KRISTEEN VON HAGEN headlining at Tom Foolery's (194 Bloor West), Friday-Saturday (July 19-20) at 8 and 10:30 pm. $15. 416-967-5005.
A year ago, Kristeen Von Hagen was probably the last stand-up in the city you'd expect to haul out dick jokes. But now she's got a couple up her sleeve, or rather in her pants pocket. After all, she is the Penis Lady. No, she's not doing some sort of novelty hermaphrodite act. Since September, she's been the opening act for that silly dick trick show, The Puppetry Of The Penis, first in Toronto, then on a national tour.
"I walk out, welcome people to the show, explain that I don't have a penis but that I'm there to get them excited about the penises," says von Hagen, fresh from the Ottawa stop on the tour. "I have way more penis jokes now than is really necessary."
Back in town for a rare headlining gig at Tom Foolery's this weekend, she doesn't think those jokes will fly in her regular act.
"It might just sound creepy if I come out and say, "Hey, what's up with penises?' People will think I have a problem."
Maybe, maybe not. After all, von Hagen's one of the most likeable acts around. Her onstage persona is the mid-20s slacker, the woman who drinks too much and watches too much daytime TV.
"I look at it as slice-of-life stuff," she admits. "My friends are idiots. I'm an idiot. I drank too much and did something stupid."
Onstage, she's the witty underdog, your friend's sister, the one with the mock hysteria in her voice that hints at equal parts self-deprecating humour and nervy sarcasm. It's hard not to secretly cheer her on as she points out life's injustices and stupidities.
The Victoria native has come far since arriving here, duffle bag in hand, six years ago, hoping to spend a summer and check out the comedy scene. She never left.
A lot's happened in the last two years. She taped a Comedy Now special and performed a gala set for Just For Laughs. A few months ago she won the Canadian Comedy Award for Pretty Funny Female Stand-Up, accepted the award in a track suit and gold money chain and earned the biggest and most sincere ovation of the night.
She's also 60 pounds and a pair of glasses lighter than she was two years ago.
"I broke my foot in Scotland three summers ago, started exercising and six months later broke the same foot again and spent half a year in a cast," she says. "Once it got fixed, I knew I had to get into shape. I also found a diet that worked."
The weight loss has necessitated some changes in her act. She seldom tells her joke about a homeless woman asking her for her Subway sandwich any more. But she keeps in her joke about Pilates and avoiding the gym, though she works out daily.
"That's comedy for you," she laughs, all conspiratorial. "The lies."
Still, she's aware that comedy has a double standard for larger male and female comics.
"People think, "Oh, that's just a big guy,' but, "Oh, there's a fat chick.' It's true in all aspects of life."
She suspects audiences treat her differently now that she's dropped the weight, but she also realizes she's become a better, more confident stand-up over time.
That doesn't mean there aren't setbacks. A while ago, she had a bad weekend of sets in Niagara Falls.
"I still think seeing a young woman who's pretty cheeky can upset some people," says von Hagen. "I've gone onstage and thought, "These people are not giving me a chance.' I've done jokes that always work. I know you're not supposed to blame the audience, but come on. Play along."
The Tom Foolery's shows (she also hosts next week for headliner Brent Butt) mark her first big appearance since leaving Yuk Yuk's, where she wasn't getting enough stage time. It's also her first local headlining gig after playing in packed 800-seat theatres across the country with the Penis show.
"I've learned how to relax more," she says. "When I first started out, I was like, "OK, these are my jokes, I want to do all of them and don't want to stray.' Now I realize it's not about the jokes but about being entertaining. That's what I'm trying to do. Be more in the moment."firstname.lastname@example.org