What’s the difference between a one-person stage play and a standup comedian’s performance?
The first one is eligible for government arts funding while the latter is not, which is a sad punchline to several of this country’s comedians. It has long been the case that Canadian arts institutions don’t recognize stand-up comedy under the umbrella of performing arts, which has left many comics fuming about what they see is an unfair exclusion. Canadian comedians are getting organized to try and change it.
Toronto-based comedian Sandra Battaglini has started a Parliamentary e-petition, a government-sponsored program which ensures an official government response provided the document gets at least 500 signatures. The petition started last week and already has over 2,000 signatures.
“I just thought this is the standup industry, we don’t have anything. This just seemed like this was something that could give comics a bit of relief, because so many comics are living below the poverty line, and it is one of the greatest legacies of our country and nobody talks about it,” says Battaglini.
The petition was actually the followup to an open letter she wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016, called “Just a little reciprocity.” That letter outlined some of the issues that comics face, including a lack of access to public funding. It got some traction, and she sent it to Julie Dabrusin, her local Liberal Member of Parliament, who called her in for a meeting to discuss further measures. That kicked off the idea of the e-petition, but Dabrusin also suggested that standups — notoriously the lone-wolf type — form their own pack.
“We were told to create a standup association, to help lobby the government (and) so many other comics have said, whatever you want, I’m on board with you.” says Battaglini. “So we formed the first Canadian Association of Stand Up Comedians, which will first work on this, getting us considered an art form, and then work on removing the restrictions for us to work in the U.S.”