Ladyfest is already underway and it’s the biggest its ever been, running from September 4th to the 10th, spanning a week at different venues as well as taking over mainstay shows in the same comedy circles. It’s the raddest comedy party celebrating the best, funniest local women and their allies in stand-up, sketch comedy and improv.
And someone I’ve seen attack all three with such Gusto is none other than D.J. Mausner. This year her tenacity in stand up has earned her the highest achievement for someone in their still relatively young career, the Just For Laughs Homegrown Comics award.
She’s woke to the current situation in the comedy scene, how she makes people laugh is so intuitive, and her stand up comedy brings to the front so clearly what you’ve been trying to express into words for so long.
Be sure to catch her two upcoming shows this week, the Ladyfest Stand up Showcase (on Thursday) and her co-creation, Joketown (Ladyfest edition on Saturday), which I’ve covered on a few occasions.
Now as she gets ready to return to her Toronto hometown, a small space will soon be missing in the hearts of those who’ve been moved by her. But if you love someone’s local comedy, you’ll set them free. In a way she’s leaving us campsite rules style: better and laughing way more than when she found us. And if you’ve read the whole article, you’ll know what it means when I say, I love you, friends.
Bad Feeling Mag: Performing in Montreal, I’ve seen you contribute with ease to the hilarity of an improv scene, you’ve formed a sketch comedy troupe that performed at this summer’s OFF-JFL, you co-produce Joketown, and the list goes on… seems like you’ve been doing this before. You’re from Toronto, what were you doing back home? Where did these acting/comedic chops come from?
D.J. Mausner: This is very kind! Thank you! I’m hoping to dive head first into the improv and stand up scenes in Toronto. Stand up is a bit easier to get out and do because it’s just you and you can sign up or message to get on shows. Whereas, for improv and sketch, you need a team. A group you mesh with on-stage and off. I feel lucky to already know some wonderful performers in Toronto, and I think that will make things a bit easier! But finding performance partners can take a while and I’m not quite ready to let go of the amazing ones (Alex Brown, David Kaufman, Emery Fine, Kevin Shustack) that I have in Montreal. There’s an amazing scene in general in Toronto too, I’m looking forward to soaking it up and learning from all the performers there!
In regards to my comedic chops… I’ve been performing since I was six or seven singing at talent shows or when anyone would look at me long enough. That turned into dabbling with a few instruments (violin, saxophone, flute), then musical theatre, then improv, then writing for stand up, then stand up. I’ve been doing comedy with it in mind as a career since I was sixteen, so even though I’m twenty-three now, it’s been a minute since I started. A friend and great comedian Eric Toth told me once that the amount of years you’ve been doing comedy is your ‘comedy age.’ So technically I’m seven. I’ve got a long way to go.
The most recent accolade, the best one so far, came because of your stand-up — what does winning the Just For laughs Homegrown award mean to you? You shared the award with another winner, female comedian Courtney Gilmour. What does it mean from here on out?
It’s pretty wild because I’ve kind of always considered myself an improvisor first. Maybe because I did it more consistently and with greater stakes than stand up when I first started… or maybe because I work at Montreal Improv Theatre and that’s where my head is at more. I had an ex who was also a comic once tell me they “didn’t really consider me a stand-up” (booooo) and that has kind of stuck with me.
I think ultimately I love to blur the lines between different mediums of comedy and that’s what modern audiences want. Young people, students, my peers… they aren’t as interested in a straightforward stand up show anymore. They have access to anything they want at any rate, speed, and volume. They want to be entertained on many levels. I think a stand up who is able to bring surreal storytelling elements of sketch, or riff and build with the audience like in improv has a leg up.
Co-winning Homegrown specifically has been pretty wild. I remember watching the competition in previous years and wondering if I’d get a chance to give it a go, and the fact that I actually won with Courtney has been just so surreal. It’s externally validating in this way. Unfortunately a lot of comedy is achieving the approval of gatekeepers in order to continue doing your craft/art/bits at a more ‘credible’ level. And I think that’s bullshit, and it’s why I produce a lot of my own stuff. Winning has opened doors for me that wouldn’t have opened as easily if I hadn’t won, and I’m grateful for that. I know people who are really on one about meritocracy in a scene or a comedy economy will give me space where they likely wouldn’t have before. As a woman it’s comforting. As a queer Jewish woman it’s even more dope. I think it will make my move to Toronto easier from a career perspective. I’m trying to use this won respect to help create more room for others and demand change where it should have happened years ago.
Internally, it’s cool I got a trophy. My parents were proud. The reality is now I’m mentally searching for how I’m going to top my achievements next year.
There are about 30,000 more women than men here. In most metro areas of the western world, the women outnumber the men. You would think there would be more female comedians on the scene, right?
That is a very interesting statistic and I have to say I had no idea that was the case! I don’t think more women means more opportunities for women to do comedy, unfortunately. If you’re taking a one off improv workshop and even if there’s fifteen women and one dude and the dude makes a bunch of racist or rape jokes and they’re never addressed by the teacher, the company, or the dude himself, there’s a big chance those fifteen women are never going to do improv at that company (or anywhere else) ever again.
Now, this isn’t a frequent occurrence, and slowly (so, so slowly) things are eeking in the right direction. But it’s because things like this can still happen in a level one or drop in workshop that we don’t see people of many identities and experiences at higher tiers. Why would an oppressed identity want to hang around and stick it out in an environment that is telling them from day one ‘this space is not for you.’ There’s no room to stay and get better to eventually have the basic skills to make a team and practice with people and coaches that won’t make you feel unsafe. It’s safer just to leave.
We need to fix these things at an institutional level because they are systemic problems. Clubs and theatres need to book more women to proactively note to other women that they can and will be booked and that the environment is safe for them. Those who book clubs and shows who want to have women, women identifying, and non-binary people have the responsibility to make their spaces safe for those people–not booking known problem comedians, being public about a zero tolerance policy for harassment. Hell, their own personal politics should imply they believe those things too. It isn’t enough to say you want diversity. You have to go out in the city and scout new, diverse talent. You have to make them feel welcome. You have to listen when they tell you there’s something wrong.
Otherwise you’re just another booker or comedian calling yourself a feminist because you have a girlfriend or do jokes about how you love going down on women (yawn).
The people at the top of the chain who could turn it around are those who book shows, the promoters, even other comedians… as a ticket holder, I can choose the lineup I see… what else can be done to encourage more women to get on the mic?
Women, women identifying, and non-binary comedians have to have each other’s backs. Believe each other when someone says they have an issue with a male comedian in the scene. If you see your female team members getting steam rolled in improv scenes, step out and support their point of view. Stick up for them when you do notes after a set. Stop writing sketches about how funny it is for a man to dress like a woman (unless he’s actually trying to pass and play a specific character. And even then, please god don’t do ‘the voice.’ You know what I’m talking about). It’s transphobic and it alienates trans women from comedy. Tell your stand up buddy who means well that his bit is messed up. If he’s a good comedian (and friend) he’ll be happy you told him.
Good comedy dudes: book more women, promote their shows. Don’t let other dudes talk shit about them. Don’t stand for clubs booking no women. Stick up for them online, in person. Message them privately asking if they would mind if you stepped in if you’re not sure.
Women, women identifying, and non-binary comedians: try and go to shows recommended to you by people you trust. Psychic City in Montreal is a great venue and houses a bunch of awesome shows. Find comedians you like and see what shows they’re on. They likely won’t be on any total shit shows. Gather all the knowledge you can about the comedians and shows worth your time and start to write. Do open mics until you get your bearing and then start asking for spots on booked shows. Some mics will be really hard. Try to talk to other women at them, and find your people. Make pacts to go together.
In Montreal, as evidenced by the emergence of Ladyfest, and more women-run comedy nights in recent years, it seems women in comedy are only just slowly gaining visibility… What are the factors you think, what made that possible here?
I think women got tired of not being booked on shows and decided to make their own thing, and then realized a lot of audiences they would prefer to perform to were looking for that too. The shows I have done in Montreal that are advertised and executed as LGBTQ+, feminist, no rape joke comedy shows have all sold out to warm, excited, paying audiences. Montreal is a student city and a lot of students are queer young people who want to see some weird ass shit. There is great demand and I’m excited that a lot of amazing comedians are beginning to pounce on it (perfect example, Stand Back mic at NDQ run by Tranna Wintour, Nancy Webb, and Rachel Gendron)!
We still don’t see all female lineups like we see all male lineups, and people might also say “You’re 23!”Have you ever been met with obstacles because of your gender and age? And if not, is there a secret to avoiding meeting those kinds of obstructions?
My age hasn’t ever really been an issue because generally in comedy if you’re good, it just adds to your “””””””lustre””””””. Being a woman has posed some problems. Not many of them occur on stage (though you do have the occasional audience members that just outright don’t listen to you due to your gender). It’s more a general feeling of discomfort.
Arriving at a mic and seeing all dudes that know each other. Dudes hitting on you after your set. The audience being slight and feeling like you’re just performing for a group of dude comedians. Small comments or behaviours by your colleagues that make you feel uneasy but aren’t ‘scary’ enough to mention. And the emotional labour… good god, the emotional labour.
A quote I try to live by is a short one by Matt Besser of the UCB. It’s ‘be undeniable.” Now, that quote is totally warped when recognizing that due to systemic oppression, people will find ways to deny you regardless of skill. But I do feel like, to a certain extent, if you are really fucking good, even people who dislike you would be stupid not to put you on. That, and ask for the things you want if you think you deserve them. If you’re great and asking for things you want in an honest way and people still aren’t booking you then they’re knobs and you should make your own show!
You’re headlining the Ladyfest stand up showcase on Thursday September 7th — will you have some favorites from your winning set for some of us who missed it?
Yes! I mean, I’ve been doing my Homegrown set for like ten months now, but I’ll likely include some of the material I like best, or is most fun for me. I’ve really been enjoying just messing around and talking to people since the competition because to a certain extent the pressure had been lifted. There will be jokes, that I promise.
Is this going to be one of your last performances in the city? Any other shows to see you in before you go?
I’m doing shows right up until I leave, including two the night before I drive out of the city at Montreal improv. One will be a ‘Gauntlet’ which will be me performing with a series of my favourite players at the theatre. I’m very excited.
You’re also the co-producer of Joketown, which for two years now (already?) has been a solid monthly favorite at Theatre Sainte-Catherine. Will it come to an end at Ladyfest? If so, will that play a part in its theme? How does it feel, and is this the first time you’ve had to pull the plug on your co-baby?
Very wild that it’s been two years this past August. The last Joketown of a regular season will be on Saturday of Ladyfest, yes. But I’ll likely revive it here and there when I come back to visit in hopes of getting the gang back together and giving the opportunity to comedians that came up since I left the city. It will likely play a bit of a part — the first Joketown was hosted by Katie Leggitt just before her Toronto move and the main theme was ‘departure.’ I might have it be that again (the first repeat in Joketown history) if I’m feeling poetic.
It’s sad. I love Joketown. It has been a huge part of my life. A lot of people have added to the lore and I have been at/run almost every single show. I write all the promo. Joketown lives in my brain, LOTR/JRR Tolkien style. But as I spoke to in my long ass dramatic post, I think we have an opportunity to have many Joketowns going on in the city at any given time if everyone that ever took part in a Joketown took that feeling of creation and care and turned it into their own special comedy thing with inclusion, collaboration, and dumb as hell art at its heart.
It’s a bittersweet feeling because it’s sad to know you’re going soon, but the compersionist in me wants to know what you’ll get into next once you’re all settled… what are your fall projects, your podcast, and can you say anything about your part in an upcoming series on Viceland?
I am going to be understudying for the Touring Company at Second City, attempting to enter the stand up sketch and improv scenes, hugging my dog every damn day because we finally live in the same city again. Alex and I are going to continue our podcast Experts and actually, I am sososo excited about the interviews we have planned for the coming season. [Talking about Fubar: Age of Computer on Viceland], the series is going to be wild. I appear in the holiday episode. There is romance and amazing costumes and bananas stunts that I can’t believe I got to be on set to see.
Need to mention anything else?
You rule! Comedy till death! Tell your friends you love them!
D.J. Mausner headlines the stand-up showcase at Theatre Sainte-Catherine (264, rue Sainte-Catherine est) Thursday, September 7th at 8PM. Joketown is Saturday September 9 at 8PM. Tickets are $12. Lineup information at ladyfest.ca