2020 has been, and continues to be, an extremely tough time for everyone in the entertainment business. Especially on the live side of things, where comedians, musicians and performing artists of all stripes have had much of their livelihoods destroyed. Venues are in a lot of trouble, with a Variety article in June estimating a staggering 90% of indie music venues will close forever if shut-down lasts for months longer.
But fear not! Like the charge of the light brigade, here comes Team Canada out of the shadows to bring much needed relief and innovation to the entertainment landscape. While the country may have traditionally lagged behind the US and UK in previous years on the digital, independent front – COVID lockdowns seemed to have ignited a flame in the Canadian Comedy Community – and the result has been a rapid onslaught of content and innovative new digital shows and streaming initiatives, quite literally from coast to coast. Here are just some of the ways Canada’s comedy scene took COVID in stride and said, collectively… The Show Must Go On. (In no particular order)
1. Lights, Camera, Trevor!
When I first met comedian Trevor Thompson we were doing a Yuk Yuk’s weekend in Vaughan and he had just moved to Toronto from Ottawa – and he was also working with Beau’s Lug Tread as a sales rep – so after the shows he would give all the comics free beer – talk about a great first impression! Fast-forward to the early days of the first lockdown and all of a sudden here comes Trevor’s Pad – what was once a regular live show hosted by Thompson at Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa was faced with a tough decision as the first lockdown set in…
Not to be deterred, Trevor’s Pad became “Primetime Pandemic Live” and Thompson rallied a team together that quite quickly became the talk of the Canadian Comedy Community. With impressive production value that set the tone for the upcoming wave of indie “Zoom” shows – Trevor and his motley gang of comedians, fans and friends still, in our opinion, put on the best show out of anyone… and we do mean anyone (looking at you network TV shows with huge budgets). Thanks to a second wave in Ontario, Trevor’s Pad / Pandemic Primetime is back for round 2. Tune in, like and follow on FB and never miss an episode of this quality independent Canadian Comedy Production.
2. Steph Tolev Turns Her Phone Around
Always one of our favourite stand-up and sketch comedians in the Toronto scene, and the quintessential “grinder” personified by the East Coast comedy scene – when lockdowns and quarantines set in, Steph Tolev did what she always does… found a way to make people laugh. Quickly adapting to “The New Normal” and the rapidly evolving world of online comedy – Steph showed what those who know her work have always known… she doesn’t need anything to put on a show. Any mic, any stage, any time… and, as it turns out… anywhere, anyplace, any time… so long as the camera is rolling. The prolific Bulgarian also found time to put out a new stand-up album in 2019, I’m Not Well, AND a new sketch album, as 1/2 of the duo Ladystache, 2020’s Older & Wider. Both albums are also available on Spotify or can be found streaming on JFL Canada – Canada’s only 24/7 Satellite Radio Channel devoted to Canadian Comedy.
Barb loves the barge! pic.twitter.com/Vrd8dHi6hB
— Step Toilet 🚽 (@StephTolev) July 1, 2020
3. Nick Beaton Steps Up His Game
Nick Beaton has always been a prolific writer and stand-up comedian, another hard-working staple in the Toronto scene – but over the years he’s been quietly and methodically becoming one of the country’s top podcasters – and a world class political and social commentator. Sometimes a great political comedian isn’t great on a podcast, and sometimes a great podcaster can’t replicate their authenticity and social commentary on the stage – neither is the case with Beaton. Third Rail With Nick Beaton was always a solid podcast, but with live comedy and touring off the table, Nick was able to put more focus into his project and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. More episodes, better episodes, and most recently, adding guests to what was normally a solo affair. The show covers all sorts of topics, usually focusing on something topical and a mix of Canadian and American politics and social issues – always entertaining and informative – with Nick always bringing his own unique slant to whatever everyone is arguing about on any given day. Also available on Spotify, Podbean, Stitcher and other podcasting apps.
4. Simone Holder Shoots The Breeze (And Doesn’t Crack)
Simone Holder was a pleasant surprise to emerge out of lockdown – launching her independent interview show on Facebook and YouTube “Shooting The Breeze With Simone Holder,” – the show landed big-time guests, like our pal Rob Pue and she even found time for another series entirely – Black Don’t Crack With Dawn Xanklin.
5. Oliver George Just Chills
This Ottawa hustler first caught our attention when he made a statement and a half by convincing Canadian legend George “Strombo” Stroumboulopoulos to come into his basement and record a 2 hour, candid, uncensored interview. (We personally can’t get enough of Strombo dropping F bombs and saying everything we all say about the Canadian Media… when they’re not around.). But Strombo has reached a certain level of fame and freedom in Canada that few have, and it was refreshing to hear him not only confirm the things we all know to be true, but to seemingly pass the torch to the young upstart podcaster (and front-line healthcare worker) from Ottawa – telling George “The fucking country needs this… I want you to be good!” A message Oliver took to heart, by filling up his dance card for the remainder of Season 1 with Canadian luminaries ranging from childhood icon Fred Penner to rock stars Kim Mitchell & Bif Naked to Kenny Vs. Spenny’s neurotic Spencer “Spenny” Rice – an interview that’s now close to 20 thousand views on YouTube, featuring a phone call from his mom and an epic story later corroborated by video. Just Chill With Oliver George wrapped up a spectacular Season 1 with interviews including CBC Ottawa’s Alan Neal, another blast from every Canadian’s childhood, Body Break’s Hal Johnson and Joanne McCloud… and an hour of Degrassi goodness with Pat Mastroianni (Joey Jeremiah) and Stefan Brogren (Snake.). We can’t wait for Season 2!
6. Live From New York, It’s Ryan Long & Danny Polishchuk!
Ryan Long and Danny Polishchuk took things to new levels in 2020, after the longtime Toronto filmmakers, stand-up comedians and general rabble-rousers made the big move to New York City. Both already had done great work up in Canada, sometimes together such as in Long’s many CBC Digital sketches or the podcast Fckonomics with JJ Lieberman – or on their own, such as Polishchuk’s wild debut feature film “Filth City” starring Pat Thornton as Toronto’s train-wreck, crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford (R.I.P.) – a film which elicited current sitting Premiere Doug Ford to wonder out loud that “maybe he should be run over by a car.” So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after moving to The Big Comedy Apple – these two would become a force to be reckoned with. But I don’t think anybody could’ve foreseen just how quickly, and to what degree, they would make their mark on the very crowded and competitive NYC scene. Endorsements from the likes of Bill Burr and Roseanne Barr quickly let the American Comedy World know that this dynamic duo had fully arrived, and they have done nothing but deliver the goods all year.
— Bill Burr (@billburr) July 20, 2020
7. Michelle Shaughnessy Tweets Her Heart Out
If there’s anything that a lot of comedians lost sight of in the 2010s… it was to write jokes! With an increasingly polarized and politically charged world, a lot of comedians spent way too much time writing lengthy manifestos and attacking each other on social media, instead of making people laugh. Long one of the strongest pure joke writers in the business, Shaughnessy used her time in quarantine to sharpen her penmanship, and crank out a never-ending stream of high quality, and highly personal jokes. Now married to Degrassi star Stefan Brogren, the two’s online shots at each other have made them perhaps the country’s first power couple since Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne… and they weren’t nearly this entertaining. Catch Shaughnessy’s 2 albums “You Know What You Did” & 2020’s “Botoxic”
Can’t wait to get booked here again! https://t.co/60dV9Znwy4
— Michelle Shaughnessy (@Michellesfunny) June 25, 2020
8. Silverdrop Media Steps Out From Behind The Lens
If you’ve seen any Canadian Comedy with half-decent production value filmed in the last 10 years, it’s quite likely because of two guys you’ve never heard of, Tyler Shazma and Brandon Macintosh, aka Silverdrop Media. Well apparently the two most dedicated independent filmmakers in Canadian Comedy got tired of always making everyone else look so good, and decided to launch the year’s most perfectly timed, and eerily on point podcast, We’re Doomed! “But haven’t you appeared on several episodes!? Isn’t this a conflict of interest?!” Yes, full disclosure, I have appeared on some episodes, such as Episode 24: World War 3 but what you fail to realize is that this website is 100% independent so I can do whatever I want with it and say whatever I want, while sitting in my sweatpants, and the bottom line is this is a great podcast and the boys put out over 28 Episodes, mostly without me. So there. Just subscribe already will ya? We’re Doomed! As their tagline goes: “We’re not educated, just paranoid.”
WE'RE DOOMED! And we all know it!
So why not kick back and enjoy two uninformed comedians / filmmakers as they freak out every episode about all the ways in which… WE'RE DOOMED!
Listen & Subscribe@ApplePodcastshttps://t.co/BVtBubtk60@Spotifyhttps://t.co/MwPSnlpYTz
— We're Doomed Podcast (@WeReDoomedPod) August 29, 2020
9. Matt O’Brien & Julia Hladkowicz Are Green Screen Machines
Another comedy power couple who used their lockdown and lack of touring and stand-up gigs to hunker down and focus on their online game, Matt and Julia have taken the art of Green Screen Comedy in the digital era to whole new heights, even garnering attention from several cast members of Frasier. I wonder why…
me and @juliacomedy have been quarantining so long we've started reenacting scenes from Frasier pic.twitter.com/FbpCmCESdl
— Matt O'Brien (@matt_obrien) March 14, 2020
10. Kathleen McGee and Sean Lecomber Kill Baby Bears
“Kathleen McGee and Sean Lecomber are two Canadian comedians nearing the end of their underwhelming careers. Once a week they sit down and air their grievances while drinking nut based smoothies because neither one can afford professional therapy.” – They said it better than we ever could. Also “we” is just one person, me.. and I’ve been writing this article all day and I’m tired. Just listen to it will ya!
No episode this week because WE CAN’T BE ON ALL THE TIME PEOPLE!!
Watch this episode that we taped the day after lockdown in March because we don’t know the definition of lockdown or we believed we were essential at the time. You be the judge!https://t.co/Sujyb8u5yN pic.twitter.com/YNm7peL9To
— deadbabybear (@deadbabybear) October 23, 2020
BONUS – John Hastings’ Got Talent
There are honestly too many great Canadian stories to come out of 2020, so we’re going to do some other articles as well. But this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the incredible job Ottawa’s John Hastings did on America’s Talent – and all the great attention he got from it. Proving, once again, that if you ever find yourself suddenly on America’s Got Talent during a global pandemic, K Star Marketing & PR is the only publicist for the job.
You were hilarious @thejohnhastings well done #AGT pic.twitter.com/HF1JAh10TE
— Howie Mandel (@howiemandel) July 15, 2020
Toronto-born comedian @thejohnhastings opens up about his nerve-wracking #AGT audition pic.twitter.com/cqYRqXXS5C
— ET Canada (@ETCanada) July 27, 2020
LOL! @thejohnhastings was AMAZING tonight on #AGT, even without an audience he was on fire! pic.twitter.com/ymIu3ZK9AY
— terry crews (@terrycrews) July 15, 2020
Right before going home to quarantine when lockdown started in March, @thejohnhastings did a standup comedy set for @howiemandel, @SofiaVergara, and @SimonCowell at @AGT. Find out what happened next in our Q&A:https://t.co/7NRk8FNgsy
— CBC Comedy (@CBCComedy) July 24, 2020
IMAGINE THIS: You're waiting to audition for @SimonCowell, @howiemandel and @SofiaVergara at @AGT. Then the lockdown is declared. THEN you perform for an empty audience. And still kill it.
FYI, AGT, I found him first.
Ottawa's @thejohnhastings joined me again today.
— dahlia kurtz (@DahliaKurtz) July 26, 2020
We were blown away by an individual who should be #Canada's next big star! Funny, articulate, quick & %100 unique, @thejohnhastings just killed it on @AGT! Let's follow John and get behind an awesome dude! #AGT @sauga960am @TooFarTV @howiemandel @mendlow pic.twitter.com/5cCk2p3NYX
— Mike Richards (@RawMikeRichards) July 23, 2020
Good Canadian boy @thejohnhastings wowed w/his @AmericasGotTalent performance – w/no audience! We talk about that, how he faced down Dennis Rodman, why Cdn comics have to leave Canada & more! SOCK TALK found under FU_Politics where podcasts are & iTunes https://t.co/DCuVQrxAh3 pic.twitter.com/TgwAMXBcbe
— Ed the Sock (@EdtheSock) July 23, 2020
The Canadian comedian wowed the judges and received three yeses in front of an almost entirely empty theatre.https://t.co/5TfTAb4NCl
— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) July 20, 2020