Women of Colour Take Their Space in Comedy at Ladyfest

The Variety Show ‘They Go Low, We Go Laugh’ Debuted At Improv Montreal

Andrea Marston performed at the show ‘They Go Low, We Go Laugh’ on Sept. 22. For Marston, comedy is about searching for those “gems” in daily life. Photo Maggie McCutcheon

One of the first times Sara Meleika felt confident in comedy was when she was invited to perform at the women-centred comedy show Ladyfest in 2016. Now, with her show They Go Low, We Go Laugh, she brought even more funny women to the stage.

“It was the first time I felt like I was a part of something special and that people were giving me a chance,” said Meleika about her first time doing comedy at Ladyfest.

She said until she got involved with the festival, there were not many People of Colour or people from marginalized ethnicities performing or involved in the festival.

“We have a space where we can go to just laugh and take a break,” said Meleika, producer of They Go Low, We Go Laugh, about giving space for Women of Colour in comedy.

Sara Meleika created the show ‘They Go Low, We Go Laugh’ and became a producer at Ladyfest. Photo Maggie McCutcheon

In the past, Meleika did a lot of improvisation—improvised Full House or improvised Mad Men. “It was always just about white people or white families,” she said.

“I felt like there was still nobody for me to truly connect with,” said Meleika.

In 2017, she became one of the Ladyfest producers. She also created Colour Outside the Lines, a platform for improv artists of colour.

Taken from the Michelle Obama quote: “When they go low, we go high”

In starting They Go Low, We Go Laugh Meleika wanted to propel marginalized women to centre stage. She was also trying to create a show that gives more exposure to Women of Colour in comedy and make their work accessible to producers.

Meleika hopes to create an atmosphere that gives more accessibility for Women of Colour to practice their craft.

“For all of history, as marginalized women, we’re treated with such patronizing attitudes, and put down, and pushed to the side, and people try to silence us,” she explained.

“The world can be a tough place but there’s so much to say for perseverance and not giving up,” said Meleika.

She ultimately wants to build a continuous list of names from around the city to prove that Women of Colour are doing comedy.

“Putting yourself out there and being OK to fail is how, I think, you gain personal freedom.” — Andrea Marston

Sehar Manji performed at They Go Low, We Go Laugh on Sept. 22.
“In terms of customer service, I am a really good customer,” said Manji during her act. “I will buy something just because someone is nice to me.”

Manji, along with Tatyana Olal, Inés P. Anaya, Francesca Esguerra, and Andrea Marston provided reliefs of laughter through their storytelling.

On Montreal Improv’s stage, Manji told the story of her first visit to a Toronto mall. As a person who falls hard for good customer service, she told the crowd about her struggle to stop herself from spending.

* Colour Outside The Lines Curates Improv-Comedy Night

“When I do stand-up, it’s just stories about my life and everything that I grew up with as an immigrant,” said Manji.

She told the story of a visit to a retail store that sold holistic goods and a plethora of scented oils. Manji recounted that she received special attention from a retail employee eager to upsell.

“When I do stand-up, it’s just stories about my life and everything that I grew up with as an immigrant,” said Sehar Manji. Photo Maggie McCutcheon

Manji made the crowd laugh when she admitted how much she splurged that day.

“My voice is either entertaining people, helping people, or healing people,” Manji said about her aims in comedy. She strives to connect with others through a good laugh as well as to be heard and understood.

“I think you’d be surprised of what people find is funny,” said Marston, who also performed that same night.

On stage, Marston engaged the crowd, and talked about the time she gradually spiralled out of a past relationship. In recounting how her upset mother had to babysit cats instead of grandchildren, Marston stood as her crowd’s laughter emboldened her shortcomings.

As an improv artist, Marston is inspired by ordinary life.

According to the Toronto-based comedian, comedy is not strictly punchlines and one-liners, but about stories that aim to connect. Everyone has the proclivity to tell funny stories.

For Marston, comedy is about searching for those “gems” in daily life rather than making it all up from scratch. She is also a writer and teaches improv.

While she recognized that there are many brilliant comedians who come up with good one-liners for an easy laugh, the best stories are the real ones for her.

“I used to be super shy,” said Marston. Improv allowed her to be silly and play, even as an adult.

“Even if you have the worst set of your life—you’re still alive after it,” she said. “Putting yourself out there and being OK to fail is how, I think, you gain personal freedom.”