Sometimes you live and learn, while other times you learn to laugh.
Of all the comedy shows that I get to see during the year, the ones that the Western Comedy Club put on tend to rank near the top. Whether it’s sketch, improv, or standup comedy, you’re guaranteed to see something really funny and really creative on stage.
They’re really one of London comedy’s best kept secrets.
Recently I had a chance to peel the curtain back a bit and chat to this year’s co-presidents Thomas Valade and Jodie Roach. We got to talk about their hopes for the year, their comedic journeys, and where the club fits into the London comedy landscape.
September usually marks a sort of renewal in the London comedy scene and The Western Comedy Club is no different. What are your hopes for the Western Comedy Club as you enter the school year? Also, what do you hope that new members will get out of their experiences this year?
TV: I think we’re trying to capture the magic of the group in our performances. The club operates under umbrellas of sketch, stand-up, and improv but a lot of what we do doesn’t fall into any of those buckets.
Often times someone will have a great concept but it doesn’t really fit into the context of a show so it will just kind of remain a joke within the club. I know it sounds corny but every time we hang out is like a show in itself. You could put together like 10 hours of jokes from meetings and rehearsals that would blow any show we’ve done out of the water.
In every mundane line of dialogue there is three months of riffing off it and the audience will never know. I guess in essence I’m just looking for more ways to let people in on all the fun that comes from developing the end product and I’m excited for new people to get on board with and contribute to that.
JR: We’re really excited to be branching out our comedy into platforms outside of our usual show types. We want to create a showcase for non-performative written work especially.
I am, as always, really hoping to bring more women into the club. Comedy, especially stand-up comedy, is a very vulnerable thing to do, and I think a lot of women get scared away from the scene because they are doubly vulnerable in a largely male-driven space.
My goal is to make a space where people can get their feet wet and see that they can be vulnerable and tell personal stories onstage and not be afraid of failure.
Speaking of experience, you two have been with the club for a couple of years now. What has been your favourite comedy club experience that you’ve been a part of so far?
TV: My favourite experiences with the club come from traveling with the improv team. If I had to pick one show in particular it would have to be the UofT Summit when I was in second year.
When we went the year before, it was my first show with the team and I was super excited, I invited a bunch of my family members that hadn’t seen me perform before. We bombed hard.
We came back the next year with pretty much the same team, we all ate too much BBQ food for dinner and were pretty much ready to throw up when we got to the venue. It ended up being the best show I have ever done. We spent the rest of the night just kind of looking at each other in disbelief that we had that performance in us.
With sketch, at least for me, the fun is in the process of writing and rehearsing with your troupe. By the time you get to the show, you’ve heard the jokes a thousand times and you just want to be done with it. With improv you don’t know how your show is going to turn out until it’s already happening so you get a rush of energy when it hits.
That’s the best feeling in the world.
JR: I always look forward to our annual sketch show. It is by far the most hectic and the most rewarding part of my school year. It’s such a special experience because it’s the most collaborative show we get to put on.
There are so many creative aspects to it, from the scripting to the costuming to the minute line deliveries. Getting creative input from our team during every step of the process is such a great experience and it helps to make our shows truly reflective of the dynamic we strive for in our meetings.
There are times when I write a joke and I think “Okay this is good,” and then a performer will come in and make a little change to it that just ramps it up and makes it so much better, and I’m so grateful that I get to not only perform with these people but learn from them and grow with them every step of the way.
A lot of people talk about comedy as a journey, whether it be Stand Up, Improv or Sketch. What part of your journey so far has helped you realize something about yourselves that you didn’t know before?
TV: Meeting Danny Avila. He is the most magical performer that I’ve ever been around and he made me realize that comedy is way better when it isn’t funny.
My friend Spencer has this joke that he always tells people that doesn’t have a punchline, it just ends and he looks at them expectantly. Without fail, people’s first reaction is to tell him that there isn’t a punchline like he didn’t know. It’s the funniest thing in the world to me.
I did a sketch a few years ago that built up and then just ended abruptly without any jokes and I could hear people saying “is it over?” and “there wasn’t anything funny about that”. I’ve learned to love genuine confusion.
Ahhhh, the sweet taste of victory… Your friendly neighbourhood Comedy Club improvisers took home the win at The…
JR: It’s funny, a lot of my friends, when they hear I do comedy, say “Oh that’s so scary, I could never!” And yes, it is scary in the sense that you can totally bomb in front of a ton of people and knock your confidence down a bit, but the satisfaction of getting a good laugh always makes it worth it.
I think doing stand up especially has helped me accept failure more openly.
Being in this club has also taught me just how many good people you can find doing comedy. What I have loved about Western Comedy in particular is that we have always been on the same page about what our goal is: to make people happy.
When you get to spend so much of your time with people who just want to make other people laugh and bring them that joy, you have a lot of really good days.
Over the years, many in the London arts community have talked about the best way of “popping the Western bubble.” London comedy has seen crowds and participation steadily increase in the past couple years. What kind of things would you like to see come about within the London comedy community so it can better integrate your club into our comedy community as a whole?
TV: I think that the arts scene at Western in itself is a series of bubbles.
As much as we more or less know each other and will try to support what we put out, there’s a lot of different niches and approaches to what we do. Theatre Western, HUDS, King’s Players, Western TV, Western Update, The Western Beet (RIP), Iconoclast and all of the other “arts” groups on campus are wildly different. They’re made by very different people with different goals, and different budgets, and structures, and networks, and processes, and audiences, and levels of attachment to the university.
It doesn’t take long to realize that comedians have no social skills and the people who stick around tend to be the ones who can catch on to the joke before they get turned off by it.
For me at least, the combination of these two things has led to the club existing in a bit of isolation to everything else that’s happening on campus and in the community scene. I think we have gotten used to the fact that we’re a small but very close group of friends and we’ll make the things that we want to make even though it’s not going to appeal to the majority of people.
That’s not an easy thing to fix. I think that we’re getting there with things like Write it Down Margaret with the wickedly talented Sammy Roach and getting more involved in open mic nights with the hilarious Pat Tiffin.
I think the important things are supporting each other and building those good relationships. I realize that we aren’t the best with making it out to community shows (we are broke and busy students) but it’s something that we’re definitely trying to do this year.
JR: We always try to direct our stand-up performers towards the open mics around town, encourage them to participate and support the local community. It’s harder to find spaces for our sketch writers and improvisers to practice and perform. I think fostering more collaborative group work is essential.
I think when you write with a lot of the same people for years, as we have, it just becomes so natural to work with them and to bounce off of that dynamic that you don’t really think about changing it up. We definitely get very insular at times, and it’s something that we are trying to break out of. We truly love hearing new voices and getting new insights.
Every year, the Western Comedy Club seems to come up with new and exciting ways to change up it’s offerings. What new and exciting experiences should students be expecting from this year’s club?
TV: Nothing. I’m just gonna roll back all the same jokes and see if anyone notices.
JR: We’re going really heavy into prop comedy this year.
One Last Question….
One of the funniest things that I’ve seen all year was the ASMR Prom intermission from the sketch show this past winter. What were the origins of this comedic piece and who’s idea was it to add a spoken word version of Louis Armstrong’s “It’s A Wonderful World” as it’s finale?
JR: Thomas Valade has been just the most bizarre. He quickly became one of my favorite people, and I’m glad that we get to help build this club together.
TV: It came from a writing exercise at one of our workshops. Somebody had a prom prompt and I came up with the idea of having a school dance but instead of music it was just ASMR.
Honestly, I did it because my girlfriend hates ASMR and I wanted to force her to sit through it (she’s very supportive and doesn’t deserve this). I originally pitched it as a sketch but it got cut for time so I got the troupe to let me use it as the intermission.
I was traveling the weekend before the show and it hadn’t been done yet so early on Saturday morning before I was leaving, I had my friend Spencer over to record it (he’s the voice of the DJ). I had a few notes of how I wanted it to go but it was mostly us trying to find ways to fill up 20 minutes with whispering.
I think we picked What A Wonderful World because it’s one of those songs that becomes terrifying when you actually listen to the lyrics. I held off showing it to anybody until the tech run the night before the show and the details of it were literally decided on backstage during the first night.
After the show, I had four different people tell me that they hated it so I knew it was a winner.
Make sure to check out The Western Comedy Club Facebook Page.
Also If you’re entering first year at Western University make sure to check out the Western Comedy Club’s show during Frosh Week.
Ah, First Year… a new school, new people, a lifetime of explaining to people “I live in London. No. Not that one.”…
Photos Courtesy: The Western Comedy Club and Write It Down, Margaret!
Pat Tiffin is a LondonFuse Contributor and a local Stand Up comedian.