Photography by Michelle-Andrea Girouard
Around 8 p.m., comedian Rhiannon Archer usually gets ready to start her set and waits in the greenroom or in the audience for her name to be called. She goes over the order of her jokes in her head while keeping a copy of her set list in her back pocket – she never takes it out, but keeps it as a habit. As she hears her name shouted through the microphone, she walks on stage, ready to conquer her gig.
Archer has made a mark as one of the few up-and-coming female Canadian comedians in this male-dominated industry. With her goofy and honest personality (seen on her current YouTube channel) the 29-year-old’s jokes practically have a mind of their own. In one of her videos, Archer pokes fun at the upcoming Bachelor auditions in Toronto. She was irritated with all her friends’ passion for the show and was upset about how many people found it so entertaining, so she decided to make a silly video and submitted it to the company, although she never got a word back. She is honest with who she is and her material, while mixing her personal life and imagination in the process.
“It’s all about making myself laugh first, like what things do I find funny?” she says. “Then I sit, hold the joke, and craft it.”
Archer has been working professionally as a comedian for four years now, thanks to the support of a friend who signed her up in 2007 for Slice TV’s The List. The show selected participants to fulfill a wish, from singing with Australian rock band INXS to sending people down the red carpet wearing a designer couture dress for TIFF. Before the show first started, Archer had lunch with her friends and they ambushed her–the show started and they went from there. It was her first time performing in front of a live audience.
She was born in Oakville, Ont. and graduated with a diploma in television broadcasting and communications from Mohawk College in Hamilton. Archer never actually thought about doing stand-up (it was either acting in comedies or performing on Saturday Night Live) until she moved to Toronto from Burlington, Ont. in 2008, where she grew up with her mother and brother. “I did sketch [comedy] and I found out I wasn’t feeling it,” she says, “and just did stand-up out of this weird television show thing but it just clicked. I have been doing it ever since.”
Archer’s love affair with comedy started at four-years-old. She grew up with divorced parents and spent a lot of time alone. She would listen to her mother’s taped copies of Saturday Night Live and SCTV instead of watching cartoons. Even though she didn’t understand it, she loved it. “I was a very lonely child and laughing is one of the best feelings in the entire world,” Archer says. “You hear a lot of people are having fun, and I just wanted to be a part of that—there’s something nice and comforting about it.”
Despite the pressure of performing live, Archer rarely gets butterflies. “I wish I did get nervous,” she says with a smirk. “Nobody can fault you for having fun—even if you look stupid.” Still, she is often criticized by the audience or club owners for being a woman in comedy. “I don’t like it when an audience has issues with female comics,” she says.
“Women will come up to me and say: ‘I don’t normally find female comics funny, but you are really funny,’ and I am like, ‘that’s really insulting—shame on you.”
Archer has even been critiqued for her style of clothing. Women automatically dismiss her and men tend not to listen, but stare at her outfit. A club owner once told her to dress up like she was going on a date. “He gave me criticism and I said to him, ‘Do you have any idea what that will do?’ The next thing I showed up in a tuxedo.”
Archer feels she gets judged more harshly—and faster—for what she has to say on stage. “It’s weird—it’s like sexual harassment does not count in a comedy club. I have been in situations, where club staff would ask me how I got on this show, which comic did I sleep with,” she says. “Excuse me? Men don’t have to deal with these types of questions.”
Dylan Gott, 28, comedian for nine years and recent Canadian Comedy Award nominee, believes that female comics in Toronto are instantly stereotyped in the competitive business. Women are initially tagged as the “complainers” or expected to talk about sex or their relationships on stage. “I’ve heard it said by a female comic that she gets the ‘oh no a girl’ vibe from the audience sometimes, so she has to swear more to talk about stuff like her diary. The only problems I run into are if they don’t like my jokes.”
Archer overcomes all of this by surrounding herself with positive people, drawing inspiration from comedians such as Jackie Kashian, Maria Bamford, Matt Braunger, Paul F. Tompkins and Kyle Kinane. Archer even got to open up for Bamford on her Just For Laughs tour.
Even with this wealth of experience under her belt, Archer feels she has a long way to go. She finds it difficult to find promising gigs in Canada due to the lack of available jobs, but says she still feels lucky.
“There is so much talent and I don’t feel like it’s accommodating [gigs] for everybody and it’s a huge matter of luck and talent.”
As Archer finishes her stand-up, she walks off stage thinking over her set and how to improve and challenge herself. Nothing will stop her from getting where she wants to be—from touring with the best, and appearing on MuchMusic’s Video On Trial, to having her own YouTube channel, she is doing it all.
Archer is presently performing all over Toronto and Ontario and is in the process of filming a short comedy she wrote called The Wedding Photographer. In the future, she sees herself touring, traveling, writing shows—and just being happy. “Nothing is in your control,” she says, “I just gotta work hard.” M