MONTHLY COMEDY SHOWS RAISE FUNDS FOR CANCER RESEARCH
By Melania Daniel
Your average Joe would most likely break down in fits of crying when coping with a recent diagnosis of cancer. But Joel Taylor took to laughing.
The 33-year-old comedian, who learned in February that he had pancreatic cancer, began planning for a regular series of comedy shows in response to the devastating news. The monthly laugh-fest, For My Own Benefit, kicked-off at Parts & Labour (1566 Queen St. W.) in March. Since its second showing Apr. 25 at the Comedy Bar (945 Bloor St. W.), the Bloor-Ossington venue has become For My Own Benefit’s permanent home.
Taylor had two goals in mind for the event—to make patrons die laughing (figuratively), and to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. “Because of my cancer diagnosis, I wanted to do something more community-oriented, something philanthropic,” said Taylor. “I wanted to do something for a greater good while doing what I like, which is to write comedy and perform it.”
“It’s not French farce, it’s not slapstick; it’s a highly verbal, absurdist, literary comedy. And we tried to find acts that are like us.”
He performs as one half of the New Humourists, alongside Jordan Himelfarb, his stage partner of over 10 years. When they got together to rework old routines and write new material for the charity undertaking, they wanted to make sure the focus was on fun, said Himelfarb.
“We didn’t want it to be about the charity, or about cancer, or Joel,” said Himelfarb. “It’s not a secret that Joel has cancer, but we never mention it on stage.”
Himelfarb said the duo “made a serious effort” to ensure their act, which runs for about one hour, “is a lot of fun, so people are not thinking of cancer but experiencing something very, very, funny.”
What Taylor and Himelfarb put on is indeed “hysterically funny,” said publicist for the New Humourists, Ivy Johnson. Johnson points to video clips of past performances of the pair, available at www.formyownbenefit.com, as proof that hers is not just the word of a self-interested promoter. In fact, there is nothing self-interested about For My Own Benefit, and Taylor profits only indirectly, Johnson said. The deadpan humour of the title of the comedy fundraiser hides the fact that all profits from the shows are pledged to the Princess Margaret Hospital to fund cancer research and care.
Taylor and Himelfarb treat audiences to a night of “wild hilarity” with what Johnson calls an “incomprehensible” style of humour.
“We perform a very wordy comedy,” explained Himelfarb. “It’s not French farce, it’s not slapstick; it’s a highly verbal, absurdist, literary comedy. And we tried to find acts that are like us.”
The package of scripted performances, improvisations and sketch comedy has not found a permanent home so far.
“We’re testing out a few different venues to find the right one,” said Taylor.
The New Humourists are joined for each show by a rotating cast of other comedy players that has included acts like Personals, Mark Little of Picnicface, Anders Yates, Tony Ho, and host Dan Beirne of the side-splitter sitcom The Bitter End.
“No one’s handling their material with kid gloves,” Taylor said of the supporting acts.
So far, the response has surpassed expectation. About 80 people turned out for the first benefit, and about $3,000 was raised from the $10 per head event, according to Taylor. “We had a very enthusiastic audience who really enjoyed themselves.” Money was also raised through donations on their website.
That’s a far cry—or laugh—away from the New Humourists’ first foray on stage at a Stand-up Comedy Club in Montreal years ago, which saw Taylor performing material written jointly with Himelfarb. “We were met with a very aggressive silence,” says Himelfarb. But Himelfarb calls their learning pains “a symptom of a comic cause.”
Or schooling in using comedy for a good cause.
The next show takes place at the Comedy Bar on July 11 at 9:30 p.m.