Meg MacKay’s Probably a Witch Is a Roar

 

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Meg MacKay’s Probably a Witch is a new release from Howl & Roar Records.

Meg MacKay is a Toronto-based comedian originally from the land of “sentient jean jackets,” otherwise known as Prince Edward Island. Her debut comedy album, Probably a Witch, released earlier this month on streaming platforms

Listening to Probably a Witch brings me back to the days of watching Comedy Now! late at night on CTV. I had a 27” CRT TV in my room that I had placed on top of a homemade bookshelf. The bookshelf buckled under the weight of that TV. I don’t know how it never collapsed. Anyway, I would stay up way past my bedtime to watch Comedy Now! As someone not from a major city and who had never gone to a comedy show, watching this program kinda whisked me away to another reality. I was also a teenager, so there was that element of participating in something cool and mature. 

Why I bring up Comedy Now! is because the stand-up acts were often so funny and weird. Emphasis on weird. You felt drawn into a rabbit hole, especially watching it late at night. That’s how I feel about MacKay’s Probably a Witch. MacKay’s delivery is very Maritime-y. It’s a bit calm and measured with moments that swing up, and she’s putting on all sorts of wacky voices. It’s like we’re having a barbecue, playing washer toss, and then MacKay comes to the party with the laughs. We all forget about the burgers on the grill because everyone’s too busy listening to MacKay talk about spoons class and Britney Spears’ three career phases.

Look, I’ve listened to this album three or five times already, and I’ll probably listen to it a couple more times. It’s friggin’ hilarious, man. MacKay talking about her super tough mom (“I didn’t raise a wuss!”) at a pride parade is a roar. Give the album a listen.


Meg MacKay’s Probably a Witch is available now on streaming platforms.

Follow Meg MacKay: Twitter / Instagram

Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy Brings the Fish Home

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Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy is available now.

Last week, Howl & Roar Records released Rebecca Reeds’ debut comedy album Buddy. The Toronto-based comedian has performed at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Ottawa Fringe Festival, and JFL42. You may also know Reeds from her podcast, The Villain Was Right, which she co-hosts with Craig Fay. Buddy was recorded live at Bad Dog Theatre.

Yes, Reeds is fully aware of her accent. Where’s it from? Nowhere special. Just a “lack of education.” I want to say something about her “hillbilly” accent. In 2019, I listened to a lot of Stuart McLean in the car. The Vinyl Cafe makes the drive from Fredericton to Truro feel like almost nothing. Back to my point. A light bulb went off in my head about ten minutes into Buddy. “Rebecca Reeds sounds a lot like Stuart McLean!” Hearing Reeds talk about fishing with her dad brought me back to The Vinyl Cafe. Only, I don’t think Canada’s Storyteller ever compared fishing with guys striking out at a bar (“Lesbians all night!”). 

Reeds is a hell of a storyteller. The comedian spills her secrets on being poor, working at Zellers, and finding hamburgers inside her pocket. As the youngest of four children, I share the same gripe with Reeds when it comes to hand-me-downs. Why do they always come in trash bags? “Here you go, you human landfill!”

It’s the first day of 2020. Maybe you’re hungover. Maybe you’re eating cold pizza for breakfast. I don’t know. However the new year looks right now, why not start it off with a laugh? Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy is dynamite.


Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy is available now on digital platforms. 

Follow Rebecca Reeds: Twitter / Instagram

Howl & Roar Records: Website

‘My dreams are going to come true, hopefully’: Interview with Comedian Olivia Stadler

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Originally from Vaugh, Ontario, Olivia Stadler is a Toronto-based comedian and aspiring screenwriter. Photo Credit: @jokespleaseshow on Instagram.

Olivia Stadler is a Toronto-based comedian and aspiring screenwriter. The 25-year-old former competitive dancer earned a Bachelor’s degree in Media, Information, and Technoculture from the University of Western Ontario. Last fall, Stadler entered UCLA’s Film and Screenwriting program. She hosts and produces Literally Dead. The comedy show runs the first Saturday of every month at Comedy Bar. 

Last month, Joyful Magpies spoke with Stadler about starting in comedy, her career aspirations, and women in entertainment.

How do stand-up comedy and screenwriting fit together?

Stand-up comedy has helped me learn how to write jokes. Stand-up comics will write down every funny idea. It’s a weird thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. If you have an idea that comes into your head, you have to write it down, or else it’s gone. My notes — I have upwards of a thousand notes. Some of them are so useless. Some of them make me laugh, but I have never figured out them out as a stage joke. Later, I figure out — oh, this is dialogue. You write down every funny idea, and then you figure out places to plug them in after.

And when you perform stand-up, you receive immediate feedback on your material. 

Yeah, exactly.

How do you handle feedback?

Poorly. I handle it very poorly. On the outside, I’m good. I don’t make anyone feel weird. I let it sit on my shoulders, though, but I think everyone is like that. 

It also depends on who it’s coming from. Like if it’s well-thought criticism and coming from one of my friends who understands what I’m going for on stage. Sometimes people will give you feedback, and it’ll be like okay, but that’s you. Someone the other day said to me you get into talking about cum way too fast. It’s a totally clean comic. And I’m like you don’t talk about cum at all, that’s my criticism for you!

Are you transitioning from stand-up comedy to TV writing?

No. 

When I was in my third year of university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at all. Going into first year, I wanted to be a news reporter. I liked the idea of being on TV and talking for a job. That would be me. I didn’t realize you would have to do journalism first. You do that forever. You have to be passionate about that. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I wanted. I’ll be a writer of some sort because that’s what I like doing. 

My roommate in third year was a huge TV nerd. Growing up, I never watched TV because I was a dancer. After school, I would go straight to dance, and then come home, do my homework, and go to sleep. I watched TV with my roommate. I fell in love with TV.

I got into The Mindy Project. It one of the first shows I got into. I’m always Googling and IMDBing when I’m watching TV. I got obsessed with Mindy Kaling’s story. She was a TV writer first then got into comedy. That’s how she got into creating her own TV show. I want to be like that. 

Then, it clicked. I want to be a TV writer. 

I remember that day I had dance. I was really dreading dance at that point in my life. I loved it growing up. It made me realize that I like performing. I didn’t like dancing in class. I didn’t like technique. I didn’t care about feeling the movement. I started to dread it in university. I didn’t go to dance that day. And then, I stopped showing up. 

This is going to be my new identity. 

That’s when I started trying to write things down. Looking back on everything I wrote in those days is very awful, but it was a start. I bought a bunch of books. I learned if you want to be a TV writer, you need to learn how to articulate comedy, so try doing stand-up or improv. I signed up at Second City for improv and stand-up classes. I fell in love with stand-up. I kept doing it. I like this. I have a knack for it, so I just kept doing it. And now I’m here. 

I’m only in my second year of doing stand-up. In my first year, I focused solely on doing stand-up. Then, I realized I needed something else because no one makes money from just performing stand-up comedy. I applied for the UCLA program. I got in, and I was psyched. I started doing that. This feels right. I’m so glad to be doing this. And I have been doing it since.

You just spoke about how dance turned from a passion to a grind. With comedy and writing, has that happened to you? 

If I’ve stopped enjoying it?

Yeah. I love writing, but sometimes I’m like this sucks. I feel like I’m going through the motions. Why do I do this? But then there are those moments that make you like it again. Oh, I remember why I like doing this.

I find that it goes in waves so much.

I started panicking the other day because I’m a server right now. I don’t know when I’ll ever have a TV writing job, so I think I should try to get a full-time marketing or social media job. Something I’m qualified to do with my degree. Then, I was looking at all these jobs, and I was like — oh, I don’t remember how to do anything. Comedy has been my life for two years. I don’t remember anything before that. I have put all of my time and energy into harnessing this skill set, so I probably have to make something with this work.

Shortly afterward, I called my agent. I reminded him that I want to be a writer. He said: okay, these are the things you need. Oh, I basically already have all these things. Great. We’ll start setting up meetings. Because of that, I’m able to find my way into meetings with TV writers.

I’m just doing the work. I don’t really know what the end goal is that I’m working towards. It is cool to see some of the work, which often feels arbitrary, paying off and that things are starting to fall into place. My dreams are going to come true, hopefully.

In the creative fields, there are so many things that are not tangible. Everything is so abstract, like a theatre production. You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. The final product doesn’t really come together until opening night.

It is interesting what you find rewarding as an artist, because it’s not always tangible, as you said. That phone call with my agent meant a lot to me. It made me feel satisfied in a way that nothing really has in awhile. I can’t really — I told people about that conversation. And they were like okay, cool. That conversation means nothing for anyone else. It’s just validation for myself that I’m on the right track.

Let’s talk about this track you’re on. You’ve been doing stand-up comedy for two years while also pursuing screenwriting. How have you been carving your path? Do you visualize it as an uphill battle? How do you see the road ahead?

Honestly, not really. I feel like this is the first thing I have ever done in my life where I haven’t had to consciously think about what my steps are to establishing myself. I want to do it, so I ended up doing it. I want to do comedy every night. I want to put in a lot of effort. I want to be good at it. From that, you make a name for yourself. I’m doing the thing I want to do. It’s adding up.

I guess the one conscious thing you have to do if you want to carve out a positive image for yourself is staying out of drama, that’s the hard part.

Do you find that’s easier some days than others? You’re very active on Twitter.

That’s different. Wait, what do you mean?

I’m on Twitter, and someone says something dumb. I want to call them out, but then I’m like I don’t know if I should get involved.

Usually, when I talk about drama, it’s something that’s happening on Facebook. It’s something that’s happened in real life, in the comedy scene, and then someone has posted about it. Everyone comments their take on it. That’s the stuff you got to try to stay out of. You have to silently observe instead.

Comics are weirdly less active on Twitter than they are on Facebook, which is so dumb. You’re not gonna go viral on Facebook. Why are you wasting all your energy and time on Facebook? You could be creating a writing portfolio for yourself on Twitter. You could be getting followers and potential fans.

That’s how you see your Twitter profile, a writing portfolio?

Yeah, kind of. A diary. A log of my mental illness. All of the above.

I remember back when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I spent a lot of time on Twitter. I remember feeling like it was productive for some reason. Then, I realized  —  oh yeah, I’m learning how to write jokes. It was probably the most productive thing I could have been doing.

How did you find my Twitter?

You followed me after I posted my interview with Michelle Shaughnessy.

That was the phase where I was like I need followers on this site. I followed everyone who seemed to be in the surrounding area and anyone who liked Toronto comics’ tweets.

Thanks for the follow back.

It’s such an odd thing, don’t you think? When people get upset if someone doesn’t follow them back. Do you ever feel that?

I don’t care on Twitter. I get it on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s mostly about content. I want to read someone’s tweets, and maybe they don’t want to read my tweets. 

Instagram is the in-between point of Twitter and Facebook. When you follow someone on Instagram, it’s more like a friend request than it is a follow. You kind of expect the reciprocation there. When people don’t follow you back on Instagram, I find that it hurts a lot more than on Twitter. It is so weird.

Whenever I wake up and check the app that tells you who unfollowed you it puts me in such a bad mood. Even though it’s like — yeah, people should be unfollowing me if they don’t like my content.

You have an app that tells you who unfollowed you?

Yup, I know. It’s bad. I guess I have it because there’s a bunch of people I don’t want to follow, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings by unfollowing them. I should just delete the app and unfollow people I don’t want to follow. That’s my reasoning. It’s still not really logical.

You know what it is, you and I grew up with social media. I’ve had a Facebook account since Grade 9.

How old are you?

I’m 27.

So, we are around the same age.

When I mention it to older comedians who are in their 30s, they’re like Instagram doesn’t matter. It’s the only thing that matters, actually. First of all, no one that’s not a comedian uses Facebook, unless you’re in your 80s. Your posters on Bloor Street West, no one is seeing your poster. Everyone is seeing what you’re posting on Instagram. Everyone spends all of their time scrolling through Instagram. It doesn’t make sense to not take it seriously. It’s weird to me.

Have you ever gone viral?

I have a few times, yeah.

What’s that like?

It’s a cool experience. I really like it. 

What has been your most viral tweet?

That one bothered me because it was so formulaic that I’m like, eh, anyone could have thought of this. It just wouldn’t be the tweet I would choose to go viral. “Bisexual means you’ve had sex twice.” It’s formulaic, but I guess it works.

Tell me about your monthly show Literally Dead. The show runs the first Saturday of every month at Comedy Bar. You’ve been doing it for almost a year now.

December will be the 12-month mark. We actually just got renewed for a full year.

How did you manage to get the timeslot?

I produced a few one-off shows that were sold-out and successful. And then I asked Gary Rideout, who owns Comedy Bar, if I could have a regular slot. He offered me a few Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Honestly, I would rather host a weekend show. I know everyone would rather have a weekend show, but I would like to hold out if something becomes available. I waited long enough and eventually, something became available. I’m glad I waited for it. 

The whole first year felt like a trial. He was only giving me a month at a time. And now, I have the full year, so I can finally relax about that.

Can you talk about the work that goes into Literally Dead?

That’s definitely the hardest part. That’s the skill set that doesn’t come from doing comedy. I don’t feel like I’ve completely mastered it yet. I just plaster my social media with everything related to the show. I try talking with audience members after the show, too. We have a lot of repeat audience members.

I’m still trying to figure it out because this is the part of comedy that I have found the most challenging. It’s really meaningful for me to put on a good show because there’s not a lot of good shows in this city. Not as many as you would think. A show will have a cool poster. You’ll go, and there’ll only be two audience members. Or it’s cancelled. It’s just crazy how much time and money will be put into a poster when you should be putting money into advertising and making sure the show is good. 

There’s so much talent in the city that I want to showcase.

What kind of talent do you book?

I try to book a super diverse line up. Shows are way more interesting when your lineup has a bunch of diverse voices and perspectives. I have new comics. I have queer comics. There are people of colour. A good balance of men and women.

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Photo Credit: Darcy Stewart.

What are some future projects you have planned?

There are so many things I want to do. I’m working on a podcast with my best friend, Allie Pearse. When Allie and I launch the podcast, we are going to do a comedy show in celebration of the launch. We’ll do a live podcast along the way. 

I was going to do a fringe show with my friend Sam. It was going to be about dance. We’re still thinking about that.

Do you miss dance?

I do. I’m starting to miss dance now. I think I stretched it out for too long. It was at my peak when I was 18. And then I feel like instead of keeping at as a happy memory in my past, I stretched it out for too long and grew to dislike it. I actually really miss it lately.

Next semester, we are going to be working on a pilot. My idea is going to have to do with dance. If I ever have my own TV show in the future, It would be about dance. There are three girls in my family. We always went to the same dance studio. I would be the main character, obviously. The show would be about being a young dancer.

You are a few years into your entertainment career. Looking ahead, how do you feel about the state of Canadian entertainment? Are you optimistic or a realist?

I oscillate a lot between both of those. I’m good friends with Sandra Battaglini. I admire her so much for what she’s trying to do for Canadian comedy. It would be nice to stay in Canada where my friends and family are and to be able to make a living here. But I am also realistic about the fact that I will probably have to move to the states. I’m optimistic about that idea. I think it would be cool to go and conquer a new city.

It also depends. As you said, I’m still so new. I don’t have to think about that much right now. I’m just trying to do as much as I can in this city and hone my craft. It would be at least five years before I even thought about moving to the states if that’s what I had to do. Who knows? Maybe Canadian comedy will change in those five years, and I’ll get to stay here.

There’s people that want to be famous, and they’ll say you have to move. There are people happy to make a living. I don’t know which one I’ll be five years. When everyone starts, they want to be famous. You have so much hope. I don’t know where I’ll be in a few years. Right now, I want to shoot for the stars. I’m always daydreaming about how far I can get. Maybe that will change. I don’t know, I just want to be happy. I just want to do my craft and feel fulfilled.

Is that an awkward conversation within the community?

I find that people are judgmental towards those who choose to leave. They’ll be like that person is not ready yet. Who cares? People in New York and Los Angeles are starting with zero experience. Either way, you have to start from the bottom when you move to the states. It’s a weird thing. 

In any other industry, people tell you to bullshit your way to getting things. I find that people will get mad at people if they do a longer set than they’re ready to do or accept a festival before they’re ready. None of this really matters. There are so many shitty people on TV. Why not accept a stepping stone? I don’t know. I think people are so self-loathing in this industry. 

In sports, a lot of it is objective. This guy can run a minute faster than me. He should be picked over me. You have no such metrics in the creative fields. 

That’s right. There is no metric. It’s all subjective.

In any industry, it’s not always the best people who rise to the top. It’s not a fair system. Nothing is ever going to be fair. People are going to get things that they don’t deserve, and other people will get screwed over. You got to learn to play the game. People are so hung up on justice in comedy — what you deserve, what you don’t deserve. 

People are adamant that you have to be completely at the top of Canadian comedy when you leave. That seems like a harder fall. Once you get to the top of the rankings, I feel like it would be harder to move. I’m already doing well here. Why move? You are older, which I try to tell myself doesn’t matter, but I’m a woman in entertainment. If I’m going to move to the states, then I’d like to do it sooner than later.

Could you elaborate on that?

As most women do, I struggle with self-esteem and all that. I have a hard time with that kind of stuff. Sometimes I’ll get panic attacks. Your Netflix special better be when you’re still pretty. Wouldn’t I rather be funnier than prettier in my Netflix special? Why would that not matter more? Having been told your whole life that it matters how you look, it’s hard to undo that, especially when it is true. When you look at the evidence, attractive women tend to do better in Hollywood. You can tell yourself it’s a lie, but then you can also look at the facts. I know that the whole landscape is changing, but I can still see that it’s an asset. Maybe it’s not necessary anymore, but it’s an asset.

Is there anyone you would like to shout-out?

I’m reluctant to give any one shout-out and then later feel that I forgot someone. Check out Lexa Graham. She started DNAtured Journal, a Reductress-style magazine about science. I want to shout out Evelyn O’Driscoll and Sophie Hayes, two comedians from Ottawa. They are the funniest people on Twitter. Their podcast Dumb Bitch Media has amassed a large following. I think they’re going to be a big deal.

What would you like to plug?

Look for mine and Allie’s podcast in the new year. It’s called Wait, Am I Gorgeous? Allie and I suffer from a lot of self-esteem issues. The podcast will be about dealing with self-esteem and ego in this industry because it is an industry that both attracts people who have self-esteem issues and fosters more self-esteem issues. We’ll talk amongst ourselves and with people who work in the industry. The tone of it will be comedic self-help.


Follow Olivia Stadler: Twitter / Instagram / Literally Dead

January 4th, 2020: Literally Dead celebrates its one year anniversary! See event for more details.

“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