TRAGEDY PLUS TIME VOLUME 31 – KATIE-ELLEN HUMPHRIES

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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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There are comics who are completely confessional and to see them is akin to sitting in a therapy session with them. Comics in this vein include performers like Marc Maron, Bill Hicks, and Janeane Garafalo. There are other comics who reveal nothing about themselves in their act. Their jokes make us want to know what type of mind could think of them, but you never really get a glimpse beyond that. Steve Wright, Mitch Hedberg and Zach Galifianakis are masters of this form. Then there are some performers that fall somewhere in between. The jokes may not be completely about themselves, but each joke reveals a little secret about them. Dave Attell is a good example of this, as is Vancouver’s Katie Ellen Humphries.

When she takes the stage, her jokes reveal a point of view, but only snippets about the person spouting it.

Katie has an unmistakable sarcastic tone, where everything she’s talking about seems deserving of scorn. The tone seems to run counter to the fact that she is always smiling and genuinely enjoys what she does.

One thing she certainly enjoys that is in keeping with her stage persona, is she has an entire comedy life outside of Vancouver. She is a performer with a Victoria based group called Atomic Vaudeville.

Every month, they put on a brand new show and though I’ve never seen it, Katie’s enthusiasm for it would intrigue anybody.

I suppose being a part of this group has informed the way that Katie acts around the comedy scene here in town. She helps out at all manners of shows, just to help, just to make the shows better. Certainly her contribution as performer is more than enough, and yet she contributes more.

Maybe in her own way it is a case of actions speaking louder than jokes when it comes to knowing Katie- Ellen.

If you would like to know more you can go to: http://www.atomicvaudeville.com/

Katie-Ellen was kind enough to answer some questions for Vancouver Is Awesome.

When was the last time you laughed until you cried?
Recently, a gentleman friend was telling me about the neighbourhood he grew up in. He led with “We used to see Dave Mathews at the Jamba Juice…” and I lost it ‘til salty tears of obnoxious laughter ran down my face. Something about local teens lining up to see the jam band front man drink wheat grass is funny to me, and specifically the line “Dave Matthews at the Jamba juice” continues to make me giggle. I laugh to the point of tears every time I’m with my brother, which I think is just the release of another human seeing the world from the same skewed vantage point that you do. I’m also often over-tired, so hysteria is not super uncommon for me.

What is one myth about live comedy you’d like to dispel?
I would like to dispel the myth amongst some fellow amateur comedians that not having a day job is a romantic dedication to the craft. Sometimes it just means you’re unemployable. And you owe me for the beers. Jerks!

What would be your idea of a perfect venue?
My perfect venue is the Victoria Event Center. You can get 250 people in there for a show, but it doesn’t feel vacant with a crowd of 30-50. It’s got a throw-back, cabaret style and theatrical feel. There’s nothing neon and no one peddling nachos, but there is delicious Phillips Brewery Beer, wine and liquor and the seating can be easily cleared for a post-show dance party. The VEC is two stories above street level, as opposed to the more common underground basement feel of many comedy clubs (like a bunker but with shitty caricatures).

There’s also a certain audience that attends events at the VEC. They’ve had a good time there before and they come in expecting to enjoy themselves. They come to the VEC for everything from spoken word to improv, dance, and theatre, so when they come to a comedy show, they have a bit more patience than a comedy club audience. They’re prepared to experience the performance you present – rather than the almost adversarial “make me laugh already” approach I feel you can get at some clubs.

Also, the bar itself is shaped like a guitar and that is neat.

What do you think is a comedy premise that needs to be retired?
It’s not really a premise, but I do sometimes have a problem with the segue after a joke wherein you reveal something humiliating or shocking or unattractive about yourself, and then say “So I’m single” (pause for laughter.) I understand why it works and there’s really nothing wrong with it. It just gets under my skin a little bit because things like this feel to me like Pavlovian comedy. The audience laughs because you said something in a certain cadence and there’s a really accessible amount of obvious irony to the situation. I don’t know if the audience really thinks it’s funny or they’re just agreeing to play the part you’ve served up for them. That being said, I’ve used this and I wouldn’t put it past me to use it again. I’ve said “I quit smoking” just for the applause break. Comedy is tough.

I also wish other people would stop writing funny sex jokes, ‘cause I don’t have any and audiences really like them. No fair!

Tell me about your involvement with Atomic Vaudeville.
The best way I’ve heard Atomic Vaudeville (AV) described is like a live action “Muppet Show.” Each cabaret episode is an original, 2-hour theatrical comedy show complete with large scale dance numbers, musical acts, monologues, sketches and other pieces.

Working with AV has had an enormous impact on me. Most of the regular cast have years of theatre training, and I came to the group with almost no performance experience. There was a huge learning curve, but now performing something like a thriller flash mob or “Bollywood Batman” is weirdly second nature.

Working with Atomic has taught me not to be precious with my writing. If something doesn’t work, re-work it or scrap it and create something better. Co-creators Jacob Richmond and Britt Small both have an incredible sense of comedy, social satire, production value and spectacle and they posses a rare ability weave those elements together in a way that is always funny, entertaining and thoughtful.

Some of my favourite AV episodes include: “Cute Attack” “Walt Disney presents Christmas in Meatland” “My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad – in 3D” and “Violence is Gay” (which featured a Rock Opera version of “The Warriors.”)

What is the most difficult obstacle to overcome in starting stand up comedy?
You can’t practice at home. You can write and “rehearse” or whatever in your bedroom, but you’re not really logging practice hours if you’re not on stage. It can be difficult to know what being good looks like, and know where you are, and know that the only way to get to that place of confidence and precision is to continue to do this thing that you admire, kind of badly, in front of strangers.

Is there anything that you can do on stage that a man cannot?
Last week I told a gal in the front row that she had distractingly great tits. I suspect her boyfriend would have been less cool with it if I’d been a guy. If I were a guy who said that kind of thing on stage though, I’d probably follow it up with something awesome like “did I say that out loud?” and then make a crack about jerking off to her later and the crowd would carry me out on their shoulders. Somewhere, my “tells-it-like-it-is” male comic persona is getting a blow job from a busty audience member right now.

Is your comedic voice more the result of looking inward or outward?
I like to think that a more inward approach will develop with time. Right now, more often than not my jokes are the result of observing something outwardly and then filtering it through my personality and point of reference.  Often something perfectly ordinary happens to me, I misunderstand because I’m childlike and ridiculous and then I mine that experience for a joke. When I see it like this it seems like my comedic voice has the same break-down as an episode of “Three’s Company.” I’m not sure what to do with that.

Why is Vancouver a good place for comedy?
I think it’s good, but that’s just because I hate to perform for poor people.

I actually feel really fortunate to get to develop in Vancouver. If Vancouver were not such a great place to live and if there were more opportunities in Canada, as acts got stronger they would eventually move away, the way American comics move to New York or L.A. In this scenario, after two years in you might be one of the more senior comics in town, whereas, as a relative new-comer, I have the benefit of seeing exceptional professional comedians – yourself [Graham Clark], Charlie Demers, Erica Sigurdson, J.P. Mass, Paul Myrehaug, Phil Hanley, to name just a few – working on a regular basis.

There also aren’t any big comedy chains here, so there’s not a large number of people working to one organization’s standards. People can really choose to do whatever style of performance they want and can develop an audience around it, the way the HERO show and Sunday Service have done.

Who is one performer/group of performers you think everyone should see at least once? The Cody Rivers Show.

What is your favorite joke (street of otherwise)?
When I was in first grade I gave out Rainbow Brite cards for Valentine’s Day. One of the cards said “When is Pegasus a horse of a different colour? When she’s tickled pink!” That’s still my favourite joke.

Every article about comedy has to have a pun in the title. What would you like yours to be? My swim coach used to call me “Katie Humps-knees”…but that’s probably out of context. Sticking to strict pun conventions, maybe something like “Funny, but can she turn a prophet?” But I believe I would prefer “Whoa Whoa Whoa she’s a Katie.”

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