How Comedy’s Counter Culture Beat the Lockdowns

Written By Daniel Bordman, Posted on July 22, 2021

There are very few art forms that rely on the interplay between the artist and their audience as much as stand-up comedy.  One of the defining features of stand-up is that the comedian (unless totally insane and delusional) knows exactly how well a joke landed based off of the crowd’s reaction.

There has been a recent push within the comedy community to band together to have their work be recognized by the Canadian government and thus eligible for public subsidies. But is this really the best way forward for comics?

Take for example Ryan Long, arguably the most recognizable comedian to come out of Canada in the last few years. Ryan first went viral for the video he made with another Toronto-born comedian Danny Polishchuk about the similarities between Wokes and Racists. 

Before his massive success in the United States, Ryan Long did have a video series with CBC comedy called “Torontopia” the videos were funny and received a good number of views, but nowhere near the quality and quantity that they do now. As an independent content creator Ryan is allowed to dive into taboo subjects, lampoon all sides of the political spectrum, and doesn’t have to answer to a group of lawyers trying to mitigate liability.

However, the success of other comics in Canada might temper the idea that in order to be successful you need to pack up and move to the States. In Toronto, at a time when nearly all of the live performance venues are struggling to make ends meet, comedians Ben Bankas and Kyle Lucey have been consistently selling out their shows.

Ben Bankas made waves last summer by defying the draconian and inconsistent lockdown orders to try and keep stand up comedy alive with his park show. Afterward, he gained a degree of infamy by mocking every single major political figure in the Country from Doug Ford to Dr. Teresa Tam. He has also put out a lot of different sketch comedy videos during the pandemic that has kept everyone entertained.

Kyle Lucey’s successful show has an added degree of difficulty as it is a secret location so he can’t benefit from walk-ins and neighbourhood buzz. He has to sell all of the tickets in advance to people who already know him.

I spoke to the founder of Renegade Comedy about how he managed to succeed in a climate where almost everyone else is claiming it to be impossible. 

Kyle told me:

Listen, I don’t think there is any great secret to what I’m doing.  I worked hard every night to be a better comedian, I got myself to the point where I could play all the major clubs in the city, then I kept working until I got to the point that I could tour the country. But you can’t just do one thing, stand up comedy by itself isn’t enough which is why I got into acting as well, and when the pandemic made that all impossible, well you gotta adapt. If no platforms are available, start your own. Again there is no secret trick to building an audience. Just work hard, and oh ya be funny. If you aren’t funny than nothing will help you succeed at comedy.

Just like Ryan and Ben, Kyle Lucey has his own podcast and started putting out video content on social media during the pandemic to build a following.

There is one common theme among all these comics having some success in a time like this, none of the content they are putting out would be approved by any artistic committee put together by the Canadian government. Contrary to popular belief comedy unions, and government subsidies are probably not the pathway to success in the real world and in the eyes of everyday Canadians. 

Daniel Bordman

Daniel is the host of political satire show Uninterrupted, runs multiple podcasts and has written for a variety of publications. Daniel is also the communications coordinator of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation. You can find him on Twitter here. Uninterrupted on YouTube

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