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Stand-up for rights: P.E.I. man wants comedians to be recognized as artists

Local stand-up comedian Sam MacDonald is shown outside the Churchill Arms Pub where he hosts trivia Tuesday evenings.
Local stand-up comedian Sam MacDonald is shown outside the Churchill Arms Pub where he hosts trivia Tuesday evenings. - Tony Davis

Sam MacDonald cares about the comedy community and sees a major problem.

In Canada, comedians are not considered artists. This leaves them unable to apply for the same grants and working agreements other creators have access to.

The P.E.I.-based comedian hopes to change that. He is the ambassador of the Canadian Association of Stand-Up Comedians (CASC) for P.E.I. and has launched a petition.

“Since comedians don’t have arts funding, we are fighting each other for scraps,” MacDonald said.

Every second Monday, MacDonald hosts a local all comedy open mic at Baba’s Lounge, encouraging other Island residents to give comedy a shot.

“So many people find it surprising when they learn Canadians comics aren’t considered artists. They always bring up ‘Just for Laughs’ comedy in Quebec.”

“Just for Laughs” brings in foreign talent from the United States, MacDonald said

“It’s easy for Americans to come here and perform, but it can cost a Canadian performer upwards of $10,000 to try and go tour in the U.S. Currently, I’m paying out of pocket for every show. It’s not uncommon that after a show I am in the hole.”

Johnny Novak works for a local radio station and is trying to balance his job with a stand-up comedy career. Comedians have always thought it was cliché to call themselves artists, but to an outsider it is art he said.

Novak thinks more venues for comedy will pop up with funding availability.

“Here in P.E.I. we don’t really have any comedy clubs,” he said

The comedy scene here is small with no more than 20 comedians, he said.

“It’s easy for Americans to come here and perform, but it can cost a Canadian performer upwards of $10,000 to try and go tour in the U.S. Currently, I’m paying out of pocket for every show. It’s not uncommon that after a show I am in the hole.”
-Sam MacDonald

Canada has produced a lot of comedy talent like Norm Macdonald and Tom Green, but comedians often leave Canada for better paying work.

“If you want to make it big as a Canadian comedian you need to go to the United States. Leaving Canada is seen as being successful, Novak said.

He doesn’t think it will take much to get comedy recognized as an art.

“It is just about us coming together to say we want this,” he said

MacDonald notices it is not easy to get comedians to organize, he said.

“Trying to organize comedians is like herding cats. That is what we are hoping to change.”

MacDonald is passionate about finding diverse performers. The CASC organization has representation in every province, but also have representation for the LGBTQ+ community, he said.

“It’s kind of an old, sad stereotype that it’s all white men doing stand-up, straight white men.”

MacDonald has noticed new faces each time he hosts a comedy event, and it makes him hopeful.

“I would love to see a P.E.I. comedy festival. In the next five years, that is an ultimate goal. Halifax has done well doing this and, boy, does it bring in tourism dollars,” he said.

The petition for comedians to be considered artists already has enough signatures to be tabled in the House of Commons, but the deadline for signatures isn’t until the end of June, Macdonald said.

Anyone looking to support comedy as an art form can sign the petition online at canadianstandup.ca, at Baba’s Lounge on June 18 at the all comedy open mic or at the upcoming Kraken Up Maritime Comedy Showcase hosted at The Guild on June 20.

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