For this comedian with diabetes, there's no room for toxic positivity
Forget hecklers, try worrying about blood sugar while on stage.
For comedian Erica Sigurdson, that's just life.
"If I'm performing at your event and you invite me to dinner, I will probably decline because I don't want to be onstage worrying about my glucose levels," says Sigurdson, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10.
"Definitely keeping some juice boxes handy is always a great idea," she adds.
Sigurdson is an award-winning performer with over 20 years of stage experience and is beloved by comedy fans and industry insiders alike. She has appeared on the CBC Radio hit The Debaters over 50(!) times, crisscrossing Canada and the world, performing in The Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Iceland and Afghanistan.
She initially discovered her love of comedy growing up watching I Love Lucy and Carol Burnett, and decided to follow a career in showbiz because she "loved making people laugh."
The importance of community
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and coincides with Sigurdson's appearance on CBC's Comedy Night in Canada with Rick Mercer. While she doesn't always discuss her health in her comedy act, she is keen to connect with other diabetics, saying she finds it hard not to "run up to other Type 1 diabetics and discuss all things T1D" when she meets them.
This year also marks 101 years since the revolutionary discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto. While insulin has been a life changer for millions of people, it's not a cure, and there is still a lot to learn and a lot of awareness that needs to be spread about diabetes.
"If I'm performing in a club atmosphere I don't generally get too deep into it because the vast majority of the public don't know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes so there's too much set up required," Sigurdson says. She finds the best opportunity to really get into it is at diabetes events because the audience will "get it."
For up-and-coming Toronto-based comic Taylor Efford, who was diagnosed with Type1 diabetes in 2020, comedy was a way to process her diagnosis.
"One of the first things that made me feel better about my disease was a meme page on Instagram," Taylor says.
"[Diabetes] now shapes a new darkness into my comedy that I didn't have before."
Efford also notes that while occasionally throwing a dark joke about her chronic illness into her comedy helps her, everyone copes differently.
"Therapy and actual help is always a smart choice," she laughs, "for me, comedy is the key to getting through everyday."
A recurring theme of Diabetes Awareness Month activism is showing that people can live full and normal lives with diabetes – something Efford likes to share with her 11K+ followers on Instagram and 427K+ on TikTok.
"I find there is no room for toxic positivity for me with my illness" she says.
"Pretending everything is OK when it's not isn't helpful for me. I like to smile and laugh through the pain, I feel that's all you can do."
Using humour against ignorance
While Sigurdson knows that a comedy club isn't the place to discover the more accurate dialog around diabetes, comedy does help her cope with some of the more out-of-touch comments.
For example, Sigurdson describes audiences trying to give her advice on what to eat or offering to heal her with crystals.
"I learned to laugh because the only other option would have been to get really stressed out and annoyed. So humour became my response of choice."
Efford also notes how great it is to see other Type 1 diabetics like Sigurdson succeed in the comedy space.
"The more representation the better," she says.
"It's nice to know the community is so strong," Efford notes, "otherwise illness can be so lonely."
While pursuing a career in comedy as a diabetic may take a bit more planning (Sigurdson recalls the struggle to afford her medical supplies while being a "struggling artist"), she says it's "definitely possible."
Like others who use comedy as a coping mechanism for other hardships in life, Sigurdson and Efford have both found a community of their own and an outlet when it comes to living as Type 1 diabetics in comedy.
If there's anything Sigurdson wants people to know about her journey during Diabetes Awareness Month, it's that she's not "suffering" from diabetes.
"I don't view myself as suffering — I view myself as thriving. It's made me a stronger person."
Watch Erica Sigurdson's performance on Comedy Night with Rick Mercer on CBC Gem.