Get Woke with Folk Lordz

Folk Lordz. Ben Gorodetsky and Todd Houseman. Photo Curtis Comeau. Folk Lordz. Ben Gorodetsky and Todd Houseman. Photo Curtis Comeau.

2019 is starting off with a get woke vibe. Political comedy sketch and improv duo, Folk Lordz, is hosting a comedy variety show and party entitled Laughing into the Void to screen all episodes of its sketch series supported by a most-inclusive line-up.

Ben Gorodetsky, one half of the duo, spoke to me abut the history of the improv duo and the evolution of the upcoming show.

Folk Lordz is a multi-cultural match that only the comedy world can make. Gorodetsky comes from Russian Jewish ancestry and grew up speaking Russian as his first language, while the other half is Todd Houseman, who is indigenous Cree. The two met eight years ago at Rapid Fire Theatre in Edmonton where the two were studying improv. Houseman caught Gorodetsky’s eye by playing “grotesque goblins, while everyone else was playing boring, witty characters.” Not only did they both love monsters, but they shared a fascination with story telling traditions from their respective backgrounds.

Backed with research, including the literary kind as well as learning from elders and knowledge keepers as far afield as Yellowknife, the two have developed a number of projects together. In particular, they are known for their hour-long improv show that combines elements from the plays of Anton Chekov and the Cree oral storytelling tradition, with a genre suggested by the audience. More recently, last year they put together a series of comedic sketches about Canada and culture, with a focus especially on colonial racism and other politically relevant ideas from music festivals to environmental destruction to Joseph Boydon.

The upcoming variety show taking place in January is essentially a screening of all the sketches of Folk Lordz. While they are available on YouTube, Gorodetsky rightly points out that “There’s something fun about seeing it all together. It’s a lot more alive that way.”

In addition to the screening, the variety show will include an abridged version of the hour-long improv set of Folk Lordz. Complimenting this is Colour Outside the Lines, an improv ensemble that features people of diverse linguistic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. New clown duo, Humpy Dumpy (Lar Simms and Meander) has a dance piece ready. Two stand-up comedians are performing — trans-activist and writer Estelle Davis as well as queer comedian-of-colour Moohk Hibou. Multi-piece brass band, the Van Hornies will round things out with their combo marching band meets street protest band sets. In sum, it is, as Gorodetsky says, “a special experience, and a mostly Montreal experience.”

Nonetheless, given the grimness of politics today and in the past, especially in regards to immigrants and indigenous peoples, it seems like identity can be a challenging subject area in which to develop comedy, but Gorodetsky assures me that throughout one can expect “our dark and absurd sense of humour. All of it is grounded in our interest in comedy.” He further says, “We wanted to talk about the present, what’s fucked up and what needs to be ripped apart through comedy.”

Gorodetsky and Houseman are sensitive to issues of appropriation and the ways in which comedy can offend. “We constantly talk about it and negotiate it, making sure our research is super solid,” Gorodetsky says. “We spend weeks and months learning what we can about the culture to make a framework inside our heads, of different characters and stories. It’s easy to find primary sources with Chekov, but harder with oral traditions.”

Further, while there are universal themes in their work, they don’t claim to represent all of a culture. “We only speak for ourselves and are not representing all Russian Jews or all Cree peoples.”

I ask if anyone has ever been offended by the Folk Lordz improv show in the past. “Not that I remember,” says Gorodetsky. “We invite audience members to talk to us if they have thoughts, feelings, ideas, or issues. It’s a conversation.” He then describes how he had to learn the tradition of receiving oral knowledge and interacting with Cree elders through the medium of tobacco offerings.

“The sketches might be offensive,” he says. “We want the sketches to be provocative. We hope our invited guests feel welcome to provoke, because that’s how comedy has to work. It can make you feel some feelings, and the bitter medicine has to go down. So people should be ready to be both delighted and provoked.”

Folk Lordz Laughing into the Void: A political comedy show and party! takes place January 19, 2019 at Theatre St Catherine (264 St. Catherine St. E). Tickets are available on a sliding scale at the door and no one will be turned away. Information HERE.

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