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 8: Comedy Before The “Women Support Women” Movement

I recently saw a friend promoting a fellow woman’s new comedy album. I slid into her DM’s right away.

“I’m excited to check it out! How is it?”

Then she confessed she hadn’t actually listened to it. This is a pretty amazing development. Women just support each other now? You don’t ask 82 people to make sure it’s okay to ally yourself with this person? Do you mean to tell me you’ve never had a drink thrown on your back by another woman before? Things have changed.

So let’s go back in time. I started comedy in the late 90’s. The Spice Girls roared girl power! Then broke up. There were a ton of prominent women fighting with each other: Linda Tripp & Monica Lewinsky, Nancy Kerrigan & Tonya Harding, meanwhile I’m walking around town reading Amy Fisher’s “My Story.” (It was in paperback by this point, so it was cheaper. Don’t forget books are more expensive in Canada.) It seemed as though all the Blossom and Six friendships had disappeared. 

For the most part, I was lucky. A year into doing comedy, Jen Grant entered the Ottawa comedy scene. She not only looked like my sister, but to this day is still like one. Wendi Reed, Andrea Jenson- both so kind and funny as well. There were so few female comedians, we just naturally came together. Andrea had a great joke about how cigarette wrappers could also be used as Barbie police tape. The joke always worked, cuz back then only losers didn’t smoke. Wendi had a joke about how great Jaws is, cuz he eats hot skinny chicks. I always loved watching them.

But then there were other women…

Ones that seemed to have no patience for other female comics. 

Howard was always progressive, putting on all women comedy line ups. I didn’t really understand how special they were at the time, but I do now.  The shows would get promoted in local papers with a headline like:

“Chicks Ahoy!”

(True story. I have the paper somewhere.)

And most of these shows were a positive thing but there were a few…

That made me feel like a piece of shit.

I was officially “split middling” as we called it in the motherland. Me and another comic splitting the time of the middle, or “feature” as Americans call it. The headliner was amazing, having worked on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and the host was a woman from Toronto. She was confident, did well with the audiences, but made the green room an uncomfortable nightmare. My fellow split middler was new at the time, just like me, but I assure you she’s a monster in Canadian comedy today. Our host was determined to make us uncomfortable before we got on stage.

“Do you have a GUY who loves you?”

Split middle girl:

“Uhhh, my dad.”

It was a good answer, considering the host’s day job was stripping.

She introduced Margaret Smith as “Maggy Smith,” who is actually a different actress altogether, so that didn’t go over well.

I was still pretty new to getting weekend spots, but I was doing well and was feeling good about myself. But this particular weekend threw my confidence in reverse. I got intros like:

(The host on stage, with a worried face.)

“Your next comic coming to the stage…. (sucking in spit) she’s REALLY new to doing stand up, but she tries hard, and she keeps getting better and better every time she gets up here, so I think we should really make her feel like she belongs on the stage. Let’s make some noise for… Christina… Walk….in….shaw?!”

Taking the stage felt like walking through Planned Parenthood. Everybody in the room clearly thought the worst of me. I had friends in the crowd, and after the show they were pissed.

“I did NOT like the way that host brought you on to the stage. It made you sound like a Make A Wish kid.”

It did have that kind of vibe. And that’s not even the worst intro I got back then. Another female comic intro’d me with: 

“This next comic coming to the stage could teach me how to lose a pound or two… and I could teach her how to tell a joke. Please welcome to the stage, Christina Walkinshaw.”

You know, “Women Supporting Women” stuff.

At the time you just tell yourself,

“This must just be how comedians treat each other…” 

But a dirty part of you thinks,

“The male comics are so much nicer…”

(We’ll find out why later!)

I asked a few friends my age if they had any experiences like this and all two of them did.  

“I showcased for a female comic’s talk show and SHE heckled me.”

“I opened for a female comic and had an amazing set. When I came off stage she said, “This crowd must be really dumb.” A few days later I saw her again, and she said, “I broke up with that guy I was dating at the show. He kept saying how funny you were.”

In retrospect, I wonder if the surge of more women in comedy effected some female comics. Maybe it was fun to be the only chick in a boys club. But with more women on the scene, that attention you were used to being solely yours started getting divided. Maybe that annoyed you, or jilted your ego, as it might a male comic. I can admit I loved being the only girl watching Monday night RAW with a bunch of Ottawa stoners. (And just like comedy, more women got into wrestling.)

I’ve never been good at standing up to bullies, or anyone who makes me feel uncomfortable. But once in a while, somebody else stands up to that shitty person, and a smile beams across your face like an old school episode of Desperate Housewives. Like this anecdote:

I wasn’t at this particular show, but I heard about it. That host who rubbed the entire lineup the wrong way was performing back in the Toronto area. She had a bit where she threw a line to the crowd as she played guitar:

“Quick! I need a word that rhymes with fellatio!”

From the back of the room, another comic yells,

“Get off the stage-eeoo!”

That comic was Ian Sirota. Apparently she was a dick to him too. At least she didn’t discriminate. She was mean to all genders. And while I’m sure bullying a bully is not today’s #1 form of problem solving, I can tell you this story still puts a smile on my face. Sorry, but that’s just how we did things in the 90’s.

I’ve always done my best to be supportive of new comics. I never want to make them feel as uncomfortable as some people made me feel. Plus there’s a good chance most of them are gonna pass me success wise anyway. Can’t wait to ask them all for jobs.

I hope all this “women supporting women” culture is real. It could just be a trend some people post in support of, but don’t truly feel. On a dark day, I can’t help but wonder which female comics mock or even hate me… I know that’s blatant insecurity, but guess what?

I keep putting myself out there anyway. 

(I shouldn’t write a whole blog about women who were dicks to me then tag it with, “And now here’s a pic of me and Jen Grant!” She’s the best and we’ve been family since the beginning.)

Chapter 7: My First Paycheck From Comedy

There’s something about making money doing what you love that means more than the actual dollar amount. I know several comedians who gave up perfectly stable and respectable jobs to have a shot at telling jokes for forty bucks. No sense torturing yourself at a 9 to 5 job when you can torture yourself in a comedy club.

I was a year in to doing comedy when the club owner, Howard, came down to assess the new talent. I had heard a few things about him- he was picky, had zero tolerance for comics who ran the light (great news for me, as I was still barely hitting it) but he knew comedy. This was the home club of people like Mike MacDonald, Norm MacDonald and Tracey MacDonald. This place was heavy on the MacDonalds. Hopefully a Walkinshaw still had a chance.

Howard booked the weekend spots and some one nighters in glamorous places I had yet to go, like Cornwall and Carleton Place. (Not to be confused with my school Carleton University.)

At the time, I was still going to school and working part-time at CD Warehouse, slinging Britney’s first album. The day her “Hit Me Baby One More Time” single came in I told my co-workers, “This girl is gonna be a star.” (I was a little off with my S Club 7 predictions.)

These were pre-Shazam years too. Do you how many people used to come in and ask,

“Do you know that song that goes “I ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh…and I don’t go to sleeeee to dreeeee?”

Fiona Apple. 

I was living my own personal Empire Records, and I was good at it. (Minus being confrontational with shoplifters. I’d just pray they never did it again.) 

Like any comedian still working another job, I incorporated jokes about it.

“I work at CD Warehouse so you know I’m not HMV positive.”

(That reference might only work for Canadians and Europeans cuz I don’t think that store existed in the states.)

And since it’s tax season:

“Went to visit my H&R Block Parent…”

The jokes get better. I promise. And not that I want to fast forward my story, but in case I forget later, and agent in L.A. will one day tell me I should never tell the audience I have a day job. 

“You shouldn’t disillusion the audience into believing you’re not a full-time comedian.”

So lie to the crowd. Noted.

Reversely, when people came into my day job, I would NOT tell them I’m a comedian. Tom Green regularly came into CD Warehouse, but no matter how much my co-workers nudged me to say something to him, I never had the courage to spring my small boob material on him. (I’m sure he’s thankful I didn’t.)

This was also the job I got the nick name “Bubbles,” either from being bubbly, or from accidentally putting hand dish soap in the dishwasher, which flooded the staff room with bubbles. My co-worker Robin gave me the name, while I called him Fart Knocker. (FK for short, respectfully, cuz he was a manager.)

This was also the job I received my favorite compliment of my entire life. Was it technically a compliment? I’m not actually sure.

It was Christmas time, so we were busy. My co-worker Dave and I were ringing up CD’s side by side. The exact same job, only I’m enthusiast about it, he is not. Finally, he stops de-magnetizing Andrea Bocelli and says:

Christina… things seem real fun in your world…

He’s right. I can make a lot of seemingly shit days feel okay.

Why am I babbling about my part-time job in a blog that’s supposed to be about my life as a stand up comic?

Well….

  1. You should expect to have one for a while.

AND

2. I didn’t get into stand up for money. 

(You might actually enjoy it more when you’re not throttling it for rent money.)

I’ve always appreciated my part time jobs for supporting this crazy dream. 

So when Howard officially introduced himself to me, and offered me my first weekend spots, it wasn’t the forty dollars I was excited about. It was the fact I had made it past my first gate keeper. 

Plus I’ll never forget him saying this: 

“I need more women.”

Don’t worry, he said it in a professional, business manner. I’m sure out of context that could sound pervy. I know a lot club owners are notorious for booking mostly male comics, but this little Ottawa club was special. Back then Howard brought in headliners like Heidi Foss, Tracy Smith, Margaret Smith, Lisa Gay Tremblay- women who inspired me early on. 

I’ll never forget driving Margaret Smith to the airport one Sunday morning. She checked out all the bumper stickers on my Ford Festiva, noting one in particular.

“Don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful, hate me cuz I’m sleeping with your boyfriend…. Well, thank god I’m not driving.”

It’s a good thing Howard never saw all the tacky bumper stickers on my car. He might have worried about my taste in comedy and slowed down my promotions.

But I got lucky. After my two paid guest spots I was gifted a cheque for $40. Maybe he purposely didn’t pay cash on the chance we’d get sentimental, and just frame it. (Casey Corbin’s is in a photo album at his mom’s house.)

But it’s an exciting moment. 

Because the first time you get paid to do stand up is when you start to think,

“I can do this.”

(And I was right. I still sometimes make $40.)

I don’t have a catchy phrase for ending these blogs yet, like I did with my Tinder dates. (Keep Calm and Tinder On…) But I’m open to suggestions.

That being said, that’s it, folks. I like to limit these blogs to 1200 words cuz I know people don’t like to read. I was also scared this week’s entry wasn’t going to be as juicy as the upcoming ones I have plotted, but just like season 2 of The Crown, we gotta get through it.

I’ll be back next week to discuss shitty intros and the women who gave them to me.

(That’s not a typo.)

I’ve been Christina Walkinshaw,

Thank you and goodnight. 

P.S. The one shoplifter I naively believed might have coincidentally walked in the store with a purse full of CDS did return, and that time we caught her. 

(Such a bummer I don’t have old pics of me working at CD Warehouse, but back in those days we didn’t take pictures 62 times a day. But thank you FK for whipping this up!)

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.