It was hard to believe my Ford Festiva was surviving Ontario winters, but it was. As a broke 21 year old girl, I believed oil changes were a luxury, possibly even a myth. I was more focused on the price of gas. My dad used to tell me to go to Chevron, but considering he was on the other side of the country and I didn’t have his gas card anymore (Reality Bites style*) he’d never know. He also approved of Petro-Canada but I still filled up at Mr. Gas.
As a young comic, having a car made you very workable. You’d be surprised how many comedians in Ontario don’t have cars. Sure mine probably classified as a golf cart, but the lightening bolt on the door and the saggy muffler made it quite recognizable if you were waiting for me to pick you up.
And speaking of my dad, I had a new opener that was going quite well.
“My dad just confessed to going to the strip club… he was very honest about it, “Christina, just so you know, I didn’t like it, I’d rather use my imagination and I’m not going back. I just went there to sell a car.” I was like, “Wow…. Thank god I wasn’t working that night. Mom must have been in the champagne room.”
I soon came to hate that joke, cuz obvi the punchline wasn’t true. The premise was though. I wanted my material to be honest. But it kept working, so I kept doing it.
Especially since I needed the time for all the road work I was getting. Me and my comedian bff Jen Grant were booked to play Barrie, Ontario. Our careers were finally starting to take off.
We had a strong young road comic game plan. We’d drive four and a half hours to Toronto, stay on Jen’s friend’s pull out couch in High Park, then drive an hour to Barrie every night. (We had no friends north of Bloor Street at the time.) Since the Barrie club was just Thursday-Saturday, we got spots on the Wednesday night show at Yuk Yuk’s at Yonge and Eglinton. There was an all women’s show sponsored by a fruity lube, something that actually would have been more practical for an all-male show in hindsight.
The Toronto comedy scene was stacked with strong female comics. They had four… maybe five. Very progressive. Kristeen Von Hagen, Laurie Elliot, Martha Chaves, and headlining was Jessica Holmes. Being in Toronto felt kind of big time. My stomach starts to get in knots as Blitzkrieg Bop plays.
There was one table in the corner you couldn’t sit at, cuz that was reserved for the owner. But there was one beside it, where comics would sit. Since it was an all female line up, I guess the male comics who showed up were just browsing. A guy who I’d seen on CBC’s “Comics” sat next to me. He smelled quite “earthy” but was very cool and friendly. I told him my favourite joke of his to confirm it was him.
“You have that joke that goes, “I’m a depressed narcissist… Basically what that means is I wake up every morning and think “What’s the point?” Then I look in the mirror and go “Oh yahhhh….”
Hahaha! Still makes me laugh as I write it. That comic is obviously the amazing Alan Park. Being in Toronto was exciting. It’s one of those cities that everyone else in the country hates. And thus, I’m attracted to it.
The show was amazing. I met the owner who I got invited into the office with. He told me I should move to Toronto. I said “Totally!” This seemed like the place to be. Then I asked him where exactly Barrie was.
The next night, we drove up the 400 to our glamorous franchise Yuk Yuks. Downtown Barrie is actually quite cute. Looks fun, has energy. But that’s not where the comedy club is. It’s in a more industrial part of town beside a 24 hour gym. Because if there’s two things that belong side by side, it’s a comedy club and a gym.
For what Canada might lack with a low glass ceiling, the Barrie Yuk Yuk’s made up for it’s very high actual ceilings. It felt like performing in a dimly lit school gymnasium.
But what happens on stage almost doesn’t really count sometimes. Comics, when given proper green rooms, will barely even check out the show until they’re about to go on stage. So that creepy room with jizzy couches in the back of the club is where most of my weekend is actually happening.
I feel bad saying I forget the host. That seems like something that still holds up. I remember the headliner though. Big guy who wore a wrestling belt. Very elegant, as you can imagine. He might have been seasoned on staged, dealing with audiences, but he definitely seemed new to working with female comedians.
When you walk into a green room, there can often be this aura of arrogance to one comic sitting on the couch. I truly don’t think there are that many headliners of this nature in Canada, because we each typically have two very barely scene tv credits, so the ego never gets that big. But once in a while…
You encounter a man who’s confidence is something you wish you had in high school. Only less creepy.
He sat on the couch in a green room like he was Santa Claus. It looked like he expected us to sit on his leg every time we walked in the room. I’m acting like I saw through this at the time, but the truth is…
It was always responsible to get to the club early, (this club was known to doc your pay if you didn’t) you end up having quite the pre-show hang. Me and Jen sit on one couch as the headliner sprawls on the other (in modern day we’d say “manspread.”)
Then he says,
“Why don’t you two girls get up and twirl for me. Show me what you got…”
I awkwardly get up, do a 360, and sit back down.
But Jen has a different reaction.
“If you think I am going to twirl for you, you better think again. As if I would do that!?!? Who do you think you are?”
Oh ya, that’s what I meant to say.
Why did I do that?
Is it too late to change my mind? I didn’t know we were allowed to be assertive. Part of me calmed myself down thinking “I’m wearing my Silver jeans. They’re baggy. He didn’t really see much.”
This moment haunts me to this day. Why was I so complacent? How can one woman say,
“Go fuck yourself!”
And I go,
“Okey dokey! No problem!”
It didn’t help that this man seemed to kill on stage. For what comics lack in their off stage etiquette, they sure do make up for on stage. It kind of makes you let it go. Maybe if he bombed I would never have gotten up and twirled.
The idea of boundaries is huge today, but back then when I heard the word I just thought of Boundary Road in Vancouver.
But here’s the great part of road comedy. You can always pray you never work with that comic again.
You can grow some balls.
Guess which one came first?
(Here’s a pic of me and Jen on a couch during happier times. Really quite bummed I don’t have a lot of photos of my early years in comedy. Obvi new comics will have 8758439784758389 of them.)
*I really did the Lelaina Pierce gas card move as a teenager, but I ONLY filled my Aunty Marion’s car. We’d put all the gas on my dad’s card, then she’d pay me cash half of the actual cost. She got half price gas, I got free money. A win-win scam for both of us. This is why I don’t add my family on social media. These stories can’t come out. My dad might sue his sister.