Canadian comedian SIMONE HOLDER performed twice during the opening weekend of the Danforth Comedy Festival (in Toronto) and I was lucky to be in the audience for both shows. Having been in the comedy biz since the late 70s both as performer and artist manager/agent, you could say I’m a little jaded having seen/heard just about every joke in the universe but I thoroughly enjoyed Simone’s sets, finding fresh and relatable situations and observations thanks to her witty writing.
I introduced myself to Simone and found an intelligent and engaging conversationalist willing to share insights into her career and, sadly, her challenging quest for stage time and acceptance in a predominantly male environment. Back when I was running a national chain of comedy clubs and booking comedians into them and other indie venues across the country and the States, it was all about the boys – in fact, I can only recall Marla Lukofsky being the one woman making somewhat of a living doing stand-up back in the 80s and being accepted as one of them by the fellas. Forty years on and little has changed. Thanks to exposure during the Danforth Comedy Festival (this coming weekend there are 3 more shows featuring women), we’ll get to meet and laugh along with more hilarious women, but in the interim, I asked Simone to share her thoughts on stand-up as well as her personal journey and here’s what she told me….
Simone, congrats on your appearance at the Danforth Comedy Festival. Seeing you on that first night of the Fest, I was struck by your unique material as well as your delivery. Where do you find inspiration for your observational material – family? Friends? Situations you’ve personally experienced? Thank you so much! I find inspiration mainly from my own experiences and occasionally from those of family and friends. Much of the material that I perform on stage has happened to me or is me using my inside voice outside. Until I started performing stand-up, I hadn’t realized that the way I process trauma is the same way I create bits…I try to find the silver lining, pull the humour out, or put a funny spin on a difficult situation to process it and to make it make sense.
Have you participated in other comedy festivals such as the Danforth Comedy Festival or is this your first fest experience? Yes, prior to the Danforth Comedy Festival, I have performed at other comedy festivals. My very first festival was the “Crack Up Festival” held in Ottawa, Cornwall, and Pembroke in March 2022. Since then, I’ve performed at:
- Portland Maine Comedy Festival (Portland, Maine, USA, August 2022)
- Canadian North Arctic Comedy Festival (Iqaluit, Nunavut, October 2022)
- Dirty Bird Comedy Festival (Ottawa, Ontario, November 2022)
- Black Women in Comedy Laff Fest (NYC, USA, June 2023)
I gather it took you many years to finally embrace the funny and work on becoming a stand-up comedian – tell me about that journey and what finally prompted you to go “all in” with a stand-up career? I had dreamed of performing stand-up since I was 15 years old. I was too afraid. I was painfully shy as a kid and could barely speak up in school. I also knew that my parents would not approve. It was just a dream. I had such a great love of the art that I immersed myself in it: I watched hours and hours of comedy specials. When I was old enough and when could afford it, I went to shows by myself to examine how each comedian performed their craft. I knew it wasn’t easy, that making it look effortless and off-the-cuff, took hours and years to master.
I realized that I could make people other than my family and friends laugh at two most inopportune moments…at my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2018. I delivered the eulogies at each of their funerals. I had people howling at some of the funny stories I shared about them. At first, I thought that maybe they were just being nice, but the laughter was genuine, and it really helped us all get through the pain.
In 2019 at age 52, I decided that it was now or never. I was tired of being afraid. The desire to do stand-up had been gnawing at me for close to 40 years. I was still scared but finally ready to something about it. I threw myself into the craft with a six-week course at Absolute Comedy taught by Ottawa-based actor and stand-up comedian Pierre Brault. It was time to learn the basics: how to structure a joke, how to deliver it, how to create a punch line for a funny premise. The moment I stepped onto that stage I knew. I heard angels singing. I loved the feeling and was totally comfortable. The shyness just melted away. I couldn’t wait to go back every week. A showcase at a local club for family and friends happened at the end of the course. I haven’t looked back since. Since that night I’ve had many amazing experiences thanks to stand-up. At times I wonder what could have been had I not waited so long to start. My late father had a saying, “Everything in its time.” I believe that I started at the right time.I read that when watching Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” TV special as a teenager, you were bitten by the comedy bug – what was it about Eddie that inspired you? That’s true! Although I loved comedy for as long as I could remember, I think watching “Delirious” was the first time that I saw a young person doing stand-up. Up until that time, all the well-known comedians that I knew were old (to 15-year-old me) already-famous men (Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, etc.). I saw that “regular” people could do this. It was a defining moment for me.Any advice for other aspiring female comedians out there? And have you encountered any gender-biased resistance by club bookers and how do you counter that? My advice is to just do it. Don’t let anyone intimidate you or scare you out of the game. Unfortunately, I have had some gender- and race-biased experiences. Thankfully these things do not happen to me often…but they do happen.
There’s still the myth that “women aren’t funny”. Where men are given the benefit of the doubt that they are funny, I’ve had to prove myself over and over and over to be considered for some gigs. It took some competition wins and a few high-profile gigs to get them to finally take me seriously and respect me as a comic.
With some audiences, I’ve seen eyes glaze over or arms cross when I hit the stage and I hadn’t even opened my mouth. I’ve seen them laugh easily at male comics and refuse to laugh at my stuff. Once, after a show in a small town, some of members of the audience ignored me completely but thanked and spoke with the other male, white comics, despite me standing right there next to them. It was insulting and humiliating. I try my best to not let these aggressions deter me. What’s your next stand-up gig – where can we see you?
My next few gigs are in Ottawa!
- August 11-12, 8:30pm, Laugh Lounge (Byward Market, 61 York Street, Ottawa)
- August 25-26, 8:00pm, Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa West (downstairs at Biagio’s Italian Kitchen, 1394 Richmond Rd, Ottawa)
- August 30-31, 8:00pm, Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa West (downstairs at Biagio’s Italian Kitchen, 1394 Richmond Rd, Ottawa)
You can find my schedule and social media here: https://simonecomedy.ca/link-in-bio/
Thank you for your candor and philosophies on women-in-comedy, Simone. And I can’t wait to see you again on stage making everyone laugh along with you. If readers want to check out other funny ladies, visit www.danforthcomedyfestival.com for show information this Friday and Saturday Aug.11 & 12.