Women stand front and centre at Montreal’s annual festival dedicated to women in comedy, Ladyfest. Recognizing that women headline a far fewer percentage of shows than men (15% according to the Ladyfest website), this festival aims to create a welcoming and inclusive space. While women are at the heart, both men, women, and those who don’t fit either category are welcome to attend with open arms. After all, the Ladyfest motto is “One Love, No Jerks.” Organizer Erin Hall talked about how the festival has changed this year and why Montreal needs a Ladyfest.
Sexism is an unfortunately all-too-persistent problem in the comedy world. Mausner’s recent experience is a perfect example. This year, she won the Just for Laughs Homegrown Talent award along with Courtney Gilmour. In the 19 years of the award’s existence, they are the first two women to win it. “A lot of us were in shock that no woman had ever won this,” says Hall.
“We’re not even addressing the idea that some people say women aren’t funny,” continues Hall. “Rather, there’s a numbers game. More men participate in comedy than women. That’s why there are these line ups that are 80% men and one token female, or 100% male lineups. We think there are plenty of hilarious women and want to create opportunities for them to perform and feel comfortable. The first year felt like an explosive of vibes, every room was such a supportive room, everyone was there to laugh and feel good. It had an amazing and electric vibe, not necessarily the same as a regular comedy show.”
In sum, Ladyfest is very much needed.
Last year, Ladyfest was organized by different producers, but this year the original model was used with a board of five women programming the shows. The strong team comes from the stand-up, sketch and improv realms and includes Hall, Lar Vi, Deirdre Trudeau, Sara Meleika, and Emma Wilkie. Because each comes to the organization from a different comedic direction, they each can bring forward a range of show types.
For example, Mausner’s regular show, Joketown, is being integrated into the festival. “Comedians are put together for the first time and create a fun and silly show,” says Hall. She also notes that this production will be nostalgic for many. “It’s the last time to catch Joketown before Mausner leaves for Toronto.”
Among the other shows taking place is a takeover of Wilkie’s There’s Something Funny Going On at the Blue Dog Motel stand up night. This long time stand-up show put out a call for women who wanted to do standup but never felt comfortable. “Some of the open mics are male dominated and make women feel uncomfortable,” explains Hall. “This is a bunch of women trying stand up for the first time in an environment that is supportive.” Regulars of the comedy night will appear as well, ensuring a level of professionalism alongside the newbies.
Meleika’s improv group, Color Outside the Lines, will be bringing its diverse, multi-cultural group forward for a night of improv. The list of local Montreal performers includes many recognizable names, including Sara Quinn, Dana El-Saleh, Emery Fine, Sandi Armstrong, Kirsten Finch, Lise Vigneault, Tranna Wintour, Sehar Manji, and Erica Taddeo. OK, there are so many others.
In addition to both local amateur and professional performers from Montrael, women are coming in from all over to participate. For example, Katie Leggitt, the festival’s founder and now Toronto resident, will be doing a solo set. Toronto’s sketch comedy troupe, the Definition of Knowledge, will be performing its pseudo-beat poetry act.
Make no mistake that while Ladyfest puts an emphasis on women performers, inclusiveness remains important. “We have cis-gender males in our festival,” Hall says. “It’s a festival for funny women and their allies. We’re making an extra effort to make sure we include everyone, including people from different communities and groups. We also want to make sure they’re welcome. We’re working on a panel where we can discuss what methods can make sure more voices are heard and how to make events that are more inclusive so more people come to perform in these environments.”
“We want everyone to come. Everyone is welcome,” Hall says. “The only stipulation is that your vibe is good and you’re there to enjoy and not be a jerk. If you walk in there, come to learn, laugh, meet people and see all the wonderful things people do.”
Ladyfest takes place September 4-10. Click HERE for more information, including showtimes and ticket prices.