Celebrate Montreal’s best female comedians at this week’s Ladyfest

Lise Vigneault as Ladyfest Montreal host Narwhal (photo by Kathy Slamen)

Lise Vigneault as Ladyfest Host Narwhal (photo by Kathy Slamen).

There have been no shortage of recent think pieces proclaiming this a “golden age” for women in comedy, with the mainstream success and pop-culture domination of performers like Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amy Pohler and the entire cast of the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. Yet how much of that spotlight on women comics has translated to representation on our local comedy stages?

Women in Comedy Montreal was started to bridge that divide, putting together live shows consisting of local women in stand-up, sketch comed and improv. That group has now put together the first edition of Ladyfest, featuring performers from Montreal and beyond, taking place from September 4-6 at Théâtre Sainte Catherine.

Ladyfest will dedicate one night each to stand-up, improv and sketch / story-telling, along with afternoon workshops, including a confidence-building exercise featuring the League of Lady Wrestlers Montreal. The festival will feature local performers including EmanNatalie Willett, Tranna Wintour, among others, along with participants from Toronto and New York, with hosting duties by human / narwhal hybrid Lise Vigneault.

We caught up with Festival Director Katie Leggitt to discuss the inspirations behind Ladyfest, the representation of women comics in Montreal and her hopes for the future of the festival. For tickets and additional info, visit ladyfest.ca

We also have a pair of tickets to give away to the opening night festivities on September 4 at Theatre Sainte Catherine – to enter our draw, message us via our contact form and include “Ladyfest” in the comment section. We’ll pick a winner at random on September 2. Good luck!

Bad Feeling: Why was this the right time to launch Ladyfest?

Katie Leggitt: We’ve spent the past year producing shows in an effort to create more opportunities for female comedians (in improv, sketch, stand-up and storytelling) around the city, and right from the start, we were building towards producing a festival. Montreal is known for its gigantic comedy festival, and we want to be on par with other cities producing all-female festivals like Boston (Women in Comedy Festival), Portland (All Jane) and most recently Toronto (SheDot). We really want to celebrate the women who are working really hard right now and creating amazing stuff in Montreal.

Bad Feeling: There’s a lot of talk about this era being a boom for female comedians; is that something you agree with?

KL: I absolutely agree with that, and it’s something I think about often. I think women in the industry have always had a strong voice, but now in this golden age of telecommunications, we are just so much more connected to each other. There are literally millions of hits for a “women in comedy” Google search. Hundreds of millions. With social media, YouTube and all the rest of that, it’s so much easier to connect to women with whom you relate, respect, and adore. Anybody can be a click away from laughing, at all times. Also, that means there’s so much more variety out there now, which is really great.

Bad Feeling: Are women underrepresented in Montreal comedy?

KL: I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think it depends on the context and the form of comedy. Improv in Montreal has changed a lot in the past five years and we’ve seen a lot more women taking classes and producing shows, which I think is great. Sketch is still sort of a newborn in Montreal, that hasn’t quite found its way, but both men and women are drooling at the mouth for sketch comedy opportunities. We just don’t have a standard to go on yet, but that’s changing.

I guess where most people jump to conclusions that women are under-represented is in stand-up comedy. Maybe 2 years ago I’d be like, “Yeah – where all the ladies at?” But surprisingly, when I do a quick math equation in my head, I feel like the close-knit group of young stand-ups doing regular open mics and shows seems fairly balanced. Not quite, but almost. Math hasn’t always been my strong point, but there are so many welcoming open mics that don’t explicitly program women.

What I want to see is more women headlining in our own city. What happens often is that people will reach their ceiling of success in Montreal and move on to other cities to keep growing. Does it have to do with competition? Sure. Are we a competitive community? Not really, and I love that about this town, but would the calibre be different if we were? Maybe! But we’re here to express love and appreciation for the grinders that stick around, and to welcome our favourites from beyond Quebec.

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Left to right: Ladyfest organizers Katie Leggitt, Lar Vi, Erin Hall, Lise Vigneault (photo by Kathy Slamen).

Bad Feeling: What changes have you seen in the Montreal comedy / improv scenes since you’ve been involved?

KL: The biggest change that’s happened this year is the Open Michelle shows, the Hey Gorgeous and newest Ladies Night Every Night. All ladies, all the time. So good!

Bad Feeling: What links the performers at Ladyfest?

KL: Love that question. I think it’s the unstoppable feeling that you’re meant to be performing, and the microphone or stage time that allows others to hear your unique take on things. It’s the exchanges that happen before and during shows between the comedians, the pats on the back, the hugs, the acknowledgement of awesomeness that we each possess.

Bad Feeling: Is it important to have a variety of styles and approaches amongst the performers?

KL: Yes, definitely. I think that’s something that we feel very strongly about. It’s a women in comedy festival. There’s more than one type of woman, and each time we remind ourselves of that, our programming is validated. We want to create a realm where diversity can live and be accounted for and celebrated. And it’s been a very interesting experience, being mindful of that and working to create a line-up of performers and shows that will reflect our feelings. And if you take a gander at the performers, I think you’ll agree!

Bad Feeling: What other areas would you like to see Ladyfest expand into?

KL: Well, we’ve started building our wishlist of future performers, and the sky’s the limit, really. We’re already brainstorming for next year. Our Programming and Community Director Lar wants to produce a show called MOMedy and provide child care services to those in need. We want to expand and include a French-speaking lineup as well, since we are “Women in Comedy Montreal,” and we want to embrace the city’s unique bilingualism. At this point, we’re creating more links within the community, including with the League of Lady Wrestlers Montreal who will be providing a confidence-building workshop on Saturday from 12-3pm during Ladyfest. All of this is super exciting! The sky’s the limit!

Ladyfest runs September 4 – 6 at Theatre Sainte Catherine (264 Sainte-Catherine East). For tickets and the full schedule, visit ladyfest.ca

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