After taking his act virtual, Montreal comedian is back on the big stage at Just for Laughs this year

While he's found success doing virtual live shows through a new platform he created during the pandemic, comedian Rodney Ramsey says the annual festival is an unparalleled place for comedians to work together.

Rodney Ramsey is performing at a free, outdoor show in Montreal July 22

Comedian Rodney Ramsey hasn't let the pandemic stop him from performing. In 2020, he did a live drive-in show in Montreal. (Submitted by Rodney Ramsey)

While comedy clubs were shuttered during the pandemic lockdown, Rodney Ramsey wasn't resting on his laurels.

The Montreal comedian admits that he's addicted to the rush of live performance and the laughs and applause he gets from an audience.

So when he lost the ability to connect with an audience in person, he launched a virtual platform where he could host live, interactive comedy shows from the comfort of his home.

"Comics — we had to start fending for ourselves because, you know, the clubs had to close because it was the end of the world for a bit," he told CBC's All in a Weekend.

The platform, which he called The Unknown Comedy Club, is filmed in virtual reality, making him appear as a talking cartoon, who can see his audience and interact with them live (as long as they turn their cameras on).

"I think this is the first time in history where you can have live performance at your home and it be totally interactive," said Ramsey.

During performances at The Unknown Comedy Club, Rodney Ramsey hosts live shows as this avatar. (Rodney Ramsey/Facebook)

"The comic can hear you laugh and not only that, the comic can look into your home and be like, 'wow what a great couch, you should take the plastic off.' That is comedy to me, the interaction and the community-building part of it and we've been able to capture that."

He said the appetite for this kind of online event, which he created with Daniel Woodrow, has been impressive. They've hosted 60 shows on the platform so far this year.

Despite finding success doing virtual live shows, Ramsey says he's looking forward to performing again at the annual Just For Laughs festival and is set to perform at The Montreal Show for free outside at the Place des Festivals on July 22.

He said the annual festival, back this year in a hybrid online and in-person format, is an unparalleled place for comedians to work together.

"Just For Laughs is comedy Christmas," he said. "Everybody gets together in the game. ... We all descend on comedy mecca for one or two weeks out of the years and it's always a lot of fun being around your colleagues and having people respect you and what you do."

At The Montreal Show, Rodney Ramsey will be performing alongside Heidi Foss, Sylvain Larocque and Joey Elias. (Just For Laughs)

On Thursday, Ramsey will be performing alongside Joey Elias, Sylvain Larocque and Heidi Foss. He says the English comedy community in Montreal is small and everyone is supportive of one another.

"Comedy in Montreal, as an English comedian, is a very hard life. We're not given a lot of opportunities, so I think that has made the comedians super close," he said.

"You'd think it would be the opposite, that we'd be killing each other for work. ... There's not enough of us to compete. We have to help each other, we have to be family."

Celebrating Black comedy

Among his other projects, Ramsey is also the founder of the Underground Comedy Railroad, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next year.

Rodney Ramsey is a Montreal comedian. (Beckford Photography)

The event is a comedy show featuring Black comedians that tours the country annually during Black History Month.

"I realized there was nothing like this in the country. We kind of did it because we wanted to expose other Black comedians to a larger club market."

Ramsey also includes people of colour in his lineup.

"Year after year, we always make sure that we book comics that haven't had the exposure to the audience they should have," he said. "I feel personally that that show has done a lot for people of colour in Canada."

He added that this year's edition ended up being the "most successful show" yet, because they did it online and were able to include comedians from all over the country.

LISTEN | Rodney Ramsey breaks down his pandemic projects:

The Montreal Show at Just For Laughs takes place July 22 at 7 p.m. The show is free but places must be reserved in advance online due to COVID-19 rules.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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With files from CBC's All in a Weekend