Stand-up Comedy: Fund My Dirty Jokes

The headline above is more provocative than, “Fund My Observational Humour”, in persuading you to sign an E-Petition to get stand-up comedy officially recognized as an art form. But, I should come clean- I “work clean”. That’s what we in the comedy business call it when a comic doesn’t swear, or perform vulgar material.

Anyway, stand-up comedy, whether dirty, or clean, is NOT currently recognized as an art form in Canada. There’s an actual E-Petition to remedy this error, and if you haven’t already clicked through to sign it, after you read this article, you will. Adding your signature to the other 3,600+ that have already been submitted promises to dramatically stimulate the economy.

That’s right, I used the word “economy” in association with telling jokes. So, if you’re rolling your eyes because you think this is a scheme from a bunch of artsy, video game-playing, pot smoking, pizza-eating, lazy, social agitators who can’t keep a steady job, you’re wrong. It’s not a scheme.

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What’s the deal with the petition? We’re sick of working for beer tickets. We will work for beer tickets, even if we don’t drink beer. That’s how much we love performing stand-up comedy. But, with proper recognition as a significant contributor the cultural sector and Canada’s comedy brand recognition around the world, stand-up comics can have a much more powerful influence on generating jobs for Canadians and revenue for businesses.

Before I spend time persuading you that stand-up comedy is, in fact, an art form, and then provide evidence that official recognition as such will bolster the economy, let me clarify that by signing the E-Petition, you will not instantly open a floodgate of money that will magically start flowing into the pockets of comics across the country. It’s a leap off point.

Without official recognition as being an art form, stand-up comics aren’t even eligible to apply for government arts funding of any kind in this country. And becoming eligible doesn’t mean we’ll automatically get the funding. As with any musician, dancer, sculptor, painter, visual artist, etc…, there’s still an application process and other hoops to jump through. Not all stand-up comics will even want to jump through those hoops. But, at least it will be an option; just like for circus performers, who may jump through hoops to receive funding to actually jump through hoops. (FYI, circus performers are officially recognized as artists in Canada).

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The petition is sponsored by MP, Julie Dabrusin (L. Toronto-Danforth) and was posted by comedian Sandra Battaglini. Along with Sandra and several others, I’m on the Executive Committee of The Canadian Association of Stand-up Comedians (CASC). This is the first-ever organization established as a unified voice for Canadian stand-up comics. As a result of our efforts, the petition will officially be tabled in the House of Commons in the Fall.

Anyway, back to the proof points I promised earlier.

Stand-up comedy is art:

According to Statistics Canada, culture is defined as:

“…Creative artistic activity and the goods and services produced by it…”

Stand-up comedy satisfies more than the minimum criteria Stats Can has outlined, falls within four of the six Domains they have designated and reflects their key concept of fulfilling a “creative chain”. Therefore, indisputably included as a part of Canada’s cultural sector, which is defined as a creative artistic activity, Canada already technically defines stand-up as art, just not officially in the funding branches of the government.

Now, I realize you’ve never said, “let’s go to the comedy club and see some art tonight”. But, having seen live comedy, you know in your heart that stand-up comedy can be one of the most authentic, immediate, and powerful theatrical art forms you’ve ever experienced.

You would never let someone sitting in your living room, or at your dinner table do ALL of the talking for 45 – 60 minutes. Yet, a stand-up comedian can single-handedly hold the attention of dozens, if not 100’s of people, deftly riding waves of laughter, with precision timing in performing set-ups and punchlines that they have spent countless hours crafting. Something happens when a comic artist takes the stage to transform the energy of a room and connect an audience of complete strangers.

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You may not like, or agree with everything that a comic says, or even think they’re funny. But, like a painting, a song, or a ballet, a stand-up comedian’s art has been created with the intent to share their distinct stories and perspectives. They achieve this nerve-racking feat using nothing more than their unique physical and vocal talent, expressed through the amplification of a single microphone.

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Stand-up comedians stimulate the economy:

There are countless studies demonstrating the economic and social benefits of a thriving cultural sector for people working in multitudes of other sectors within a community. (Conceptual Framework for Culture Statistics; The Conference Board of Canada; A Plan for Growth in the Knowledge Economy, etc…).

In the most basic terms, when people go to a comedy club to watch stand-up comedians, they not only pay a fee for a ticket to the show, they also generate revenue for businesses that operate in: transportation, infrastructure, food and beverage, hospitality and tourism, advertising and marketing, media/social media, packaged goods, telecommunications, etc….

A more impressive understanding of the complex economic implications of how a comic can create jobs and generate revenue for business can be found in the model for funding Canadian recording artists and the music business. You can read all about how government funding through FACTOR and Radio Starmaker, as well as how the CRTC MAPL regulations have come together to create a billion dollar Canadian music industry with massive international stars in this Fast Company article.

In terms of making public money accessible to stand-up comics, like other artists such as musicians, audits from the Canadian Independent Music Association, (CIMA), prove that it’s a legitimate business investment. In any given year, the publicly sponsored music scene has been shown to create more than 13,000 jobs and generate over $93 million in new tax revenue. For every $1 in federal or provincial music program support, there is a return of $1.22 back. That’s because the music scene economy is bolstered not only by fan consumption, but also by the operation and management of studios, venues, merchandisers and all of their employees.

There’s not as much of an industry machine working behind the scenes in the comedy business. At the same time, stand-up comics fill rooms in clubs, theatres and other venues. They record comedy albums. They sell merchandise. They tour. Moreover, Canadians have become known internationally for our brand of comedy. Some have achieved a similar level of superstar success to renowned Canadian recording artists. Not that it’s easy to make it in Canada as a musician, but the comics who have vaulted to the highest levels of celebrity have done so despite the lack of support and resources at home.

It’s time to change that. Not just because it’s what is respectful and fair, but also because it promises to bring social and economic benefits to thousands of Canadians in communities across the country.

Photo by Kevin Renes/Thinkstock Images, photo illustration by Na

I realize there are a lot of bigger issues to tackle in the world right now. That’s what makes this a quick and easy win. You can sign the E-Petition here. You won’t have to adopt, or sponsor any comics with a monthly donation. You could. Better yet, donations to CASC make it possible for us to fulfill our mandate to make the comedy industry even more successful in Canada.

Representing CASC Members, Sandra has also been able to have meetings arranged in Ottawa with the Canada Council for the Arts, Heritage Committee, Global Affairs Canada, The Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada-U.S. Relations Cabinet Secretary, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We’re pretty sure this is the first time a stand-up comic has travelled to the nation’s capital for official business on Parliament Hill. (We’re not expecting this to catch on with any other comics, btw).

In addition to proper recognition in Canada, CASC is also lobbying for parity for touring Canadian stand-up comics with American comics. We are arguing the mutually beneficial social and economic aspects of enabling comics to more freely perform on both sides of the border, with a lens on the fact that it is highly restrictive for Canadians touring abroad, but not U.S. comics working in Canada.

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen live stand-up comedy in a long time”.

Well, how often do you go to the symphony, art gallery, opera, or ballet? That’s a rhetorical question. We stand-up comedians ask a lot of those types of questions.

Anyway, you should go see live comedy more often. It’s usually a very accessible price and lots of fun.

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There’s a 12-hour Comedy Marathon to get signatures on the petition on Monday June 18th at The Riv in Toronto.

Whether you prefer comics who aren’t vulgar, or choose to attend an infamous “Dirty Show”, with comedians who are labeled as “blue”, “edgy”, or “alternative”, ultimately what we all strive for as stand-ups is to “work funny”. Like any artist, we don’t expect you’ll always agree with our product. After all, art is in the ear of the beholder.

6 thoughts on Stand-up Comedy: Fund My Dirty Jokes

    1. Thanks, Natalie! Sorry for the delayed response; I need to check this message board! Anyway, there’s an email your MP letter campaign on right now, linked from http://www.canadianstandup.ca Thanks for your support in letting MPs know how important this is! The petition was tabled in the House of Commons in September (to a standing ovation) and now we have just a couple more weeks to lobby the individual MPs to support it. Cheers, Adam

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