“Stage 4 Hurricane” Dena Jackson Brings the House Down in Blue Lights

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Dena Jackson is a Toronto-based comedian and writer. She hosts The Ego Podcast. Blue Lights is Jackson’s debut comedy EP.

Dena Jackson is coming off a big year. Sure, she might be “moonwalking backwards” through life, but Jackson is fine with it. Back in the dating game after nearly a decade, the Toronto comedian wants everyone to know that she’s “chill, cool, and casual.” Well, that all depends on the time between text messages, then you might be dealing with a “stage 4 hurricane.”

In her debut comedy EP Blue Lights, Jackson invites her audience into the life of a newly divorced woman. It’s a weird and wild world, but she’s pretty weird and wild, too. When she’s not on the hunt for men with pinky rings, Jackson is busy leading the lost luggage scene online. She’s a big deal on Twitter, you know.

Blue Lights runs just under 25 minutes, which is all the time that Jackson needs to come in and tear it up. Jackson skillfully weaves in and out of the woes and small victories of life. All in a distinct rhythm and way with words that sucks you in like dirt against a “Dyson vacuum.” Jackson’s Blue Lights is positively hilarious.


Dena Jackson’s Blue Lights released on November 22, 2019. Blue Lights is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. Released through Comedy Records.

Follow Dena Jackson: Official Website / Twitter / Instagram / The Ego Podcast

“I have an unwavering belief in what I’m doing”: Interview with Comedian Tranna Wintour

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Tranna Wintour is a Montreal-based comedian, singer, and writer. Photo credit: Jess Cohen.

“I wish October could last all year,” Tranna Wintour says from her almost vacant apartment in Montreal. Wintour and I are speaking on the phone just a few days before her big move. After nine years of living in the same apartment, Wintour is moving into a new place. “This is the month where I can wear whatever I want without wearing a giant winter jacket.”

Raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Wintour is a transgender comedian, singer, and writer. She is one half of the CBC podcast Chosen Family. On the podcast, Wintour and co-host Thomas LeBlanc discuss sexuality, pop culture, and community with guests. Guests have included comedian Margaret Cho, actor and director Amy Jo Johnson, and pop duo Tegan and Sara. 

Wintour is back home from Toronto where she recorded a live episode of Chosen Family. The live recording was part of JFL42, where Wintour also participated in a panel discussion about podcasts (“The World of Podcasting”). I ask Wintour how she feels about the recognition she has garnered from listeners and the industry.

“It’s super lovely, ” Wintour says. “But it’s just. We work so hard on the podcast. We take it so seriously. Of course, it’s always nice to have your work be recognized. It’s not an expectation. For all of us, you can’t go into things with the hope of recognition or validation. That’s just a recipe for disaster. If you buy into the good, you have to buy into the bad. At the end of the day, it’s more important to stay focused on the work.”

The work can be all-consuming. That is, she explains, the risk of doing something you love.

“You pour so much into it,” says Wintour. “I feel like I’m basically working 24 hours a day. Even when I’m not specifically working on something, it’s always on my mind — this constant, endless to-do list. It’s been six years of this to-do list.”

Wintour is not shy talking about her relationship with doubt.

Doubt plants itself in Wintour’s mind when career accomplishments fail to produce the expected results. The results, she says, are often internal. “Okay, if I reach a point where I am able to achieve this and this and this, I will feel secure and be able to relax a little bit.” Those feelings of security and stability do not always follow, and that is when doubt begins to set in.

“Fundamentally, I have an unwavering belief in what I’m doing and that it will work itself out,” Wintour says. “If I didn’t, I don’t think I would be able to continue.”

Our conversation turns back to the podcast.

Wintour tells me that the podcast’s listenership has yet to reach its target. “It’s not disappointing, but we are already doing everything that we can.” Wintour is trying not to think too much about the metrics. In her personal experience, focusing on the end result removes joy from the creative process.

“I’ve noticed that I’m happy in the moment that I’m creating,” says Wintour. “I’m super happy when we are doing a great interview. I’m super happy when I’m on stage. I have found for myself that the joy is so short-lived because as soon as those moments of creation are over, I’m back into the mindset of the results.”

Moving away from that mindset is easier said than done.

“Under capitalism, we have all been trained to focus on the end result,” Wintour says. “We tie up the value and the worth of ourselves and the work in the result which is so toxic. It is so hard to deprogram that way of thinking. That’s what I’m really working on.”

Growing up, Wintour’s mother always had music playing in their home. “My mom is a music lover, but she’s not a die hard fan of any specific artist.” As a result, Wintour had no concept of “The Artist.” That all changed when she discovered Alanis Morrisette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill. It was the first time Wintour felt a connection to a single artist.

“That was transformational for me on so many levels,” says Wintour. “I was only eight or nine years old. It was the first example of what it would look like to live your life as an artist. In that connection to Alanis, I knew that one way or another, that was going to be me. That was what I had to do.”

Next year, Wintour will release her debut album Safe From Your Affection. The album, produced in partnership with Mark Andrew Hamilton, will be available on vinyl and digital platforms. Recording an album was something Wintour dreamed about for years.

“Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that dream.” Wintour says. “It was a dream that was always there, but then it became a dream that I thought a lot less about. I can’t believe it actually happened.”

It is a Thursday morning. October has just begun. Change is on its way, and Tranna Wintour is in its path, standing tall.


Tranna Wintour:  Official WebsiteFacebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp /

Chosen Family: CBC Podcasts / Spotify

It’s for You! Jackie Pirico Delights in Dream Phone

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Jackie Pirico’s debut comedy album Dream Phone released on September 4th, 2019.

The first time I saw Toronto-based comedian Jackie Pirico perform was last year on CBC Comedy’s YouTube channel. The video (‘Junk Food for your cat‘) introduced me to Pirico’s wonderfully off-beat comedic energy. Later in the year, Pirico popped up in a GameTime video about Pokemon (‘There’s Too Many Pokemon!‘). Pirico’s bewildered delivery about the fact that there’s over 800 Pokemon (Only 100 animals in the real world!) makes the video an entertaining watch.

Last week, Pirico announced on Twitter the release of her debut comedy album, Dream Phone. I was travelling that Friday to Saint John, so I added Dream Phone to my Spotify playlist. I had only ever seen Pirico’s comedy in small portions, so I was interested to hear her perform for longer than 10 minutes. Friday afternoon, I was on the road, and Pirico joined me for the ride.

After I arrived in Saint John, I tweeted out how much I enjoyed Dream Phone. The sparky comedian takes her audience (the album was recorded live) for a wild ride. Below, you’ll find my original tweet about Dream Phone. Start your weekend with a laugh, listen to Dream Phone.

“Real-life cartoon Jackie Pirico delights in debut comedy album Dream Phone. Enjoy listening to Jackie talk about boys named Chris, evil koopa receptionists, and life with an errand mate (a baby). Hilarious. Unpredictable. Smart. A must-listen!”


Follow Jackie Pirico on Twitter and Instagram.

Dream Phone is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

‘There’s only so far you can go in Canada’: Interview With Comedian Michelle Shaughnessy

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Michelle Shaughnessy released her debut comedy album You Know What You Did in 2017. (Photo provided by Shaughnessy)

“Well, I think I would have gotten out of Canada a lot sooner,” Michelle Shaughnessy says as our phone interview begins to wind down. Shaughnessy is speaking to me from her home in Toronto. “I feel bad saying that because I love Canada. It’s just…it is what it is.”

Shaughnessy calls me on a Monday morning in June. The 35-year-old comedian, originally from Peterborough, Ontario, has kindly agreed to talk about her career which has spanned almost twenty years. Besides some old notebooks, there isn’t much evidence of her early sets. Too bad, right? Shaughnessy is okay with it.

“I was trying so hard to be funny that I wasn’t necessarily being true to myself,” Shaughnessy says. “Sometimes when I come across old notebooks, I see my jokes and think oh my God, that’s embarrassing. I’m really glad that it wasn’t the era of everyone filming their sets and that YouTube wasn’t around.”

While it’s true that Shaughnessy started doing comedy when she was 18 years old, it’s not quite the full story. Shaughnessy took a break from stand-up to pursue other interests, like sketch comedy. When she returned to stand-up in her early twenties, Shaughnessy got signed to Yuk Yuks.

“But I still had day jobs,” Shaughnessy says. “I would meet these comics who would be snobby to me, even though we were around the same level. They were like, oh, you have a day job? You’re not a comedian. Okay, you live on a couch. You have no cable. You use paper plates. Look at how you live. You should probably have a day job too.”

Shaughnessy had no problem going back-and-forth between comedy and her day jobs. “I was in my twenties. If I had to work all day and go do a show, I would be so tired.” The young comedian worked in offices, where she was able to work on new material, and restaurants.

“The waitressing always became a problem,” Shaughnessy says. “They would always say we’re fine with it, but then one weekend they would say no, we need you here. I would say I have a show. Well, we need you here. I would just not show up and quit. That was the only time a job became an interference.”

In April, a comedy page on Facebook uploaded a video of Shaughnessy performing at Absolute Comedy in Toronto. Shaughnessy’s set was part of SiriusXM’s Top Comic 2017, in which she was one of eight finalists. The video, taken from Sirius XM Canada’s YouTube channel, has received over 3 million views to date.

 “A friend messaged me and said you went viral,” Shaughnessy says. “You’re at a hundred thousand views. What are you talking about?”

The comedian took “a quick glimpse” and decided not to look at it again. “I’m going to take everything personally. You can see a hundred good comments and then one really bad one. It just ruins my day. I take that stuff really harsh.”

Shaughnessy says the video’s popularity helped increase traffic on her social media. Her inbox receives almost daily messages from viewers.

“A lot of them are positive, but some of them are criticizing me or giving me advice,” Shaughnessy says. “It’s like, who are you? I could never imagine going up to a singer. Okay, so about that song…If you’re not a comic, I don’t want to hear it.”

I ask Shaughnessy about her feelings on the overall experience — her set attracting millions of views online. 

“It’s weird. It doesn’t do anything for you in Canada,” Shaughnessy says. “It really doesn’t. We don’t care. Canadians don’t care. In America, I think that would help me. But in Canada, we don’t have a star system, so it doesn’t matter.”

“My Instagram followers have gone up. It’s been good for that. I just don’t think we here in Canada put much stock into that. When you talk with managers in the States, one of the first things they ask you about is your social media. Do you have a big presence? Do you have a big following? That’s just not a thing in Canada.”

Our conversation turns to the partnership between SiriusXM Canada and Just For Laughs, first announced in late February. SiriusXM Canada’s ‘Canada Laughs’ station would rebrand as Just For Laughs Radio. The new station would air international comics from JFL’s archive. The backlash from Canadian comics was swift. Canadian comics feared Just Laughs Radio would not only sideline Canadian artists but also jeopardize royalties generated from the station.

Shaughnessy was one of many Canadian comics who protested the partnership and asked that the two companies reconsider their decision to alter Canada Laughs. In a statement released on social media, Shaughnessy described Canada Laughs as a “godsend” for Canadian comics. Comics featured on the station benefited from “exposure throughout all of North America” and “pay for play residuals from the not for profit company Sound Exchange.” As far as Shaughnessy was concerned, Just For Laughs Radio was just another way Canada “forces” its artists across the border.

“I was angry, because a lot of comics would not have been okay without [that income],” Shaughnessy says. “It would have affected a lot of peoples’ art, because then they would have to go back and get day jobs. They were afforded the freedom not to do that.”

“I was also angry because it was the one thing that exposed us to outside of Canada. That was going to be taken away from us. We don’t have much. That’s the only thing we have. When I felt it was slipping away, I was so angry. That’s what I was trying to explain to people.  It’s all about money for you guys. It’s not. It’s about our identity. It’s about getting our voices outside. There’s so much here in Canada that’s American. People forget we exist sometimes.”

Shaughnessy did not have the full support of her peers in the wake of her statement and ensuing comments against the partnership. 

“I did have a few more well-known comedians reach out to me and tell me to stop it,” Shaughnessy says. “Why are you attacking Just For Laughs? Well, you know what, I don’t care at this point. You got to stand up for what’s right and not be scared to do so, or else we’ll just have nothing left for ourselves.”

After several days, SiriusXM Canada and JFL reversed their decision and announced that the station, now called Just For Laughs Canada, would exclusively air Canadian content. 

Shaughnessy doesn’t regret speaking out. “I won’t be doing the festival anytime soon, but I didn’t before. That’s why I also felt like I needed to be a strong voice because I wasn’t one of the comics who really stood to lose anything from that company.”

Although Canadian comics may have won in February, there are still challenges for comics trying to ‘make it’ here at home.

“There’s only so far you can go in Canada,” Shaughnessy says. “I feel like Canada picks 10-ish people and uses them until they’re done. Does that make sense? They use them for everything. They pick a group of people and think: let’s go with these people forever. It’s really hard to break through that.”

“I feel like here we have two networks. You pitch your shows to those networks, and they both say no. Now, what do I do? Whereas [in the United States], there’s a thousand places you can go and try at least.”

With the media landscape as it is, Shaughnessy is not surprised that Canada loses talent to the United States.

“If you want to go further and try to get to that next level, you got to leave,” Shaughnessy says. “I’m going to be going. I have to. I didn’t want to. I think I avoided it for a really long time — taking the steps to get out of here — because I love Canada. I love Toronto. But there comes a point where you’re just like I can’t do this anymore.”

I ask Shaughnessy about some lessons she has learned from almost two decades in comedy. Yes, she would have left Canada sooner, but that would have involved Shaughnessy taking “her art more seriously” in her twenties.

“I think I wasted a lot of time partying,” Shaughnessy says. “I don’t drink anymore. I’m very clean living. I don’t like to live life with regrets, but sometimes I look back at the way I was before, and I’m like wow. If I had the clear mind I have now when I was 22 — I feel like I would have accomplished a lot more a lot sooner. I wouldn’t have wasted so much time.”

Before we say goodbye, I ask Shaughnessy if she has anything she would like to promote or anyone to shout out. Shaughnessy is currently working on a new comedy album, which she hopes will release in the next year.

“Support your comedians,” Shaughnessy says. “My friend Allison Dore started a record label called Howl & Roar Records. It’s Canada’s first female-centric record label. She’s doing some great things. I’m so proud of her. Look up the comics on that. Buy their albums. Stream it. They are some of the voices that might not get showcased otherwise.”


Michelle Shaughnessy’s comedy album You Know What You Did is available on iTunes.

Michelle is @michellesfunny on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She also has a YouTube channel.

Mind Fudge: Interview With Series Co-Creator Justine Nelson

Mind Fudge is back and bigger than ever — literally!

Before landing on CBC Gem last Friday, Mind Fudge premiered on Instagram back in 2017. Series creators Justine Nelson and Jon Simo quickly found an audience for their short-form comedy series about a 20-something and the way she sees the world through her overactive, very cinematic imagination. The series’ first season ran for ten episodes, each episode running only one-minute in length.

Mind Fudge’s second season is streaming now on CBC Gem.

In addition to being one of the series’ co-creators, Nelson is also the lead actor, playing the character of Justine.

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, the 27-year-old actress studied Acting for Film and Television at Niagara College. Mind Fudge is the first series Nelson has created.

Joyful Magpies spoke with Nelson to learn more about Mind Fudge.

Let’s go back to the first season on Instagram. I think this is the first time I have seen short form comedy done in this way before. Where did the idea to create these minute-long episodes come from?

It all started when Jon and I became friends a little over three years ago. When we met, we really clicked. We had very similar tastes in art. We wanted to work together. He was a cinematographer. I was an actor. We wanted to create a short film. We decided that It was quite the ambitious short that we were trying to make. In the meantime, Jon came up with this idea of: why don’t we make something really, really small just to get something out there and test the waters? We couldn’t really get our feet with the grander concept we were trying to get off the ground. He said: why don’t we use the platforms we have and make something short-form for Instagram?

We came up with this idea of someone’s imagination because then it was limitless. We wouldn’t have any rules to play by. We could just create anything. We did three of them. They were the coffee one, the firework one, and the heart rip one. We didn’t know what we had. We hadn’t even called it Mind Fudge yet. (Mind Fudge was the only name that stuck.) We just had these three little shorts. We were having so much fun making these bite-sized stories but with high production value. It was quite the challenge.

At the time, no one was really making high production value content for Instagram. I mean people are doing it now, but we hit a pocket where it just hadn’t really been done mainstream yet. Because we were so excited by the response, we decided to keep doing it. We made another and another and another. We kind of set up ourselves for a lot of hard work, because we wanted to put one out every week. We would write one, shoot one, edit one, and put it out every single week until we had ten episodes. It kept growing and growing.

Because it was so shareable and bite-sized and people could digest it so quick, it was being watched. It really catered to people’s attention spans. We hit a convenient pocket of people’s interest. It took on a life of its own.

That’s something I was going to ask you about. I think it’s really cool how you integrated the series right into the platform, instead of telling people “Hey, we made a thing. Click this YouTube link to watch it.” That must have really helped you grow your viewership.

That’s exactly right. I think that’s why it did so well. We made it specifically for Instagram. We shot it with the size of framing in mind so that it would fit on a phone screen. We knew we had a minute maximum to tell our story. We didn’t want to put it into two videos. We wanted it to be you scroll and don’t realize that you just watched the whole thing. It’s so easy, you scroll and don’t have to click another link. We were really experimenting and learned how beneficial it is if it’s right there. You don’t have to go somewhere else.

It’s wild how people won’t click another link. They will sometimes. But if it’s right there on Instagram, it’s the most digestible way to get content out there. I think that’s why it did so well.

You mentioned how the concept is this person’s imagination, giving you endless possibilities, but you were also working within a strict time limitation. Did the time limitation cause you frustration, or was it in some ways freeing for you?

It was definitely frustrating.

I think at first, it felt freeing because it meant we didn’t have to make something very long. We were like this will be super quick, and it won’t be that hard. Little did we know. Each and every week, we wanted to do something greater and greater, and then it got harder and harder to make it a minute. By the end, we had a whole entire life flashing before my character’s eyes. We shot in over five locations. We had three days of filming for something that was going to be crammed down into a minute.

It really helped us as storytellers. What is important? What is the message we are trying to get across? What do we need to tell the story? It became very challenging, but it was a great learning process to really get down to what is the story and what is necessary. It was really hard to shave things down, but when we got down to it, it was so strong because we didn’t have any frivolous stuff in there.

What was the transition like from creating those one-minute shorts to these longer episodes in season two? Were you worried at all that some of the elements of Mind Fudge wouldn’t translate over to a longer format?

No, we were actually excited that we didn’t have to limit ourselves to the one-minute format anymore. By the end, it was getting really tricky. We knew we had to let the hyperreals breathe, and it would easily take up more time. We got to explore the story more outside of the hyperreals. Who are these other characters in Justine’s life? Who is Justine outside of her hyperreal? We were excited to start exploring the best friend character and any love interests. Then, really dive into the hyperreals. We knew had a lot more ideas and content. It was quite the seamless transition to stretch it out.

One of the things I really like about Mind Fudge is how the series pays tribute to a lot of different films and filmmakers. In season two, we see references to 500 Days of Summer, Cast Away, and Kill Bill. How did Mind Fudge become this loving tribute to film?

I think it all started because Jon and I are huge films buffs ourselves. I really liked the concept of “if my life were a movie.” It’s a line that we all tell ourselves.

We wanted to pick different genres to explore. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to just doing comedy or just doing drama. We wanted to do it all. With this plane of imagination, we got to because it’s Justine’s movie moments in her mind. 

Despite all the wackiness, Mind Fudge doesn’t stray too far from its emotional core. Things get pretty real. Was it hard finding a balance between comedy and drama?

I don’t know if it was hard, but it was definitely a challenge we were happy to take on. We really wanted to tread that line. We also have another co-writer on it. Her name is Robby Hoffman. She’s talented and wonderful. She helped us weave in the storylines within the hyperreal and to stay focused on that as well. It was a joy to find those moments within the hyperreal where they would click and realize they go together. In the shorter episodes, the hyperreals serve a comedic purpose. In the longer episodes, we wanted them to be really smart and thought out and not just there for the sake of it. It was an exciting challenge to find a balance between them.

Mind Fudge really moves. It’s a very physical series. Season two features a boxing match and back in season one there’s a training montage. Do you have a background in fight choreography?

I don’t, but physical fitness is something I have always enjoyed. It’s a huge aspect of my life.

It was definitely a fast-paced set. I had very little time to learn the choreography. My co-star Katelyn McCulloch has a lot of training in movement and stunts. I was very lucky that I had her opposite me. She really helped guide me. Our stunt choreographer [Anita Nittoly] was so great. They came very prepared with the choreography to teach me. Thankfully they had time beforehand to work on it whereas I was on set with other episodes. It went really smoothly. 

The queer representation in Mind Fudge is really cool.

For us, it was just a no-brainer. We decided that the character was a queer character. It wasn’t even really a conversation. It started from the beginning when we made the heart rip episode. We just made it with another woman. What I appreciate about Jon and I was it was never a big conversation about if we should make the character gay. Is this going to be a very gay show? It’s an element of it, but it’s not her hardship. We didn’t want to focus on the struggles of being gay. We wanted to present a sometimes light-hearted show where the girl happens to be gay. All the things she struggles is everything else. We wanted to make sure we did it accurately. I like to think that we did a good job of not making it the main focus but also not doing it a disservice either.

Looking at the series as a whole, I am wondering how much of the character Justine you are. How much of your personal life is in the series?

Originally we named the character Justine because the Instagram page was under my name. There were logistics that made us keep it that way. A lot of it started off based on things we knew about me. I can’t cook. I’m scared of camping. Scary movies genuinely keep me up for days. Little things like that we took and amplified. It’s my life, but a more exaggerated version. We are not identical. There are definitely things the character does that I like to think I wouldn’t do. We draw upon aspects from my life, Jon’s life, and friends of ours. I would be lying if I said there were no commonalities between Justine in real life and Justine in Mind Fudge.

What can we expect from you next?

I think more Mind Fudge is the plan. We are looking to take it and grow it out. We want to continue making more.


Where to Watch Mind Fudge

Season One | Instagram
Season Two | CBC Gem