Trans comedian Chanty Marostica is reinventing the landscape of stand-up — and it's about damn time
From building Toronto's queer comedy scene to becoming Canada's next 'Top Comic,' Marostica is a fierce force
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
To put it incredibly mildly, comedian Chanty Marostica has had an eventful few weeks.
On September 20th, they came out to their parents as transgender. That same night, they started a series of hour-long solo shows at JFL42 (the Toronto edition of Just For Laughs), effectively becoming the first trans comedian to ever do so.
"I didn't want to talk about the things I was going to talk about without telling my two best friends in the world, my parents, that I'm a guy," they say. "So I phoned them and told them and it was really positive, which made walking into those solo shows just that much better...I tried out stuff I didn't think I should do or would do but it just kind of sewed all my material and what my story tells together. And it was brilliant." (Critics agreed.)
And if that all wasn't enough, the next week Marostica competed in Sirius XM's Canada's Top Comic competition, which comes with a $25,000 prize and a guaranteed spot at four of the world's biggest comedy festivals: the editions of Just For Laughs in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Sydney (Australia, with all due respect to its Nova Scotian sister). And they won.
"It's been insane," Marostica says. "But so amazing."
It's also been a long time coming. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marostica knew they wanted to be a comedian as long as they can remember — they just didn't always know what that looked like, exactly. But when they were 20 years old, they did their first set at a friend's variety show in coffee shop in Winnipeg and immediately became "addicted" to stand-up. That was 14 years ago, when it was hardly an easy time to be a queer person in comedy (particularly in Winnipeg).
But nevertheless, they persisted.
"I got opportunities and got to host at the local club, but it was hard," they say. "At the time, I was a woman and a queer person. They would put one woman or none on the lineup. So I produced my own shows to just be able to be in control and be able to have the time I wanted and to be able to promote the people I wanted."
Taking matters into their own hands worked out, and four years ago Marostica decided it was time to take their ambition and move it to the bigger comedy pond that is Toronto. Quickly, they became a leader in the city's queer comedy community — which up until recently had been all too fragmented, according to almost any LGBTQ comedian you ask.
"Chanty Marostica has singlehandedly created a new scene from the ground up," Ted Morris told CBC Arts earlier this summer. "They're creating opportunities for new queer comics to perform, and supporting these comics in a really safe and positive environment. It's as much about creating a safe space for the audience as it is for the performers."
Marostica has created those safe spaces by starting a bunch of queer comedy nights and tours, bringing together LGBTQ comedians who had previously felt they were being forced to fight one another for slots.
"We should be the headliners," Marostica says. "We are some of the strongest, funniest voices in Canada."
"They just come to me, and I take them out for a coffee. We talk about what they want to talk about on stage, and then they come to the open mic," they say. "I call them by gaybies. People say it's infantisizing but I'm just proud of them! That's just my nickname for them. I know they're full grown adults, just in case people think I'm like, 'I'm a daddy! I own you!' They're my peers and my equals."
Together, Marostica and the "gaybies" have been part of a trend that has seen upwards of four different queer comedy nights on a given night in Toronto.
"People were like, 'We need to spread this out,' and I was like, 'Don't — you're not competing, you're creating work for each other.' And every one of those shows are full because people want it, and we're making it for them. I was so used to them saying, 'People don't need that, comedy is comedy, funny is funny.' But it's like if they didn't need it, then why are all these shows packed? Why are all my gaybies doing so fucking good a year into doing comedy? It was needed, and we're just meeting a demand by them producing their own shows. It feels like we almost can't even produce enough for how much people want it."
Marostica says the secret is simply that if queer comedians support each other, they'll create more work.
"There is this cannibalistic thing in comedy where we're not supposed to help each other and everybody is on their own. But community is the thing that built this, and it's the thing that's keeping it so strong."
As Marostica fostered all this success for themselves and their community, they've also managed to work through their gender transition, which — as one might expect — hasn't always been easy.
"It's been strange," they say. "It's kind of invalidating because people will be like, 'What are your pronouns? You don't say that onstage.' But I'm talking about myself as a child sometimes, so I say 'she/her' in some contexts and then I say 'they/them' in others. And 'they/them' are my preferred pronouns."
Marostica initially came out as non-binary, and started to slowly write more about what that meant for them in their act.
"Then I had a really honest chat with myself over the last two or three years and just realized that I'm a dude," they say. "So I've been altering my material and just trying to honour my old material but also honour my journey so that it's an organic story of where I was and where I am now — because I don't want to let those jokes go, because they're me. Chantal is not my name anymore, but it's not a dead name to me. It's part of who I am. So I'm just trying to elevate the joke so that I can still honour them."
People often discouraged Marostica from bringing their transition into their act.
"When people tell me what I can't talk about, I go up against that really hard. I'm like, 'I'm going to talk about it as much as I want and I'm going to make it so fucking funny that it's uncomfortable for you.' Because trans people can be ourselves without seeing ourselves because we have forever — but it's so much easier to exist when you can see somebody else doing it."
On October 27th, Marostica will drop their debut comedy album The Chanty Show with a little help from their "gaybies" during a special show at Toronto's Comedy Bar.
"I've never dropped an album and I'm doing it by myself, so I just have to learn how to do that," they say. "I'm just going to edit it and then...drop it? I don't really know what I'm doing. I like to everything on my own. Like, I'll just rollerblade a floppy disc into the computer and it'll be there, right?"
The name of the album comes from when Marostica was first coming up in comedy and people would tease them about their confidence.
"They'd be like, 'Oh, it's the Chanty show,' and I'd be like, 'It's OK for me to be good and it's OK for a queer person to be talented.' It is 'The Chanty Show' and it's gonna be a good one."
While that's been the truth about Marostica's shows for some time, finally people outside the community they helped build are noticing exactly that.