This Waterloo triple amputee uses comedy to break the ice with her Fringe audiences

Waterloo comic Courtney Gilmour takes her one-woman show to Toronto Fringe this weekend. She draws heavily on odd encounters with strangers, and and how they react to her disability, for her material.

People relate to 'having awkward and strange encounters with other people,' Courtney Gilmour says

When Courtney Gilmour takes the mic to start a set there's a little bit of prep work to make sure the pass-off goes smoothly. 

Gilmour, who grew up in Waterloo, was born without hands; so the microphone is slid into place and attached to a band around her forearm. That allows her to make full use of the stage, instead of being anchored to a stationary microphone stand. 

Like ripping off a bandaid, she often opens with one of her many awkward encounters with strangers and their reactions to her disability. 

"I have cab drivers and people on the street that ask me really crazy questions, and I think when other people hear that there's just this unifying sense of humour that brings us together," Gilmour told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris on Friday.

It becomes "relatable in an unrelatable way," Gilmour said. 

"Most of my audiences, they're not amputees," Gilmour said. "But I think what people can relate to, with my comedy, is having awkward and strange encounters with other people who don't know them."

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Gilmour won the Just for Laughs homegrown competition in Montreal in 2017 and until July 14, she's performing at Toronto Fringe, having won the festival's first-ever Accessibility Lottery.

The lottery is a new initiative "to increase representation of deaf artists, hard of hearing artists, sick artists, mad artists and/or any artists with a disability," said Toronto Fringe in its call for applicants. 

Fringe said it was also removing financial barriers: waiving the lottery application fee, participation fee for the selected show and a $1,000 bursary to offset costs. 

Gilmour's Fringe show, Congratulations!, is mostly new material shaped around milestones in her life, a seven-part story divided into chapters. 

Some of those chapters address very big moments: winning the Just For Laughs competition and examining her identity as an artist — but also an artist with a disability.

Others are not-so-significant moments. 

"[It's] that fine line between pursuing things I believe are worthy accomplishments and literally being congratulated by people for being able to shove a piece of pizza in my face," she said.

"I'm a grown woman," Gilmour laughed. "People react to it like I just sprung out of the ground and started doing it right then!"

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Gilmour said while she's happy to draw on her disability for source material — for now — it might soon be time to move on. 

"I've been doing comedy for seven years and I'm very fortunate to be able to say I'm an established comedian and this is the living that I make, but a lot of my material really sources from disability," she said.

"I'm slowly starting to understand there are other ways for me to expand my material beyond that."

Gilmore is performing at the Tarragon Theatre as part of Toronto Fringe until July 14.


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