TRAGEDY PLUS TIME VOLUME 13 – KAITLIN FONTANA

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“Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
It’s been said many times by many comedians. I believe the original usage dates back to the great Carol Burnett. It’s a quote I have borrowed from to title this column about the wonderful talent in the comedy community right here in Vancouver.Since I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they had a bad experience at a comedy show and never went back. This is as ridiculous as swearing off restaurants as a whole because of one case of food poisoning. It’s my hope, that the profiles here will bring back those who have turned away or open the door for those who have never seen live comedy.

Finally, for those out there that don’t like to laugh, they might be best served by a quote from another lady of show business, Julia Roberts:
“Show me a person who doesn’t like to laugh and I’ll show you a person with a toe tag.”

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It is a pleasure to see someone when they put their disparate talents to use at once. When it comes to Kaitlin Fontana I have been fortunate enough to be present on one of those occasions.

It was a Hero Show performance (the monthly delight at the China Cloud) that featured Fontana delivering a morose monologue about her trying to come to grips with her diagnosis as a person who cannot eat wheat. She sadly presented a slide show that served as her farewell to pizza.

The talents at work were Kaitlin’s gift as a writer and her expertise in performance.

The writing work has its roots in her graduating from UBC’s creative writing program and contributing pieces to giants from SPIN to Rolling Stone to Walrus. Her performance and improv skills were honed with UBC’s Improv, Rosa Park Improv  !nstant theatre and studying with Armando Diaz (the performer not the general).

The two disciplines seem naturally in opposition to one another. One is a form where each word is poured over and nursed until each sentence is just right. The other is a celebration of the word and action in spontaneity, but Kaitlin seemed to balance both and make it seem natural.

At work in her every day life is another talent that never gets exhibited on stage.  It is that of media and sponsorship director for the Vancouver International Improv Festival.  Talking to Kaitlin about this event, you quickly learn that her passion for this festival and all it brings to both the city and to the performers is second only to her passion for the science fiction titan known as Star Trek (fact).

Passion for her work is something Fontana never has in short supply, but with all her pursuits, she might have to add juggler to her resume.

If you would like to know more, you can go to:

www.vancouverimprovfest.com

www.rosaparksimprov.com

or

www.kaitlinfontana.com

When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

Rosa Parks just went to Austin, Texas for a comedy festival. On the plane, I kept hearing soft music, like someone’s headphones were turned up too loud. Then I realized that it was slightly out of tune, low singing, so I looked casually behind me and saw a tiny Asian lady, singing to herself, sitting next to a guy who looked totally mortified. I elbowed Briana and Nicole and got them to listen, and she proceeded to sing an entirely made up, tuneless song with no verses and no choruses about nothing at all to this poor guy next to her. And when she finished the song, she said, “And that’s how that one goes.” This pattern continued for over half an hour, and so did our muffled laughter and tears of joy. People are amazing!

What would be your idea of a perfect venue?

One that was part bar, part theatre with a devoted, knowledgeable improv audience who listened warmly and only shouted out when asked. With no TVs. During the day, it would be used for workshops taught by all of my favourite improvisers, past and present. I would have a time machine for the ones that are now dead, so I could fetch them from the best moment in their improv life and bring them to teach my friends and I. This theatre, which would be in Vancouver, would never encounter any zoning/ordinance issues, because I would be the mayor.

Oh, and it will definitely have a kitchen, and that kitchen shall make the most delicious curly fries.

What is one myth about live comedy you’d like to dispel?

That it matters less or is less artful than live theatre. People have come to associate comedy with frivolity or lightness, specifically comedy for the stage. Something can be incredibly funny but also incredibly important. And just because I’m making it up in the moment doesn’t mean it’s not as well crafted as something that someone wrote a while ago. I do both of those things, and believe me—either one can be awesome or awful. I feel like people who are in comedy understand this, whether they’re standup comedians, improvisers or sketch comedians, but the general public does not. I don’t want to get political, but I will chain myself to this deep fryer until this changes, or until someone makes me some curly fries!

What is the greatest benefit of being an organizer for a festival?

In a word? Power. When you’re at the helm of something like an international improv festival, and everything is going right—the shows are fabulous and well-attended, the performers are happy and well-alcoholed—then you feel like that moment in rap videos where the rapper walks into the club in slo-mo with a super sexy entourage and everyone turns to bask in his/her glory and/or to grind a butt on him/her. Top form!

But seriously—the best part is being able to bring amazing improvisers and friends from all over the world to my city and go, “here’s an audience. Enjoy!” And to turn and watch the audience fall as in love with them as I did when I saw them for the first time.

You are a writer that doesn’t specifically do all your writing for the stage. How do to the two styles of writing inform each other?

This is like a Charlie Rose question, Graham! Fancy!

I think that my writing for stage (primarily sketch) is like the echo chamber version of my writing for the page. When I know what I’m writing will likely be read in a magazine or book rather than performed on a stage, the writing—whether humorous or not—tends to leave room for the reader to think and reflect. Nicole and I (as Pony Hunters) try to do the same with sketch, but it’s almost like we trick you into that reflection by wrapping it up in a joke. Like when you get a Christmas present that you think is a cell phone, but it’s really a shirt in a cell phone box*. Fooled you!

*Thanks, Dad.

Does an all girl improv group have challenges or advantages that an all male or co-ed group does not?

Ah, frig. Yeah, we do. It sucks to admit this, but it’s true—there is still at least one guy (occasionally a girl) who comes up to us after a set and says something along the lines of “you were funny! I was so surprised that you were that funny, because you’re girls.” I wish I was lying. The last time this happened was 2 days ago. You smile, and walk away, because if you argued, you’d be that crazy bitch that argued. This is less a disadvantage than a disappointment. Sigh.

But a major advantage is our cuteness, or the “token female group” factor, and how that sometimes gets us in the door where we can then knock them dead with our actual performance skills. And then after, Justin Timberlake brings us curly fries.

Why is Vancouver a good place for comedy?

Because it’s a city that is still in its formative years, and more and more its creative types are choosing to define it as a place of independent spirit and tightly-knit community. There is a real love between members of this scene, for creating good comedy and for supporting one another in what can be a tough “market” (in terms of numbers, like moneys and people in the audience). I know that when I do a show, my friends want me to succeed. And vice versa. And that is a nice feeling.

Who is one performer/group of performers you think everyone should see at least once?

French and Saunders no longer tour together, sadly. However, please YouTube them. They make the simplest premise incredible and beautiful and perfect.

Also, plug alert: I’m pretty jazzed to be part of a new improv show starting this fall called Ghost Jail Theatre. It combines improv and live writing, which are two of my loves! The cast is also full of attractive people, which helps. Keep your eyes peeled for our launch show in late October! And in the meantime…www.vancouverimprovfest.com, October 5-9, Performance Works…

Every article about comedy has to have a pun in the title. What would you like yours to be?

“Kaitlin puts the Fon in Funtana!” Or “You Font be Serious” (say the second one with an aristocratic English accent).

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