Comedy on College: embracing the female funny bone

There is nothing better than a good joke to make the hardships of womanhood feel lighter, and the women who run Comedy on College do just that.

Female comedians are all the rage in entertainment these days, ranging from Amy Schumer to Tina Fey, and Toronto has caught on to the funny female fever.The lead organizers of Comedy on College, a comedy night on Tuesdays at Pour Boy (666 Manning Ave.) are embracing the move towards female comedians wholeheartedly. Heather MacDonald, 30, and Clare Belford, 26, both run the weekly event, balancing the responsibilities between hosting and performing. MacDonald recounts the ambitious tale towards her comedic stardom.

“I started it last June. I have a full-time job and I was sick of going to open mics and staying up until two a.m in the morning. I wanted to be on good shows,” MacDonald says. “I talked to the owner and convinced him to let me try it. It has been very successful and in January I asked Clare if she wanted to run it with me.”

Stand-up Comedian Clare Belford. Photo by Scott McLean.
Stand-up Comedian Clare Belford. Photo by Scott McLean.

MacDonald hails from the Waterloo region and was in the industry for just over a year when she started Comedy on College. She is an ultrasound technician by day, and enjoys having her own show because it provides much-needed flexibility in a busy work week. Belford, on the other hand, has been in comedy for over three years. She ran a show in her hometown of Edmonton, helping her create a cross-Canada network with other comedians. She serves at a restaurant in the financial district, which occasionally provides material for her comedy set. Both women moved to Toronto excited to pursue their comedy careers in a diverse and progressive city.

The two comedians host a weekly series of local female and male comedians, and look for diversity in their performers. Oftentimes, comedy sets are male-dominated, and Comedy on College has even numbers of both genders performing. Having women performers in the mix adds a range of experiences and perspectives into the various sets. “I think comedy has changed a lot in the past few years and people want to see women performing,” Belford says. “I think you lose a lot when you don’t have women performing because then you are limiting yourself to one perspective. People in the audience have a good chance of identifying with more people in the comedy show when it’s diverse.”

It hasn’t always been a bed of roses for these two women. Both reported experiencing sexism during a stand-up routine, due to the fact that comedy is traditionally male-dominated.

“One time, I made a joke about being half-Asian, and when I left the stage, a fellow comedian said, “You’re half-Asian and I’m fully erect,” MacDonald says. “I had just finished my set. I wanted to punch the guy because I felt discredited in what I just did.”

Belford had an experience in Edmonton, where a booking agent told her that women weren’t funny when she was trying to get a spot in the line-up. “I had a full-on argument with someone who was booking shows that women aren’t funny,” Belford says. “There was a crowd of comedians standing around me that didn’t support me and I floundered in the argument by myself. It was very discouraging.”

Women have to deal with performing sets on stage that is often full of rampant over-sexualization of women and the common idea that men are funnier than women. The 10 highest paid comedians in the world make a collective $173 million — and are all men. Comedian Samantha Bee is the only late-night television host, otherwise filled with funny male comedians. These tendencies in the big leagues don’t dissuade these two women performers, and several other women comedians they bring on stage each week.

Regardless of gender, both comics believe the most important thing is to put yourself out there, practice, and work to become a talented comedian. “I just want to be as good as I can be. I want to be a very good comic, and I don’t care how long that takes me,” Belford says.

Comedy on College. Provided by Heather MacDonald.
Comedy on College. Provided by Heather MacDonald.

I personally watched both comics on Tuesday night on stage, with MacDonald hosting and Belford performing. It was a hilarious evening. MacDonald began conversations with individuals sitting near the front of the event, and cracking jokes left and right. Belford’s comedy routine was a rip-roar from beginning to end. She joked about how difficult it was to finish an entire cabbage when living solo, and the dilemma of going home with a man with no sheets.

I felt I could identify with both women on stage, and discovered a new and great way to connect with other women and shared experiences many of us have. I highly recommend hitting up their show. I guarantee you will walk away laughing to yourself about the hilarious parts of being a woman in Toronto.

Jane The Virgin: Your breath of fresh air on Monday nights

Despite its name, there is nothing virginal about the hot new comedy series,  Jane The Virgin.  Now in its second season, Jane The Virgin hits viewers ‘right in the feels’. Or at least that’s how the warm, third-person omniscient narrator (Anthony Mendez) describes certain moments during the 40 minute show.  It stars Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva, a young woman starting a new chapter in her life after being accidentally artificially inseminated by a troubled doctor. The series, an adaptation of Venezuelan telenovela Juana La Virgen, follows Jane’s journey through pregnancy with on-screen text and a chapter book structure. It welcomes viewers to its world with immense ease as it invites them to sit down and hear Jane’s extraordinary tale.

Jane lives with her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll), and has a long-term boyfriend, Michael (Brett Dier). The three Latino women are a force to be reckoned with their strong very distinct personalities. Rodriguez is fantastic in the lead role, making Jane funny and highly relatable. Like many 23 years olds, Jane is balancing student life and a waitressing gig at the Marbella. Also, did we mention she wears spanx? Her considerate, thoughtful, and warm nature allows you to root for her throughout her journey. Her Catholic practices have us earning her respect from the moment she was brave enough to admit to her virginity. Whether it’s during the powerful scene of her praying with a rosemary during a terrible storm or giving an emotional speech during her baby’s baptism, its easy to see how Jane’s faith plays a pivotal part in her grounded yet fun loving character. She puts others before herself without a second thought, and yet it never feels like she’s a doormat. Rodriguez never fails to make us love Jane and her broadly comedic moments. It’s never overdone with her. No wonder she won a Golden Globe for her role in her first season.

There’s a lot of chemistry on the show, from the Villanueva family’s comfortable, and natural equation and Jane and Michael’s easy going relationship. Adding to this is the series’ wise decision to have Alba speak in Spanish, with subtitles translating her speech for the audience. It gives the show a touch of realism and demonstrates respect for the Latino audience while giving others a weekly chance to brush up on our own language skills. While their characters could have easily become stereotypes, the writers add unexpected characteristics and story lines to make them more interesting than they initially seem. Jane’s mother Xiomara, for example, selflessly puts her daughter and mother first, through her provocative nature. Xiomara and Alba balance each other, with Alba’s strict demeanour is contrasted by Xiomara’s proactive nature. Jane feels very much like the product of her two parental figures; headstrong and modest.

Despite the fact that most of the story would be utterly ridiculous,  the series does a surprisingly good job making it seem normal – while still allowing us to laugh. Jane is presented with a dilemma and even those who struggle with its believability will appreciate the nuanced and honest reactions of everyone around her. There is no easy answer for Jane and the biggest strength of the show is the respect it pays not only to Jane herself, but all those helping her. Beneath its soapy exterior, this is a series about decent people trying to do their best in a difficult situation, one that will likely lead to future complications and lots of drama.

The playful tone of the series continues in its second season.  If you choose to dislike the plot, enjoy the bright ,coral colours of the set and the overall, authentic beauty of the cast. Two words; Justin. Baldoni. However, by itself, the show’s style and comedy make for an enjoyable viewing experience. The series finds just the right balance, creating a unique place for itself among the usual dramas that CW airs. With its down-to-earth lead character and parody approach, Jane The Virgin is a breath of fresh air that is a must see for any Monday night. Because we’re always in need of a pick-me-up on Mondays.

WATCH: Jon Stewart did 9 minutes on Rob Ford last night

Rob Ford may not have much power as Mayor of Toronto anymore now that Council has voted to strip him of most of his powers, but he still does hold one title: the King of Late Night Jokes.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took another stab at Ford, the man Jay Leno dubbed “God’s gift to comedy,” and the result include a correspondent’s trip to Toronto with hilarious results.

Ford, take a good long look at the damage you’ve done to Toronto’s reputation.


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