You’re at Just For Laughs in Toronto. It is a gorgeous September evening and you’re about to see some of your favourite comedians. You’re ready for a relaxed evening with a drink so cold the condensation slides slowly down the glass, dripping onto your hands. You feel refreshed. You enter the dimly lit theatre and take a seat in a comfortable chair lined with red faux velvet with arms rests to match. The comedian on stage tells a joke and you laugh. You start to relax. The comedian tells another joke, this time about a topic involving political issues, perhaps about climate change or equal rights in the workplace. Still, you relax. You sit back further in your chair and sip your drink. Maybe this is not just for laughs, maybe this is more than that.
Comedy has long been a tool to generate laughter, happiness, relaxation, you name it. However, it is much more than that. Whether you are aware of it or not, comedy is an amazing tool to communicate real issues in an easy-to-swallow way.
“If you have something important to say, and you wrap it in comedy, it is going to go down easier,” says Anna Gustafson, stand-up comedian and producer of Toronto comedy show The Betty. “Comedy isn’t just standing on a stage. Comedy is something that is inherently part of you.”
Gustafson began her career as a comedian in Vancouver when she was 26 years old at a comedy club Punchlines for their amateur night. She went to school for hairdressing before pursuing comedy, as a way to fulfill her love of writing. “Comedy is the way to be a writer without a backbone,” she says.
She recalls sitting down before her show at amateur night and watching videos of other comedians performing right before she went on stage. She says she felt inspired.
Today, Gustafson is passionate about raising real issues through comedy. She will be a part of a new project called Balance of Power, through the organization Informed Opinions.
Informed Opinions is a Canadian organization focused on amplifying the voices of women and gender-fluid people and their place in politics and the media. The organization aims for these people’s ideas and opinions to be properly heard and used in the Canadian media. The campaign “Ask Alexi” speaks directly, and with humour, to Canada’s gender disparity in politics.
“The place I’m in now is working with people who want to deliver a message through humour,” Gustafson says. “You have opinions and you have beliefs and you speak truth to power and you try to change the world a little bit every time you try to do something and that’s non-partisan.”
Comedians have a way of using comedy to speak truth of real issues in a compact, digestible way.
“People will remember funny, people love funny,” Gustafson says. “And God, people need funny right now.”
Just For Laughs Toronto will begin on Sept. 22 and ends on Oct. 1.
This article was revised/updated on Sept. 24