By: Samantha Anderson
Julia Hladkowicz had an orgasm at the gym.
It happened during an intense spinning class, she told a packed Poor John’s Cafe in Parkdale, while situated on a stage that felt more like someone’s living room than a small coffee shop.
Speaking into a microphone under the glow of a red light, Hladkowicz introduced a number of other female standup comics who entertained a quiet but articulate crowd of mostly women.
The discussion turned to Justin Bieber’s appearance on Oprah, being drunk while on shift at Starbucks, masturbating while high, pubic hair, and, strangely enough, beating up homeless people.
The show, West End Girls, a monthly standup room, features amateur female comics coming out of Toronto’s comedy schools, with one professional headliner each time. Some have been performing for up to four years, and some are just starting out, on their first or second time onstage.
The producer, Daniela Saioni, says she organized the group in September 2009 because there wasn’t any stage time for female comics to perform, or to try new material. Most clubs would only have one woman perform, out of a group of ten to twelve guys. Also, Saioni says, most jokes about women were about rape.
“Here we are doing the opposite,” she says.
In the West End Girls room there is only one male performance in a night.
The owner of Poor John’s offered the space to Saioni for the show under one condition: no jokes about rape.
The room has been full since it started.
“People are seeing our shows are successful,” she says.
“We know definitely that women are funny.”
Saioni, who teaches script supervision at Comedy Bar and started doing standup in 2008, says many of the women performing were studying in Dawn Whitwell’s Comedy Bar Class, Comedy Girl. The class teaches women with no experience how to turn personal stories into jokes, finishing with 3-5 minutes of material.
Saioni says there are women getting together to do comedy all over the city, including the Mary Jane’s of Comedy and Press Club 7, but she remembers being the only woman performing at Comedy Room.
Comedy wasn’t a way to make loads of money, Saioni says, however she would turn down possibilities of making thousands to keep doing standup.
“It’s really an addiction,” she says of being onstage.
Saioni says in order to progress in comedy you have to keep writing and keep working otherwise you have to start all over.
Saioni, who performs at every West End Girls show, says it has forced her to produce new material each time.
“It keeps me sane,” she says.
Saioni says comedy gives her perspective and a chance to reflect on her work environment in the film industry.
The material, whether new or not is wide-ranging.
“It doesn’t have to be one way,” Saioni says.
West End Girls not only presents the variety of different performers and jokes, Saioni says, but also contributes to Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, a non-profit charity benefitting those affected by cancer.
Saioni, who has recently overcome cancer herself, says that West End Girls have raised 17,000 dollars so far for Gilda’s Club.
Past headliners include Shelley Marshall and also Sandra Shamas, the first woman in Canada to make a million dollars doing standup comedy.
And although some jokes are clean and some are dirty, Saioni says there is nothing cliché about West End Girls.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a period joke in this room,” she says.
West End Girls’ next show, Best of West End Girls, stand-up comedy from the Edge of Parkdale, is June 5th at Comedy Bar. Tickets are $8 at www.comedybar.ca