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?)

Chapter 1: Diary “A-ha” Moment

Chapter One: Diary Aha Moment

I’ve been doing stand up comedy for 24 years and still feel like a total loser. Not sure if it’s admirable or embarrassing I’m still chasing my dreams, but the 90’s seem to be trending again, so I might as well attempt to throw my amateur comedy career in the nostalgia mix. It hurts a little knowing you could fit six Midge Maisel careers in the span of mine. Does this blog already feel depressing? Stay with me. I’m actually a positive person. Watch me turn this around.

When I still had a day job, I felt guilty calling myself a comedian- I’d say comedian/bartender. (You don’t have to do that, btw.) Now I’m back to feeling uncomfortable declaring I’m a comic, cuz like most of us, I’m barely even doing it right now. The future is a wild card, the present feels numb, but the past is sitting all pretty, waiting to be graded.

I’m sure the last year has been both introspective and retrospective for us all. Having created an act bragging about being single, you know I spent a LOT of time alone in 2020. (I moved to New York on March 1st, so you know I have impeccable timing.) But I wasn’t totally alone. I had myself, in different versions. An entire book shelf of me. I’ve written in diaries since I was eleven. I’ve dragged them all back and forth across the continent multiple times as I try figure out what fucking city I’m meant to live in. I tell myself I’m lugging them through life because obviously I’m going to write a book one day, but it could be that I just don’t want anyone to find/read them. I don’t even trust USPS with them. I FedEx’d them here. And if you’ve ever shipped a box of books, you know it ain’t cheap. (It’s also a workout carrying them up your five story walk up.) But sentimentality can’t be replaced. Plus there’s no way I would remember half my life without these diaries. I’m simply prepping for Alzheimer’s. I can’t wait to re-read the story of my life when I’m in the old folks home spreading STD’s, as I hear they do. (It’s socially acceptable after 85.)

I have a tradition I do by myself every New Year’s Day: I pull a diary off the shelf and read the entire thing. I think it’s smart to start your year reflecting- figure out how not to fuck things up this year. Having no job currently, I had time to real them all. (Sadly there was no option for me to put this on my Goodreads page.) That’s when I had my inciting incident for this blog:

Sure I can’t DO comedy right now… 

But I can tell the STORY of my comedy…

It’s something. And it’s Covid compliant. Plus, the Internet lets you put anything on here. Have you seen it’s work?

This blog is gonna be quite the ride. If stand up comedy is a game I’d say I’ve played all the levels:

Open mic-er

Feature/Middle

Hide all signs of being a comedian from family 

Host 

Move to Hollywood too early

The road 

The shows you called “The road” but really you just drove five hours for fifty bucks

Comedy competitions

“Sent” back to Canada

Headliner

Comedy festivals

TV Tapings

Blog

Optioned my own TV show

Dated comics (could be a full other book)

Gone viral

Podcast

Another podcast

Two more podcasts

Move to Hollywood too late

Vegas

Performed for the troops overseas

Cruise ship act (THE FINAL LEVEL!)

I’ve done everything except save the princess. (You know, become famous.)

Having my own personal George Bailey moment re-reading all these diaries really put things in perspective. They almost made me mad at myself. (Again, positive person, I will pull it together in the end.) 

I feel like I said “no” to all the things I should have “yes” to…

I feel like I said “yes” to all the things I should have said “no” to…

So here I am, re-reading my life from the point I was literate. How did I become a comedian? Why am I still doing it? Am I trapped in the dream of my 18-year-old self?

These blogs I’m going to release are chapters I’ve been compiling for years now. If you know me, you’ve heard me say I’m “writing a book” for at least the past five years. (Sometimes I bail on comedy shows saying I have a “deadline.” LOLOLOLOLOL.)

Somehow my work ethic for the long term has been interrupted by the instant gratification of social media. A cute pic. A funny Tik Tok. A clever tweet. You convince yourself these sort of posts are a pretty good work day, then go back to doing nothing. But then you wake up the next morning and waste hours looking at other people’s posts until you feel like that avocado you bought when it wasn’t ripe yet, waited too long to actually use, finally cut it open and now it’s rotten. I hope this blog doesn’t make anyone feel like that. If it makes you feel any better, I’m 42. It’s taken me this long to figure shit out and I’m only half way through the pile.

There was part of me that was thinking,

“Don’t do another blog…. You’ve exposed your personal life online enough…” 

But then I thought:

“I also don’t want to forget anything when I finally publish a book. Might be good for all the people from my past to add their memories and/or fix mine. I’d like to save myself from a few law suits if possible, so feel free to tell me what you think I’ll get sued for.”

So in the spirit of my Tinder Tuesdays, I’m going to post blogs every Tuesday. Even though these stories are more about comedy than sex, I promise…

There’s a LOT of over lap. 

Move over Bridget Jones. I know more Hugh Grants than you do.