From Cancer to Comedy, and Channeling My (Self)Righteousness

Black Sheep Comedy is run by two women who have survived their 20s and 30s pretty much intact. One of us has even navigated through her (gasp) 40s!  We LOVE our new venture, Black Sheep Comedy, and we LOVE getting feedback from audience members. That said, many of the women will say things that we don’t love so much. For example, during a two-minute conversation, we hear some variation of: “I wish I had the nerve… Oh no, I couldn’t… Not at my age… No one wants to hear jokes from an old lady.”
Here’s the thing. Even if we are old (which we’re totally not), a lot people DO want to hear jokes from an old lady! Our audiences do not exclusively consist of 20 somethings, and neither do our lineups. Black Sheep Comedy is built on a foundation of diversity and inclusion, including age! So, over the next month, we’re publishing a series of guest articles from women who waited to get into comedy. Please join us as they cover topics such as their personal catalyst or experiences that drove them to comedy, tips for getting started, and other helpful advice…

From Cancer to Comedy, and Channeling My (Self)Righteousness by Dr Sarah Boston

In my Second City comedy class I was old enough to be everyone’s mother. Except that I’m not a mother. I’m barren, which is one of my favourite openers. My classmates were lovely and they embraced me and it was much better than the Improv class I took, where I literally ended up playing everyone’s mother, but I definitely felt different. I had a career, a car and I had seen some things. When we were supposed to come up with a story in class to work out some jokes, I felt like I was an old oracle, telling tales to the youngin’s. “Did I tell you about the time I had cancer? Did I tell you about the time I was held up at gunpoint in Florida? Did I tell you about the time I wrote an autobiography and went on a book tour? Did I tell you about the time I had Shingles in Portugal?”

I took comedy classes because I am a nerd and I will always try to learn and then win comedy. With a few comedy classes under my belt, it was time to hit some mics for some real-world experience. Some of this was great and some of this was a shocker. My husband commented that some of the bars that I would drag him to to do comedy are places that I would never have gone a year before. Sometimes I go on my own. Sometimes I am scared. Not the getting up on stage part, the walking to my car part. There is a vulnerability to busting out some personal jokes about womanhood to a room full of drunk men. It’s hard and it’s weird, but I keep doing it for some reason.

The bro open mics are not really a great barometer for what comedy is, but it was first experience starting out and the young, cis-white male comics that dominate the amateur mic scene seems to have a limited vocab. There are the masturbation jokes, the porn jokes, the midget porn jokes (edgy), the prop work with mic-as-dick jokes (classic), the having sex with women who are having their period jokes (the hilarity), also the jokes about why no one on Tinder will have sex with them (which is inconsistent with previous sex with women having periods jokes, but okay) and/or why no one on Tinder is good enough for them (Dude, please) and then some poop jokes to round the set out. So predictable that you could play a drinking game and get quite drunk, or you could play open mic bingo with friends.

Middle-aged woman comedy is different, and we need different voices in comedy. I am new to comedy and I am still learning, but the comics that I find the funniest are the ones who are themselves, who laugh about themselves and talk about their life experiences. Middle-aged women have had a lot of experiences. They have observed decades of misogyny, they have gone through pre and post #MeToo, they have experienced hundreds of periods, some of them have had kids, others have endured years of pressure to have kids and have been told that they are less than because of their choice not to, and some of them wanted to have kids and couldn’t. They have been through the pain of divorce and funerals and being blocked on Facebook by an ex-friend. They have careers that are fulfilling and hard and heartbreaking. They have tried to find work-harassment balance. And now, some of them are turning to comedy because they have so much to say and it’s funny because life is funny.

I got into comedy because of writing and I got into writing because I had thyroid cancer. I’m fine now, thanks for asking, but going through all the feels of having cancer made me a lot more willing to just say, “Fuck it”, when I wanted to try something new. I also have an overdeveloped sense of justice, which gets me into trouble in most aspects of my daily life. Comedy gives me somewhere to channel my (self)righteousness. Things that I used to make me mad now just make me jot them down and try to find a punchline. In my day job, I am a veterinary cancer surgeon, meaning I do surgery on dogs and cats with cancer. I love what I do, but being a veterinarian is a stressful job. I need to find a way to laugh at the daily tragedies, or I will honestly cry. There is a lot of pressure to be perfect in my day job so it’s refreshing that I can be mediocre in comedy and the only thing that dies is me on stage. (But let’s be clear, I really want to be good at my comedy hobby.) I also have a passion for teaching veterinarians about cancer surgery and all of the public speaking over the years has made me turn to comedy because honestly there are only so many PowerPoint presentations that you can do before you are  bored of hearing your own voice. An even bigger goal is to try to help other veterinarians to laugh at our profession and themselves sometimes, because being a vet is hard and stressful, but it is also pretty funny too. I bring comedy back to my profession with The Cageliner, a satirical newspaper for veterinary peeps (you can read it too if you want) and with my stand up that is just for veterinarians. I’m trying to shine some light where it can get pretty dark sometimes.

I’m so glad that I found stand up, even if I found it late. It’s a perfect counterbalance to my daily life and I’m happy to have met some kindred spirits on the comedy scene. It’s a grind, but it’s great to know that when I’m working out my night sweats set, there are at least a few people in the audience who can relate. Boys, it’s time to turn off the porn, stop touching your penis, and go live a little.

sarah boston comedian newmarketSarah Boston has had a circuitous route to the glamorous world of Stand up comedy. She
is a veterinary cancer surgeon and cancer survivor. Ironic, right? Her book,
by The House of Anansi in 2014. LUCKY DOG will make you laugh and ugly cry,
sometimes at the same time, most of the time out loud. Writing this book got
Sarah on the path of comedy writing and eventually she found stand up. Now she
can’t stop/won’t stop. Sarah has taken stand up classes at Second City and
Absolute Comedy because she is a total nerd in all aspects of her life. She just
made the Top 10 in CBC Comedy’s 2019 Next Up amateur comedy competition.
She has performed in many dives in the GTA and even some nice places that
don’t terrify her. She also started a satirical veterinary online newspaper called
The Cageliner. It’s like The Onion, but for vet peeps. You can read it too if you
want. Sarah draws inspiration from all around her because as Nora Ephron said,
“Everything is copy.”
@drsarahboston on Instagram and the dying art of Twitter

Leave a Reply