Published Jan 27, 2018With February upon us, we're planning to make the shortest month of the year the sweetest one too.
Canada's only exclusive standup and sketch comedy label, Comedy Records, has teamed up with Exclaim! to launch the Comedy Records Showcase, which takes place on the first Thursday of every month at Wenona Lodge (1069 Bloor St. W) in Toronto. Show times are at 9 p.m. sharp!
Our February 1 edition features Mark DeBonis, Ali Hassan and Rachelle Lauzon, so we asked each of them to tell us more about themselves.
Mark DeBonis originally hails from Scarborough, but has called nearby Toronto home for some time. That said, he'll be moving to Los Angeles in February, presumably to make all of his comedy dreams come true.
"It's funny, I actually hated standup as a young man. The first time I ever went to a show is when I was on stage," he recalls. "It didn't take me long to love it, as a performer and audience member, after that. So it was a reverse scenario — not a fan first.
"I got into standup through Humber College actually," he adds, "I had no idea I wanted to be a comic, so I went to Humber for writing for television and I had to do a set. I didn't want to and they told me I would fail if I didn't."
DeBonis believes his Scarborough upbringing, including hanging out at the local mall, influenced his outlook and a whole generation of comedians from the area, whose common style he describes as "a mx of shit-talking, conversation and not really caring."
In terms of describing his own approach, he says it's the hardest and most common question he encounters. "Here's how I can describe this: 'Hey audience member, are you going to come to a comedy show, pay cover, and have the intention of laughing?' Cause if you lose all expectations, you will have a good time! Like, have you ever lit a sparkler and it just went out in your hand and you remember all the fun you just had? That's my act! Starts with way more potential than it ended with."
DeBonis is releasing his new EP, Man of a Thousand Words, at our showcase on February 1. The next night, he's holding a going-away variety show at Toronto's Comedy Bar at 7 p.m. and then a standup going-away show at the Rivoli at 9 p.m. on February 5. He's also launching a new podcast network called 10, which will focus on producing niche, ten-minute podcasts.
Ali Hassan is from Montreal, but has called Toronto home since 2010. Since the beginning of 2017, he has been touring a solo show entitled Muslim Interrupted, which he has staged in 16 cities so far, with six more planned for 2018, including Oakville Centre on Feb 10.
"I will be on a number of episodes of Dino Dana if you have kids, and two upcoming episodes of Designated Survivor if you hate kids," he jokes.
"Laughter has been important to me," Hassan says of his relationship to comedy. "Maybe I just can't face reality. Maybe I'm running from my problems. Maybe I need professional help. Anyway, the point is that I struggle to go three minutes in a conversation without making a joke, and being funny — or at least trying to — came naturally.
"With respect to standup, I was actually a chef looking for practice for my eventual cooking show. There aren't really studio audiences or cameras ready to help someone hone their TV show hosting craft, so I went onstage with the intention of increasing my confidence with audiences, treat them like a studio audience — that kind of thing. But right after that first time, I was hooked and it just took off from there. Almost 12 years later, and I have a career I only fantasized about."
As for his standup style, Hassan says he explores his own "fish out of water" life.
"I was a single dude for many years and then got married to a woman with two daughters and then we had two sons pretty quickly. It's been 'Zero to Hero' in just a couple of years, which is why that's the name of my first DVD. So, the kids 'write' a lot of my material without even trying. My identity, as a confused Pakistani Muslim Canadian also comes up. And then weird observations that I'm hoping other people connect with."
Rachelle Lauzon is originally from London, ON but currently calls Toronto home. She is joining her partner DeBonis to check out Los Angeles for a while and will be joining him at his aforementioned farewell shows.
Lauzon initially wanted to be a "serious actor," after spending most of her youth in musical theatre. She subsequently went to theatre school and, after trying out improv classes at Second City and feeling iffy about it, took a friend's advice and tried standup.
"Standup had always been a 'bucket list' thing, so I wrote five minutes and went to an open mic," she explains. "I immediately fell in love with it, and have been doing it every day since. I always loved comedic actors growing up, but was never exposed to standup, so I didn't really have any idols when I started. Now that I do standup, I am a total comedy nerd! I think I've watched every special on Netflix and HBO."
When it comes to her material, Lauzon attempts to be as honest and personal as she can, discussing her childhood, sex life, and things that bother her about the world. She says she's a 26 year-old trying to figure life out as she goes, and that her perspective is definitely shaped by her upbringing.
"Growing up, my mother was very sick and struggled with mental health and addiction issues, but somehow through it all, our family managed to have a sense of humour about it," she explains. "It feels good to make light of tough situations and I love to dig deep with some of my family material.
"My sister is five years older and never wanted to play with me as a kid, so I spent a lot of time by myself using my own imagination. I am very in my own head because of all this and my mind feels like it never stops, which for a normal person sounds like a nightmare but is sort of perfect for a comedian."
Come see these people discuss some rather personal things on Thursday, February 1 at the Wenona Lodge.
A ten-dollar ticket includes one pint of Steamwhistle; you can buy tickets in advance here.