Should comedy be recognized as an art form by the Government of Ontario?

In conversation with Dr. Jill Andrew, MPP for Toronto—St. Paul’s on supporting comedians during COVID-19

With closed comedy clubs and social distancing measures during COVID-19, comedians in Ontario have been struggling to find platforms where they can perform.

As Comedy Live Now has supported stand-up comedians by hosting shows online, local advocates such as Dr. Jill Andrew, Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) MPP for Toronto—St. Paul’s, are advocating for stand-up comedy to be classified as an art form for Ontario performers to receive funding from their provincial government.

“With COVID-19, what we have is a lot of comedians, who, frankly, were not able to have their live shows,” said Dr. Andrew in a conversation with Robert Bélanger-Polak, founder and host of Comedy Live Now. “[These comics are] not able to pursue their professional development, [nor deepen] their connection with their audiences.”

The movement to support local comedians includes a petition by Sandra Battaglini, co-founder of Canadian Association of Stand-Up Comedians, addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Battaglini’s advocacy has been previously reported on by the Toronto Star.

As the petition noted, stand-up comedy has featured prominently in Canada’s culture and international reputation. “Canada is known internationally as an exporter of some of the world’s best-known comedians, such as Jim Carrey, Russell Peters, Andrea Martin, Arthur Simeon, Catherine O’Hara, and Sandra Battaglini,” reported the petition.

It continues: “comedians must often cobble together many precarious ‘gig economy’ jobs to make ends meet and are invaluable members of the live entertainment and cultural worker community which was first hit, hardest hit, and will likely take the longest to recover from COVID-19,” and underscores how “in Ontario, comedians do not have access to arts grants that are available to peers in theatre, music, circus, dance, sports, literature and the visual arts.”

Reflecting on her advocacy efforts for comedians, Dr. Andrew said to Comedy Live Now that stand-up comedy must be considered in the provincial government’s plans for supporting artists during the COVID-19.

“This is not about a handout,” she said. “This is about supporting people who are integral to our provinces, art history, heritage, to our entertainment, to our nightlife, that people come to Toronto and come to Ontario to explore.”

Asked by Bélanger-Polak what she would like to say to Twitch viewers and gamers, who make up a significant part of Comedy Live Now’s audience, she said: “I would say you want a party that’s intense. You want a party that’s passionate. You want a party that’s fighting for your rights. You want a party that will spend all the time it needs to make you see just how important you are to us. That’s the NDP.”

Watch the full interview below, which features Dr. Andrew’s support for underrepresented groups engaging in politics and her history entering political advocacy.