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Keeping Ontario funny

Four women, cast of Baroness von Sketch

Photo: Cast of Baroness von Sketch (Photo: Erin Simkin)

By

Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen

Intangible heritage

Published Date: Sep 08, 2017

The CBC’s Baroness von Sketch Show is an all-female comedy series that “celebrates the absurd, mines the embarrassing and satirizes our daily lives.” The Trust reached out to members of the troupe to get their take on what makes Ontario so funny.

Aurora Browne
I think across the board, Canadians are funny people. There is something about being the little sibling of North America – the outsider to so much of the culture that we get from the rest of the world, and having to deal with our giant neighbour to the south – that gives us that slight alienation and perspective that you need to be a comedian. Also, the weather here can literally kill us. There’s nothing like the possibility of an icy death always lurking in the back of your brain to bring out the dark humour in a person. In Ontario, there is a great mix of small town and intensely urban. We have the perspective but also the opportunities to turn that humour into a viable career in front of a camera!

Ontario comedians and comedy institutions have had a huge influence on me and were instrumental in helping to shape my career. I would not be where I am today without The Second City Toronto. First, because I spent my formative years watching their genius baby, SCTV, soaking in all the comedy gold that those talented people put on screen. And secondly, I was hired to be part of the live company there. I had trained as a serious actor in York University’s BFA Program, but my real education came at The Second City, doing improv and sketch six nights a week for two and a half years. My partner in crime back then was Carolyn Taylor, and of course now we do Baroness together along with Jenn Whalen, who was in the first Second City revue I ever saw live.

For Baroness von Sketch Show, our material comes from our lives. We pay attention to all the little moments, the habits, the embarrassing truths, and then bring them into the writing room. The more people who say “oh my god, me too!,” the more likely it is that the sketch has legs. I think people continue to turn to sketch because it’s a format where you can speak the truth, and you can talk about anything at all, and get it out in a short, sharp jolt of funny. For Baroness, our format has been an extra blessing, because especially now it’s so easy for people to share
sketches from the show on social media. Attention spans are getting shorter, and sketch gets in and gets out and leaves them laughing.

Comedy has to remain important today. Imagine life without laughing, without connection, without that burst of joy when you think “That’s so true!” We may not be literally saving lives in our job, but we are trying to make life more enjoyable for everyone, trying to let people know that they aren’t alone and that yes, you can laugh at things.

Jennifer Whalen
Ontario has benefited over the years from funny people from other provinces moving here and greatly contributing to Ontario’s overall funniness. But we cannot overlook the impact of the institutions that continue to inspire and influence young comedians.

For my 16th birthday, my drama teacher Mr. Kunder and some friends took me to see a Second City Show at the Old Firehall in Toronto. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. I loved the energy and risks that the performers were taking. Mike Myers did his Wayne’s World character. This was 1986, so long before he became famous. It was a magical, life-changing night that I promptly forgot about. Cut to my early 20s when I was casting around for something to do and ended up taking improv classes at Second City and suddenly remembered my burning desire to be part of Second City. Being part of Second City had a huge influence on my career. Through my involvement, I met so many incredibly talented people who became friends and co-workers. I found my tribe there. And in the strange way that things sometimes come full circle, my husband is friends with Mike Myers and so I got to tell him about the first time I saw him.

When we’re developing material for Baroness, my creative process is pretty simple. I get up in the morning and don’t know what I’m going to write and then I take the TTC to work and get five sketch ideas along the way. I live in Toronto. Being stuck in traffic is a big theme for me these days.

No matter what is going on, you can always use a laugh. Sketch comedy is a great way to get that and it’s very versatile. It can offer everything from a slice of life to parody. It’s easily shared and great for people like me who have short attention spans.