'She The People' offers comedic catharsis

Just for Laughs show tackles what it feels like to be a woman in 2019
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So much of what happens to women vacillates wildly between hysterically funny and hopelessly depressing that it inevitably makes the perfect fodder for writing material — or better yet, sketch comedy.

Being a woman can be downright exhausting. First, we have society’s obsession with body policing us. Too much clothing and you can’t get a public teaching job in Quebec or swim in a public beach or pool in France. Too little clothing and you’re an obvious public menace and must be covered in a blanket while flying American Airlines.

I mean, who does Rapinoe think she is, being in-your-face confident and a lesbian who is completely disinterested in sleeping with men?

And did I mention the continued lack of political representation? Last week, Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial leaders gathered to discuss important issues that affect us all at the Canadian Premiers Conference and not a single woman was at the table. Not one.

Even something as simple as Megan Rapinoe’s joyful and justified celebration alongside her teammates at winning the World Cup was heavily criticized by less-than-athletic men like Ben Shapiro and Piers Morgan, who are extremely uncomfortable with displays of female excellence, pride and attitude. I mean, who does Rapinoe think she is, being in-your-face confident and a lesbian who is completely disinterested in sleeping with them?

Director Carly Heffernan

Over on the U.S. political front, as the campaign slowly revs up, news that Mississippi Republican candidate for governor Robert Foster won’t let a female reporter cover his campaign trip without bringing a male colleague was the final straw that broke the camel’s back this week. A political candidate is basically denying access to a female journalist and preventing her from doing her job properly because he sees women as sexual objects first and professionals second. In 2019.

This is the daily nonsense women deal with. It’s no surprise then that when I heard She The People, a comedy sketch show that tackles sexism, misogyny and good old patriarchy, was coming to Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival I jumped at the opportunity to interview director Carly Heffernan.

The resistance is a riot

The all-female sketch show from that venerable source of excellent Canadian comedic talent, Toronto’s Second City, is entirely created, designed, and performed by women.

While the show is preaching to the choir and probably won’t be seen by the people who need to see it the most, it’s always important to tackle this type of political material as both group therapy and awareness building. Because real life — as frustrating as it can sometimes be — is damn funny.

“Studying things through a female-centric lens is what we like to call ‘comedic catharsis’” says Heffernan. “We tackle reproductive rights, the disbelief of sexual assault victims, and what it means to be a woman in 2019: the good, the bad, and the funny.”

“We sometimes have a tendency in this country to think that somehow everything will be alright, but it’s important not to leave that to chance.”

Heffernan commends soccer champ Megan Rapinoe for using her platform to speak truth to power. “I think it’s great that she’s using this win and the spotlight on it to make the world a better place.”

But she’s more worried about things at home. Like many Canadians, she’s concerned that the kind of populism we see festering in the United States is trickling into our country. With a federal election taking place soon, she urges all of us to get out and be heard.

“I really want to see as many Canadians as possible make their voice heard,” she says. “We sometimes have a tendency in this country to think that somehow everything will be alright, but it’s important not to leave that to chance.”

Freedom of speech cuts both ways

Asked about the controversy over an anti-choice movie — Unplanned — currently screening in movie theatres, she admits to being troubled that such inaccurate anti-choice propaganda is being given so much public space.

“Some of the film’s defenders are trying to make this a freedom-of-speech issue,” she says. “I believe in freedom of speech, but that freedom comes with consequences. That public anger and the protests we’re seeing right now are the direct consequences of that freedom of speech.”

Comedy is a powerful tool for social awareness. It both points the spotlight to social issues and challenges the audience in a non-threatening way to see things from a different point of view. As anyone who has ever seen and loved Hannah Gadsby’s show Nanette knows, comedy is invaluable in presenting heavy, hard-to-digest material in a light manner.

“What I love most about satirical comedy,” Heffernan says, “is that it allows us to laugh at things that are hard. If we don’t laugh, we’re going to cry or just resort to screaming.”

She The People may be a female-centric show, but the jokes are relatable to most people, insists Heffernan. “I like to say that it’s “by women, for everyone.”

Running from July 22 to July 27 at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre this is the group’s first appearance at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival, and they consider it an exciting right of passage.

But, laughs aside, the show aims to focus not only on the absurdity of women’s lives as they navigate sexism, catcalls, and objectification, but to also elevate women’s voices in a world that often refuses to listen.

“At the end of the day, I want our show to positively inspire people to be loud and vocal about what’s important to them,” she says. “If we want to change the world, we need to do the work.”

“It’s a comedic call to action, if you will. Or a party where only the cool people are invited.”

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