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Turning over a new leaf: Cannabis lights up the comedy scene

 

With the legalization of recreational cannabis coming up on October 17, the Cannabis Comedy Festival is a timely event to prepare the community for what it may well be the most anticipated and yet the most feared piece of legislation in Canadian politics. The Cannabis Comedy Festival took place in August at the Regent Theatre in Toronto. The choice of a mainstream and a smoking-free venue reflects the intention to open the event to everyone, stoners and not.

The impending legalization is surely generating a well of discussions within the cannabis users’ community as well as outside. The implications for  the day-to-day life of Canadians are so numerous that, whether consumers or not, it is giving everyone some food for thought as to the pros and cons of legal recreational marijuana.

As I explore the topic, I learn that Toronto is full of cannabis comedy lounges where people can enjoy a joint as well as a comedy show. Ronen Geisler, Producer of the festival says, “Toronto has a large cannabis comedy community. There are cannabis lounges all over the city that host cannabis comedy shows on a nightly basis. We believe that both cannabis and laughter are the best medicine one can have.” Ronen hopes that the festival will grow and spread to other cities and provinces throughout Canada. In the meantime, a major cannabis comedy show is in the planning for October 17.

Since these clubs have been operating mostly underground, their status is currently in a grey area. Their future is also uncertain as the by-laws that regulate cannabis might change in the future. However, it’s not hard to predict that they will likely multiply in this day and age when they are no longer ruled by prohibition.

Cannabis lounges have been very popular in Toronto for the past ten years offering a platform to comedians to practice their art and a positive and non-judgmental space for cannabis users. These weed lounges have played a big part in the stand-up community in Toronto. There are many long running shows, among these, Jeff Paul’s “Dopen Mic”, Puff Mama’s Underground Comedy Club, Amanda Day’s, “Stoned up comedy” at Kensington Market’s Hot Box, and Brian O’Gorman’s and Mike Rita’s show at Vapour Central. Regardless of whether comedians are 420 friendly or not, these venues are inclusive, supportive, playing a key part in the development of many stand-up comedians.

I was in the audience that night, pushed by the curiosity to attend a show that constitutes a genre of its own, the cannabis comedy festival was a lot of fun. I am not a cannabis user, but I believe that it’s time to remove the outdated stigma that weed carries, especially given the science-based benefits of medical marijuana. I laughed at some of the jokes and didn’t at others, but that is normal with comedy; after all, making people laugh is a tough trade. One of the performers, Lianne Mauladin, a stand-up comedian for ten years, comments “It’s an exciting time to be in comedy! Comedy shows and festivals, targeting different groups of people, are popping up everywhere.”

Lianne runs her own show Merry Jane of Comedy which features the best in female stand-up comics. She continues, “The show has become a rite of passage for women in the community and a fantastic way to network with comedians.” Lianne does not define herself a “cannabis comedian”. “I have like one joke about an anti-drug ad. I think it’s my hippie vibe and my Canadian with a hint of ‘surfer’ accent that gets me booked on these things.”

Certainly, a discussion around cannabis and its implications in the life of users and the people around them is underway. The Cannabis Comedy Festival was an original way to introduce weed-inspired humour to a wider audience. What’s more, cannabis and comedy as a subgenre is likely to leave the fringe and enter the mainstream as of October 17.