Winnipeg's WOKE Comedy night is passing the mic to cultural diversity

The twice-monthly event "features womxn of colour, Indigenous womxn and non-binary folx of colour" and gives them an opportunity to hone their voices.

The twice-monthly event gives 'womxn of colour, Indigenous womxn and non-binary folx of colour' the mic

(WOKE Comedy Hour/Facebook)

Here's a joke: what did the Indigenous woman say to the non-binary person of colour? It doesn't matter, because these people aren't here to be the punch line.

WOKE Comedy Hour  is a twice-monthly open mic for "womxn of colour, Indigenous womxn and non-binary folx of colour," according to their Facebook. This is a space for people who are sometimes the butt of the joke to try out their own material in front of a welcoming audience.

WOKE Open Mics happen the last Friday and First Tuesday of every month in Winnipeg. (WOKE)

The event is the brainchild of Elissa Black Wolf Kixxen and Dionne Haynes. Says Kixxen: "We were talking comedy and we realized there's a real shortage of women of colour in the comedy scene and we were looking to change that. It was sort of a spur of the moment 'we should do this' — and we did."

When I came back [to Winnipeg] I was really happy to see more women on the scene, but it still lacked cultural diversity.- Elissa Black Wolf Kixxen , comedian

Kixxen got her start in comedy when she was 16 — she's a self-professed improv and theatre nerd. Over the years, she's performed in places like Second City in LA and The Improv. She took a 10-year hiatus but returned to comedy two years ago and found that while some things had changed, some things remained the same.

Elissa Black Wolf Kixxen. (Sara Atnikov)

"When I left the scene, I was kind of disappointed at the place where Winnipeg was; it was sort of stuck in the 1950's, with white males running most of the shows, and with me not being a white male, I didn't think I'd had a lot to offer," she says. "When I came back, I was really happy to see more women on the scene, but it still lacked cultural diversity."

In the short time WOKE has been hosting their open mics, the response from the comedy scene has been very positive. "We've had comedians who don't fit our bill but are really wanting to offer support," says Kixxen.

Autumn Crossman-Serbhas been doing standup for close to two years, regularly going up at the Women's Open Mic Comedy that happens the first Friday of every month at Wee Johnny's. She still performs at other open mics, but says there's just something different about WOKE.

People have this idea that all comics who are POC are going to be like Russell Peters, and I don't want to make my whole career out of making fun of my family.- Autumn  Crossman-Serb , comedian

"At other places, it's like, I don't want to tell a joke at the expense of my parents — like, I don't want to tell it so a white audience will understand it," says Crossman-Serb. "I love to joke about my parents, but I don't want them to be the butt of the joke — I want them to laugh along. People have this idea that all comics who are POC are going to be like Russell Peters, and I don't want to make my whole career out of making fun of my family."

While Crossman-Serb is a seasoned comedian compared to some of the people who go up at WOKE, she says that this open mic is important to help other comedians of colour find their voice.

Autumn Crossman-Serb is a graphic novelist and illustrator from Winnipeg. She's Muslim and wears a hijab — and many of the characters she draws do too. 0:30

"It's just so nice to be able to have some place to be able to hone my voice. I think I don't have a problem with finding my voice, but I think for other, younger comics, they do."

Danielle Kayahara started doing standup four months ago, but she echoes Crossman-Serb's sentiments about the importance of WOKE.

"The reason I enjoy WOKE is because of how supportive the audience and other comedians are," says Kayahara. "I feel like a great community has sprung up around it, and that's a great place for comedians to use their voice to grow."

WOKE Open Mics happen the last Friday and First Tuesday of every month in Winnipeg. Tuesday at the Good Will Social Club, and Friday at X-Cues Billiards and Café. www.wpgforfree.ca