Vancouver producer, writer, and director Shana Myara doesn’t come across as a subversive agent of change. With her sense of humour and humility, she’s can be underestimated. After all, revolutionaries are not known for their love of pranks. They tend to be serious folks on a serious mission.
But make no mistake: Myara is forging an original path in reshaping Canadian attitudes. Her meticulously researched yet lighthearted 2020 documentary, Well Rounded, tore back the scab on fatphobia in Canada. And it revealed its poisonous effects. Anyone who watched it never looked at obesity the same way again.
Now, Myara is back with an encore. This time, she’s challenging conventions of standup comedy in a new six-part series. Killjoy Comedy will premiere on OUTtvGo on Valentine’s Day. It features Black, Indigenous, racialized, queer, gender-diverse, and fat female comedians, all who’ve been based in Vancouver.
“I’ve been obsessed with comedy since I was a teenager,” Myara tells Pancouver over Zoom. “I was always late for school because I was up late watching Letterman and waiting for the comedians to come on. Or watching An Evening at the Improv… So, it’s been this kind of lifelong obsession.”
Myara says that the late Aboriginal comedian, Candy Palmater, inspired the series. Prior to her death in 2021, Palmater proudly stood on stage cracking jokes about her weight and mocking those who judged her and others like her.
“Improbably, she said ‘yes’ to being in my first documentary,” Myara says. “She had a huge effect on my life. While I was editing her segments for Well Rounded, I thought…my next project has to be dedicated to comedians like Candy who use the superpower of comedy to make the world a little bit better.”
Myara zeroes in on ethical issues
Meanwhile, the comedy world has no shortage of libertarians, like Bill Maher, and right wingers, like Dennis Miller. Back in the 1960s, Bob Hope was an advocate for the U.S. war in Vietnam.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Myara points out that the title of her series is a play on words for those condemned as “killjoys” for not playing along with an abusive joke.
“These ‘killjoy comics’ are the ones who are kind of reshaping comedy,” she adds.
The six featured in the series are Joanne Tsung, Ashlee Ferral, Sasha Mark, Sunee Dhaliwal, Tin Lorica, and Lil Clitty. Most come from communities that have been the butt of others’ jokes in comedy clubs.
“Standup is kind of like a high-wire act,” Myara says. “Or maybe like juggling with knives. You have to get so many things right to be good.”
They include the material, rhythm, pacing, and confidence. In addition, there are ethical considerations, which haven’t always received their due, according to Myara.
“Are you conflating the subject of the joke with the butt of the joke?” she asks. “Are you punching down at a community that you know people will easily laugh at?”
Myara, producer and director of Killjoy Comedy, then elaborates on this point.
“If you mention the word queer and fat in the joke, are you going to get a laugh because the audience is primed to sort of giggle in discomfort or laugh at people who are described this way?”
One question elicits a laugh
Killjoy Comedy, on the other hand, shines a spotlight on performers conscious of the power of comedy. Furthermore, Myara says that this awareness influences how they conceive their acts.
“Each of them does it a little differently,” she states.
As the interview nears its conclusion, Pancouver asks Myara if she ever does standup comedy.
“Ha, ha, ha,” she replies. “I’m too well adjusted, Charlie. I torture myself in other ways.”
Then Myara mirthfully adds: “What a lovely compliment. Thank you.”
Yet she goes along with Pancouver’s request to offer a quick synopsis of each of the six comedians in Killjoy Comedy episodes. Read Myara’s responses below.
“She’s super candid and fearless. And after spending time with Joanne, you’d feel like you’ve made a new hilarious best friend who will share with you all her confidences. But actually, she would share the same things on-stage. She’s a riot. And her dog is in the episode as well.”
“She is whip smart and multi-talented. And she’s super polished and super sort of normatively gorgeous. Yeah, she’s a comedy killer.”
“Sasha Mark is one of the more experienced comics. He started in TV as a writer for APTN’s Laughing Drum and became a comedian. He’s extraordinarily charming. And he will have a room full of settlers laughing from his point of view—as an Indigenous comedian—who is simultaneously making an audience laugh and reminding them that they are settlers on unceded land.”
“My favourite line of his is, like, ‘Oh, just let yourself be an asshole for a day.’ It’s so much fun. But the real thing about Sunee is that he’s got this imposing, huge, commanding, lovable stage presence. He’s really exceptional in that he kind of checks himself. So he’s someone who could be really welcomed by the traditional old-guard comedy dudes…. But he’s sort of chosen a different path. In the comedy world, he’s considered quite a success story. He’s a headliner. So, he’s living as a comedian full-time.”
“My favourite joke of Tin’s is how to teach the concept of consent so that even tech bros would understand. It’s super-engaging. It’s really smart… It’s sort of emblematic of what I wanted the whole show [to be about]. Look at the superpower that these comedians have. Suddenly, instead of a rape joke, they’re making a consent joke. And it’s fantastic.”
She blows the whole thing wide open. She’s the persona and she’s a rapper. And she’s larger than life and somehow sympathetic and hilarious all at once. We used some of her original tracks in the episode. It’s kind of like Nathan Fielder meets Nicki Minaj.”
Follow Pancouver editor Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.