From L to R: Alastair Forbes, Karen Parker, Ashley Comeau, Connor Thompson from Lusty Mannequins / Photograph by Connor Low
Comedian Ashley Comeau makes being an activist pretty funny
The Second City alum shares why comedy that makes you uncomfortable is the best kind of comedy
BY SARAH STEINBERG
If you’ve got kids, you might recognize Brampton-native Ashley Comeau as Jamie Jam, a lady made of jam on the show the Odd Squad. Or your might recognize the producer/instructor/improv director/actress and sketch comedian from her time on Second City’s Toronto main stage. But it was her Facebook profile that turned her into a performer with a social cause.
A couple of years ago, frustrated by the all the body shaming and negative self-talk that she saw in social conversations and casting rooms, Comeau embarked on a personal endeavour. She challenged herself to write, every single day, a short essay thanking the women-people in her life. Her mom was a no-brainer, but she also wrote about peers, friends, even acquaintances. She posted her thoughts on Facebook and the response was overwhelming—a strong indication that Comeau wasn’t alone in feeling the need to acknowledge and be acknowledged.
Thanking other women for just being themselves turned out to be a subversive, almost radical, act. Comeau says the feedback made her want to do even more, to be even better. We chatted with the multi-hyphenate about her continued work to raise other women up through her comedy.
Do you think of yourself as an activist?
I’m just starting to wake up to the reality of local and global situations. So, I’m full of piss and vinegar about a lot of stuff, to be honest, and trying to find positive ways to channel that anger to give back and educate people, and have difficult conversations. So yeah, I guess I am an activist!
You’re super busy on the comedy scene: you travel, teach and perform with your improv troupe The Lusty Mannequins. How do you channel the anger you’re talking about?
In sketch comedy, you can tackle issues like misogyny or the patriarchy and do it satirically so that it’s not just a full rage-out. And whether you understand the issues or you don’t, you’re gonna have a good time and laugh and be able to forget that the world’s a bit of a dumpster fire.
Do you measure the success of a scene by how many laughs it gets?
A great scene will make you feel something, think something—and laugh. And if we’re doing one of those, it’s a good scene; if we’re doing two, it’s a great scene; and if we’re doing three, it’s exceptional.
You’re currently performing in Second City’s “She The People,” a show entirely produced, designed, directed, written and performed by women with an in-your-face tagline (“It’s time for women everywhere to shout: Comedy is our weapon and we’re here to slay”). Is comedy different when it’s made by women exclusively?
Yes, because the female-identifying perspective just isn’t as explored. Forever it’s been a majority of men in comedy, and in the kind of comedy that I’m in, it’s a white, cisgender male majority. There’s space for them, and they’re important too, but it’s also about time that different voices are shown the same amount of respect and billing time.
I guess just having a show made entirely and exclusively by women is a political statement all of its own.
The show is very political. It’s very right now. There’s a scene where a woman wakes up from 10 years in a coma and finds out that all of her heroes are monsters. We do a sketch about dating in the modern era called “Kiss Me or Kill Me.” Like, are you’re going to kiss me or kill me? One reviewer wrote that it made him feel very uncomfortable and he didn’t like it. And that’s the point. Like, really? Welcome to all-the-time-every-day for female-identifying people!
Isn’t that one of the great things about comedy? That it’s okay—maybe even necessary—to broach difficult topics no one really wants to talk about?
The more we deal with the things that make us uncomfortable, have the conversations and see these things represented, the quicker we’re going to be able to start healing and developing processes we can implement so that everyone is safe; so that everyone feels heard and protected.
Do you think your career has changed significantly in the context of the #MeToo movement?
I think I’d still be doing comedy, I’d still be acting and writing and producing without the #MeToo movement, but it definitely affords me space to access parts of myself that, to be honest, I wasn’t brave enough to share without support. I don’t think I would be exploring such intimate content if it weren’t for the permission of the times.
When you go to shows, do you laugh?
Oh my god, I’m a huge laugher. I’m not one of those obnoxious comedians who laughs to show you that I’m in the audience, but at the same time, I’m all about laughing. I know how difficult it is. I need a laugh too, are you kidding me?