march of dames comedy festival, produced by Lisa Merchant, March 25-30, Tuesday to Friday 8:30 pm, Saturday 10:30 pm, at the Tim Sims Playhouse; Sunday gala 8 pm at Second City (56 Blue Jays Way). For full lineup, see comedy listings, page 68. $15-$20. 416-343-0011.
Lisa merchant's annual all-female March Of Dames fest is usually a blast for audiences. Apparently, it's not so bad behind the scenes either."Every time I've done the show there's this great feeling backstage," says Lisa Brooke, a Second City alumna who estimates she's been on at least five of MOD's lineups.
"I know that plays into the stereotype of all these women rubbing beads and hugging each other for support," she jokes. "Sure, that can happen. But there's a great energy. There's something less competitive about it all."
No one feels this more than female stand-ups, who are used to being the sole woman on testosterone-charged comedy bills.
"What's great is you don't have to worry about the guys being around," admits stand-up Laurie Elliott, a former Tim Sims Encouragement Award winner who's appeared at the last three MOD fests.
"When you're with all women you can be yourself. I guess it goes both ways. We're always trying to impress the gender we're attracted to in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways."
"Yeah," pipes in Brooke. "There's this thing in comedy if you're a woman. Either you're funny or you're sexy. You can't be both." She pauses. "Except for Laurie and me, of course."
Besides being sexy and funny, Elliott and Brooke have both been in the business a few years. They've each attained some success. Has the journey been what they expected?
"I figured once you did enough shows, someone would see you and you'd automatically go this next level," says Elliott, who's guested on The Seán Cullen Show, lends her gritty voice to several animated series and is one of the comics profiled in the upcoming documentary Next Best Thing.
"No one does that. You have to be completely in control of what you're doing and promote the shit out of yourself. Up until now, I haven't had the confidence to do that."
Brooke, on the other hand, took a detour. After doing character work with Shoshana Sperling and winning accolades in one of the strongest Second City ensembles to date, she left town for Chicago's Second City touring company.
"I don't want to put Canada down, but things were a lot easier for me there," says Brooke, who travelled with the company to Japan, Thailand and a pre-September 11 Persian Gulf for a year and a half before taking a leave of absence.
"In Toronto I got this ugly feeling that there was this hierarchy, that you got to a certain level and protected what you had," she says. "You maintained the pecking order. That doesn't exist in Chicago. It refreshed me as a performer and changed my attitude.
"My worst show in Chicago was equal to my best show in Toronto. The audiences there love it. You tour to American colleges and they know everything about SC history. You can barely keep them in their seats. Whereas here...."
"Here it's "OK, try to make me laugh,'" adds Elliott. "In the States they love their entertainment."
Both comics admit things are better for women than they were. Just look at last season's Second City cast, where for a half a year the girls outnumbered the guys.
"Sometimes at Second City here, people would come up and say to the guys, "You're great! And so are you!' But when they came to me they were, "And you -- you remind me of...' And they'd name some other woman."
Like most female stand-ups, Elliott's felt a crowd's hostility when they discover their headliner is female.
"It happens every once in a while," she says. "You'll get onstage and there will be an audible, almost visible shift. They won't laugh as much. And you know that if the guy who's just introduced you said the same lines, they'd be laughing harder."email@example.com