Kristeen von Hagen jokes that stand-up wannabes should “lose weight and not get old.”
There's no mistaking Kristeen von Hagen's voice.
In person and in front of a mic, it has a shrill, high-strung quality, as if the stand-up's on the verge of a mini-breakdown. But then she'll deliver a joke - or just a word - in a singsong lilt that proves, as does her constant smile, that she's not fazed at all.
That bemused, shrewd take on life's absurdities has marked her act since she began doing stand-up in the late-1990s. And it'll come in handy when she soon settles down in that hotbed of cultural contradictions, Las Vegas.
"We're trying to get something started down there, buy a house and maybe get a show going on the strip," says the Toronto-based von Hagen, at the NOW Lounge on an ice-cold day.
She and comedy writer Luciano Casimiri got married in Vegas last September in a wedding that included a performance by a 600-pound Elvis impersonator and a minister who asked them, "How much God do you want: lots, none or some?"
Oh, yeah, and their reception DJ was none other than good friend Russell Peters.
"He took it very seriously," says von Hagen about the comedy superstar. "He made a playlist, he was scratching, dealing with drunks. Even the white people were dancing."
Judging from recent performances, getting engaged and married hasn't dulled her comic edge. She's got some strong new material about her bachelorette trip to Europe, which unexpectedly taught her a few things about her German background; and her frequent border-hopping - she lived for a couple of years in NYC - has inspired a clever bit about U.S. and Canadian coins.
When I point out that she seems more relaxed than ever onstage, she smiles.
"Time gives you perspective," she says. "You realize things come and go. There was a time when being a woman was good, and then it wasn't. Then being an ethnically diverse comic was good, and now that's kind of passed. Things happen in cycles."
And when aspiring comics get up the nerve to ask the multiple Canadian Comedy Award winner for advice?
"I tell them to lose weight and not get old," she jokes. "And they say, ‘Ooh, why is she so scary?'
"No, seriously, the classic advice for this business is true. Do as many spots as you can, and watch people. A lot of newcomers breeze in and out of sets, thinking they have it all figured out. But they should watch their elders. You're going to have great sets, but you'll also have bad ones and realize you're not hot shit."
When she does move south, she'll miss her current apartment complex, where a lot of fellow stand-ups and friends live.
"Our building would make a great web series," she says, pointing out that Christina Walkinshaw, Jen Grant and Julien Dionne all live there. "There's always some scene. Right now we're all on a detox - no alcohol - so we're super-edgy. But Christina and I have taken to googling pictures of cocktails to make us feel better."