Is comedy art? This festival has the answer

Comedy is Art happens October 1-5 at Toronto's Theatre Centre.

Comedy is Art happens October 1-5 at Toronto's Theatre Centre.

TallBoyz II Men, pictured here from their CBC series 'TallBoyz,' will perform on Tuesday night of the festival.

Singing, dancing, acting, writing, painting: it's all art. But what about comedy?

A new week-long comedy festival — and a staunch declaration — from Toronto's Theatre Centre hopes to make it clear: Comedy is Art.

For many people, it's obvious. But for comedians applying for grants from public arts funders, it's a different story. Currently, comedy isn't recognized as an artform when it comes to many grant applications. It's a struggle that Sandra Battaglini has been advocating against since co-creating the Canadian Association of Stand-Up Comedians (CASC) in 2018.

Instead of applying for funding as comedians, many comics apply as the closest thing – a theatrical performer. Battaglini says this puts comics at an automatic disadvantage when applying for grants. 

Liza Paul, the Theatre Centre's Café/Bar Curator and Manager, offered support to Battaglini's initiative, with help from artistic director Aislinn Rose. They teamed up to create the inaugural Comedy is Art Festival headlined by a diverse lineup of Canadian comedians – a change of pace from the popular American-headlined comedy shows. 

"It was important to me to choose artists who embrace the notion that you don't have to punch down to get laughs and whose voices are distinct and representative of the city we live in," says Paul. 

"I wanted to program acts that are making headway in the comedy community."

For Battaglini, the support from the Theatre Centre was a generous step in the right direction. She hopes this festival will serve as a "springboard for other arts organizations in the country," towards treating comedy as its own artform separate from other theatrical arts.

"We believe that comedy is art and should be treated as such," says Paul. 

Comedy is Art will run for the first week of October at the Theatre Centre. Take a look below at what's in store.

The lineup

Fans of CBC Comedy may recognize this troupe from their sketch comedy show TallBoyz. But before their big television debut they were better known as TallBoyz II Men: four super-tall, super hilarious men taking jabs at popular culture through their absurd humour. Their TV show, directed by The Kids in the Hall's Bruce McCulloch, involves lots of sketches and silly musical humour. Check them out "live in concert" on the opening night of the festival.

If anyone knows about laughing through life's struggles, it's Courtney Gilmour. The triple-amputee comedian performs her solo show Congratulations! Stories of Achievement, Embarrassment & Self-Worth after a critically-acclaimed performance at Toronto's Fringe festival. The show covers the ups and downs and key pivotal moments in her life leading up to her rise through the Canadian comedy ranks.

Yas Kween in three words: Funny. Ethnic. Women. Nelu Handa's showcase for women of colour comedians has been a must-see show in Toronto since 2015. Their fourth year anniversary show is happening Thursday night of the festival. It'll be full of stand-up, improv and other special performances.

Amigas Cheetahs is brought to you by Brandon Ash-Mohammed, the queer POC comedian behind the Ethnic Rainbow showcase, and sensational Latinx comedian Ben Sosa Wright. Amigas Cheetahs showcases LGBTQIA2+ and POC comedians on Thursday night. Keep the laughs going when you head down to Anasimone George's SHADE comedy showcase on Saturday night.

Good Morning, Tonight is a like a comedy morning talk show, like "Regis & Kelly, but gayer." Hosted by comedians Karis Anderson and Aidan O'Loughlin, you can catch the morning show for a Friday evening performance. Drop the Mic: Joke or Choke puts each comedian through the gauntlet: get the crowd roaring or get booed off the stage.

Catch Rebecca Reeds, John Mostyn and Arthur Simeon at Deez Laughs, hosted by Noor Kidwai, on Saturday night. Being Muslim in Canada: A Comedy Show showcases Muslim comedians and their work on Tuesday night.