stage and off (Later in my career I’ll discover some people get away with being just one or the other.)

-Will I remember all my jokes? (I never took a set list on stage. This was the only club in town. Must. Look. Professional.)

-Will people laugh?

-Where is this red light again?

-Pray there will be no parking ticket when I return to my car

A full blown night of worries, for your entertainment.

It’s also interesting that what scares the shit out of you as a new comic, will be the fucking best as a seasoned one.

For instance, a sold out crowd.

Which brings me to my second night on stage. This was the one that would decide my future. The first night, I brought half the crowd. Who knows if I was actually good. I’m not your typical female comic. I have no daddy issues, my family and friends are supportive- if those people laugh it doesn’t count. I needed anonymity and the approval of strangers to decipher if I belong. (Little did I know in 1997, social media was on it’s way with a guillotine to torture me.)

When I walked into the club, I was stunned. I was at least a half hour early for the show and it was already packed. You wouldn’t think that Ottawa was comedy Mecca, but it really did have a good reputation. I assumed the club wasn’t as packed last time because it was “smoke-free Wednesday,” and only losers don’t smoke.

I was already struggling trying to figure out where I should chill before my set, but tonight was even more awkward. Even the nook where the comics usually hung out was full of patrons. Stacey, the nice door girl, informed me that since the green room was too small for all of us, the comics would be hanging in the back area where you take the elevator up to the hotel. 

I enter the area. It’s a combination of comedians either in the middle of hysterical conversations and/or looking at set lists. I recognize a few comics from last time, and they recognize me. Everybody is so nice. There was something very special about the comedy scene in Ottawa back then. Most of us had other jobs, or in my case, a student, so we didn’t rely on comedy as income. We relied on it to escape our regular lives. A place to be creative, silly and relaxed. It wasn’t LA, New York or even Toronto, but it was loaded with talent. 

While obsessing over my set list, another woman walks in the room. She immediately looks at me, shocked.

(Yes, up until this moment, I was the only girl in the room. I already told you it was 1997 so I didn’t think I had to point that out.)

I recognized the girl from the show I came to that I wasn’t on. She’s funny for sure, but we hadn’t technically met yet. She looks at me, and finally breaks the ice.

“Are you one of the comedian’s girlfriends?”

I awkwardly laughed.

“Oh, no, I’m a comedian. I mean, I’m going on tonight. It’s only my second time.”

It seemed a little premature to call myself a comedian quite yet. But I couldn’t help looking around the room to guess who this girl thinks I would be dating…

I had to remind myself it’s not about what happens in the green room that matters. It’s about connecting with the audience.

Just focus on your jokes.

I was on third. With the club being sold out, and full of total strangers, my nerves were insane. I was taking some of the deepest breaths of all time, and this was pre-yoga, at least from what I knew of the world. Thank god I was too young to be into blue cheese or IPA’s, otherwise my anxiety would have been coming out of my butt. I feel more in my gut than heart, no matter what the issue is.

I was still trying to figure out if comedians could do the same jokes a second time, so just in case, I wrote new jokes:

They just put WARNING LABELS on cigarettes… a little rude… My favourite is the one that says, “Smoking may cause impotence.” Ya, that’s why we smoke after sex...

Some guy came up to me in a club and tried selling me drugs. I was like, “dude, no thank you…” Cuz it’s cheaper when they just slip it in your drink… I’m on a budget… I need to stop going to RJ’s Boom Boom Saloon, eh?

I still do that joke once in a while, minus the local Ottawa reference. That bar has probably changed names nine times since I wrote it. 

I’m a smiler by nature, but I tried to control my smiles to the beginning and end of my set. I liked a dead pan style of joke telling. Was that my true persona? Probably not. I was a positive, perky blonde girl, who just happened to love writing, but my journalism program didn’t exactly offer a spot for all these random thoughts in my head. (Like one assignment, where we had to write about any club on campus, and I wrote about the club sandwiches.)

But taking all my pervy writing and blurting it out on the stage of a comedy club in a city I barely knew anyone in?

Invigorating.

When I got off stage on this particular night, I knew for sure.

I can do this. 

For me, getting on stage is like going to the gym. It feels daunting in the beginning, but afterwards you feel like a million bucks.

While I don’t want to skip ahead in this story of my comedy life, (I haven’t even got to the real drama yet) I do want to share a swift anecdote on this topic of nerves. 

In 2013, I played the Yuk Yuk’s New Year’s Eve show at Massey Hall. It’s a gig that us Canadian comics always want to “get.” (The word “get” is triggering after 23 years in comedy.) The theatre is gorgeous, historic, and not to brag, but I’ve also seen Conan O’Brien and Cindi Lauper there. (Separately.) I was very honoured to get the spot on the show. I showered, and wore a sparkly vest, cuz dresses on stage for me were still weird for me back then. But no matter how prepared I thought I was…

I was still shitting my pants.

I was so nervous.

How can this be what I want, but also come with so much fear?

All the other comics on the show seemed so confident and celebratory. I was worried my heart was gonna drop into my liver, which I would need later. I decided to find a stairwell to pace in. 

I was physically loitering between level four and five of Massey Hall when Jeremy Hotz, who was hosting the show, spotted me. He was using the stairwell as a smoke pit, which was actually quite rebellious in 2013. But he did tap into the fact I was privately freaking out.

“Buddy, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know… (heavy breathing) I’m just really fucking nervous.”

He looks at me dead in the eyes, and says, 

“If you’re good… that doesn’t go away.”

Chapter 4: I’ll Be The Best Three Minutes of Your Life

My only goal was to get on that stage. To get up against that brick wall in a basement on Albert Street, mere blocks from Capital Hill. I was in the right neighborhood to do political material, but I decided to stick to what I know- having small boobs and a recent loss of virginity. (Must have been one creepy set list to find in the greenroom.)

At the time, Yuk Yuk’s was the only place to do stand up in the city. There was no where else to run a set before my first time at the major club. I couldn’t binge watch the pros because the only thing I had access to were social psychology ITV tapes at school, and I was already 33 hours behind on those. (To be fair, they WERE loaded with “the difference between men and women” material, just in a much dryer form.)

There was no where to practice but the mirror. And in the car on the way to the gig, with my high school BFF Lesley. She moved to Ottawa from Vancouver after visiting and falling for one of my best guy friends. (My wingman skills are unparalleled.) I drove out to the west end to pick her up from her job at Rogers Video so she wouldn’t miss the show. In hindsight, I realize I could have asked her to comp me a rental of Raw or Delirious. Ooops. Typical me, having a good idea 23 years too late. Instead, I would just use my experience playing Pepper in my junior high school’s production of Annie as guidance for stage presence. 

Lesley was more nervous than I was. From the second she got in my car she was freaking out.

“OH MY GOD! Tell me all your jokes now! You gotta practice!”

I was hoping we’d rock out to “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States, like high school. But if she wanted the jokes, I’d tell her. Couldn’t hurt. 

“People said university would open so many doors for me… They just didn’t tell me they’d be bedroom doors.”

Lesley bursts out laughing.  

“I think soap opera characters are doing way too much acid… Nobody has that many flashbacks on their own.”

(A little something I wrote in honour of The Young & The Restless, re: last blog.) 

She laughs even harder, choking on her cigarette. (Don’t worry, she rolled down the window, like a classy 90’s smoker.) I was killing in the car, but this is my friend laughing. Of course she’s supportive. Who knows what will happen on stage. 

This was pre-social media, but the news I was doing stand up traveled rather virally anyway. I don’t think as many people showed up to my Zoom show last night, and they didn’t even have to leave the house. I had a ton of friends and frosh from Carleton that wrangled a cab in a foot of snow to be there. When I walked in the show room, I felt more like I was hosting a party than a performer. I recognized half the room. This was Ottawa in 1997. Getting into stand up comedy wasn’t exactly your average life choice.

Everyone was excited. 

I was shitting my pants.

(Don’t worry, I didn’t actually. This was before I liked blue cheese.)

I noticed the club was a little different than last time.

Oh yeah, that’s cuz the last Wednesday of every month is “smoke-free.”

I remembered.

I hope these losers who don’t smoke are at least good laughers.

I didn’t know where to sit. Of course my friends were like, 

“Sit with me!”

It seemed a little weird to go from a table in the audience to the stage though. The girl at the door, Stacey, had pointed out the table where all the comics hung out, but I also didn’t feel like I belonged there. I’m not a comedian yet

I ended up standing in a spot against the bar that was the worst possible place for anybody trying to sling drinks that night. This was before I had any experience working in a bar, and I would officially like to say sorry for camping there. 

I was doing five minutes and on seventh. I had no idea back then if going early or late was good, but I did like that I was following Don Kelly. He was one of the comics I saw the night I came to just watch the show, and he was hilarious. I figured I could ride his wave if nothing else. (Cut to me in LA, years later, where people oddly feel secure following somebody who bombs.)

The host was killing, but also leaking beer from his pint glass. As I nervously waited to go on, he intros me with a classic: 

“Ohhh it’s her FIRST TIME!!! She’s POPPING HER CHERRY! WOWOWOWOOW!” 

He fucks up my name, but that’s happened so many times in my life they’ve all blurred together. I think Air Canada takes the cake for printing Christina Wankinshaw on a boarding pass. 

I know it’s a hack line now, but at the time I was very proud of what I did when I grabbed the mic. Looking over at the host as he stumbled off the stage, I said:

“I remember my first beer too…

(That was my inner Pepper for sure.)

The cheers of so many friends relaxed me. What that meant for the future was unclear. I couldn’t stack the crowd every night. Would actual strangers like me too? (I could see Lesley laughing VERY loudly, just in case.) 

I have no pictures of my first time on stage. It’s strange cuz I distinctively remember the blare of flashes while I was up there. Cameras weren’t exactly inconspicuous back then. Plus a lot of my friends had those Fun Savers where you could literally hear them wind the film after every shot. 

The jokes went well. Since I knew there were so many Carleton students in the crowd, I knew it would be easy to take some shots at my own school.

“I go to Carleton…. (applause.) It’s the 42nd best school in Canada. Let’s give it up for the U of K.” 

Even though I was instructed to look for the red light when my time was up, I couldn’t seem to find it. When I got off stage, the manager greeted me in the greenroom.

“Oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t see the red light.”

“That’s cuz it never went on.”

I break out into one of my big cheesy smiles that you might recognize if you know me. I couldn’t help it. What a compliment! They didn’t want me to get off stage!

“You only did three minutes.”

Oops. To be fair, my style in the beginning was more “set up, punch line, tag.* Was I in trouble? I start to panic. The manager interjects.

“It’s fine. It’s better to leave them wanting more. In general, you want to start strong, and end strong. If you can evenly distribute good jokes in the middle, hopefully you can connect the dots until the whole set is a straight line of solid material. You did good. You should definitely call in for more spots next month.”

Shit. Now I have to write another three minutes of material.

I mean FIVE. 

You can’t tell the same jokes a second time, can you?

I had sooooooo much to learn as a comedian.

And at this point, I had barely even interacted with any…

Get ready.

(I’m from the generation of comedians whose first head shots are black and white)

*My earlier material didn’t actually have tags.

Chapter 3: I’m Telling You For the First Time

Some time between my last day of university and my first time smoking pot, Jerry Seinfeld came out with a special called “I’m Telling You For the Last Time.” It was his way of putting to bed a bunch of material he didn’t want to do anymore. (Garry Shandling stealing jokes out of the coffin in the opening sequence is still my fave.) I owned it on VHS, and it was my go to after raves when I was coming down off ecstasy. It was the only thing I could think of to stabilize my serotonin before discovering the 5-HTP trick. 

I wouldn’t say I’ve “retired” any jokes, but I have dropped the flushing babies down the toilet bit. (For now.) Don’t want to get cancelled before I get accepted. 

But the one thing I am tired of reciting is the answer to the ever asked question,

“So, what made you want to get into stand up?”

It’s a fair question, I’ve just answered it a LOT. So here we go: 

I’m telling you for the last time, about my first time.

I didn’t always want to be a comedian. My original dream was to write for The Young & the Restless. I’m not sure how old I was when I started watching soap operas, but I do know I was young enough to still be forced to drink milk. My passion for the genre grew. I started passing on YM and Tiger Beat and buying Soap Opera Digest instead. Eventually I saw a trend- there were no story lines with characters my age, and that’s what these shows needed. At the wise age of 13, I didn’t think it was realistic to get my dream job right out of the gate, so I figured it would be easier to get hired at All My Children first. I hand wrote a letter and pitched myself to the legendary soap producer Agnes Nixon. I figured I could get the experience on her show to then get hired on Y&R. I never heard back.

But I wasn’t letting my new Judy Jetson diary with a lock on it go to waste. Just because I wasn’t ready to write about people coming back from the dead, didn’t mean my career was over. In fact, my first joke I ever wrote was at age 11:

When cows laugh, does the milk come out their nose?

It seemed to be something a lot of kids could relate to. As I got old enough to stay up past midnight, I started to randomly catch the occasional stand up set on TV. It was so rare to see it back then. There was no Netflix, YouTube or Internet rabbit holes to seek out this form of comedy. It wasn’t until one fateful night babysitting, when a single dad didn’t make it home until 3:00am that I finally saw the woman who made me think,

“I wanna do that.”

That comedian was Wendy Liebman. If you don’t know her, look her up. She’s incredibly funny, and you can clearly see her style has inspired a ton of comics. 

CUT TO: 1997

Believe it or not, I was a good student in high school. Excellent at math and English. I never skipped class, was on student council, counter attack driving and driving squad, had parts in all the plays and musicals (but only roles I could scream songs, not actually sing.) I don’t know when my academics slid away from me, but I’m pretty sure it coincided with my first sip of peach schnapps and the loss of my virginity. 

(Did I quote both Sheryl Crow and Heathers in my yearbook? Yup.)

I was 17 when I moved across the country to attend Carleton University in Ottawa. It was frosh week of my second year when got the calling to do stand up. I was a facilitator for new students. This was a week best known for the day we all go to Quebec for drunk waterslide day. (Can you believe they don’t do that anymore?)

I was in Olivers on a Wednesday night. That was the night, on campus. I think every college has one. I remember exactly where I was standing when the seed for my current career was planted. I was talking to fellow facilitator, Spicoli. We all had nick names. Mine was 90210 (Thank you Peter Bobak. I think you manifested my future.) 

There was enough distance from the dance floor that Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” didn’t drown out the most powerful advice of my life. I guess I was killing it in the conversation, cuz Spicoli said, 

“You’re funny. You should go down to Yuk Yuk’s and do stand up. They have new talent night on Wednesdays.”  

My grades were starting to plummet. I thought it might be time to start looking into a back up plan. Stand up comedy sounded perfect. 

I called the club the next day. They had a clever phone number where the last four digits spelled “LAFF.” A nice girl named Stacey answered.

“Oh hi. Ummm… I was just curious… how do you get on your Wednesday new talent night?”

That’s right, they didn’t call it “AMATEUR NIGHT.” It was “New Talent” night. So Canadian, eh? 

“Well, we invite you down to watch a Wednesday night show, and after you see it, if you feel like you want to try it, you’ll call here on the first Tuesday of the month with avails. Then each comic usually gets two Wednesdays.”

Back then, not only were there very few comedians in Ottawa, but Yuk Yuk’s was basically the only place to do comedy. There weren’t all the bar and open mic nights you see today.

She put me on the guest list for the upcoming show. I decided to make it a date night with the guy I was seeing. My friends called him “The Polkaroo” cuz they never met him. 

I picked up the Polkaroo in my 1988 Nissan Micra I named “The Giant Tiger.” I was still 18, and though I had fake ID, I didn’t want to use it at the comedy club. I wanted to stay consistent and have the same name that night as I would on stage. I decided going in, I would assess my decision to try stand up like this:

I don’t expect to be the BEST starting out… I also don’t want to be the WORST… But if I think I could be the SECOND TO WORSE, I’ll do it. 

One above dead last. Shoot for the stars, kids. 

The show was amazing. So many great comics that are still doing it today, like my comedic hero Don Kelly, plus some I can’t believe aren’t doing it anymore, like Rob Cowley. His giant cheque bit was my fave. 

So the first Tuesday of November, 1997, I called the LAFF number. I put my name down for the last Wednesday of the month. 

And a week before my 19th birthday, I tried stand up for the first time.

That’s how I got into stand up.

Next week, I’ll let you know how it went. 

(Classic cliffhanger. Something I learned from watching soaps.)

Sadly, I don’t remember Spicoli’s real name. But if you know who I’m talking about, tell him I found some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine. 

(And thank you.)

(Me, Lesley Brown and Peter Bergman who played Jack Abbott on The Young & the Restless when he came to sign autographs at Landsdowne mall in Richmond. Maybe 1993?)