This week I spoke with comedian, Katie-Ellen Humphries about her career in stand-up, her new podcast Horny Off Main, and her debut comedy album, Ladyfinger.
Finding Community in Comedy
Katie-Ellen grew up in Victoria and while she was interested in stand-up comedy from a young age, there were not many opportunities nearby for aspiring comics. However, she found a home at a variety show titled Atomic Vaudeville, a show where she got her first consistent stage time and “where I cut my teeth comedy-wise”. Katie-Ellen spoke very highly of the performers at Atomic Vaudeville and felt that “I kind of got a theatre education from them,” learning to play with tension, challenge the audience and take greater risks in her own work. While she enjoyed this camaraderie, she eventually felt that she needed to move to Vancouver to pursue stand-up, despite having only a limited amount of experience. She packed her things, hopped on a ferry and then, “proceeded to not even go to a single open mic for a year,” with her only performances coming once a month at Atomic Vaudeville. A bold strategy for sure. Katie-Ellen isn’t sure what exactly caused her cold feet, but attributes it to feeling intimidated to break into a new scene and the classic “Vancouver in your early 20s depression,” where you “lie on the floor with no furniture and stare at the ceiling”. That is one hell of a shared experience. If you haven’t counted the stucco ridges on your ceiling, have you really grown up in Vancouver?
Cut to today, Katie-Ellen has over a decade of experience as a stand-up comedian under her belt and a personal theory on what truly attracts comedians to comedy. On one hand, she has the “morning radio answer” that comedians do comedy because they love to make people laugh. While this is admittedly true, Katie-Ellen’s other observation is that a catalyst behind many comedians’ entry into comedy is rooted in some form of trauma. After all, “comedy requires self-reflection and connection,” and unique material can come from how each individual processes the difficulties in their lives. With trauma such a universal struggle, Katie-Ellen expands on this notion of connection by considering the broad range of individuals that comedy attracts. Comedy traverses many traditional social divisions including world-view, socio-economic levels, geography and many other factors. In addition to this, Katie-Ellen remarks that you have “your chronological age and then your comedy age,” noting that there are few settings in which a thirty-year-old could be a mentor for someone in their sixties. This all creates a wonderfully strange environment for comics to connect with individuals they would have never encountered if not for comedy. To put this into perspective, Katie-Ellen simply states that “I shouldn’t know anyone from Iowa,” but does as a result of the unique ecosystem that comedy creates.
The Lady Show & The Debaters
Katie-Ellen’s resumé is far too extensive to sum up in a short article, but here are a few stops along her amazing career. Firstly, I asked her about The Lady Show, a variety show she runs alongside Diana Bang, Morgan Brayton, and Fatima Dhowre. As every group needs a good origin story, Katie-Ellen met Morgan and Fatima on the set of Morgan’s show, Morgan Brayton and Other People. In between takes, the three of them discussed their career aspirations and a communal desire to create content on a more consistent basis. As they all enjoyed their short time working with one another, they resolved that if they ran a monthly show, “we’d have a space that we could all create together,” as well as a hard deadline to serve as some added motivation. In one of the first installments of The Lady Show, Diana was invited to perform as a guest performer and joined full-time soon after to complete the roster. Speaking on the fortuitous and organic nature of how the group came together, Katie-Ellen says that “if I sat down in a lab, like a comedy supervillain and tried to put together the most powerful group that I would want to work with, that’s who it would end up with”. The Lady Show has been named Pick of the Fringe at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and has been featured in the JFL Northwest comedy festival, give them a follow to stay up to date on the folks “putting the JOY in feminist killjoy”.
In addition to The Lady Show, Katie-Ellen can also be found on CBC’s The Debaters, where she serves as a writer, producer and performer. I’m not going to explain what The Debaters is, if it were up to me it would be mandatory curriculum in high school. Katie-Ellen is currently in her fourth year working with the show in one way or another, and tells me she feels very grateful that her comedic style happened to fit so well with this format. Naturally optimistic, she says her disposition to find the bright side has served her well to come up with a compelling argument “even if I’m arguing something that’s kind of shitty”. She also adds that “I am not afraid to be really earnest and sincere,” and while this is something many comedians and lowly blog writers struggle with, it is another factor that makes her material unique and personal.
Horny OFF MAIN
One of the newest projects in Katie-Ellen’s career is the launch of her podcast, Horny OFF MAIN. In this podcast, Katie-Ellen and her cohost Amitai Marmorstein welcome guests to discuss the “feelings, behaviours and habits we’re not always encouraged to express,” using horny as a measure of desire that is not exclusively sexual. Katie-Ellen and Amitai had toyed with the idea of running a podcast in the past as a shared passion project, but it was not until COVID-19 forced us into isolation that they began getting it off the ground. Like many others, they found themselves missing the personal growth that comes with “putting yourself out there,” in regards to both their work and day-to-day social interactions. As life became much more insular, a podcast became a vehicle to facilitate this growth in a safe way, and also give them a chance to catch up with some of their favourite people. New episodes of Horny OFF MAIN come out every week, I just listened to an episode with Matty Vu, another really funny individual who was kind enough to have a chat with me here not too long ago.
Ladyfinger is Katie-Ellen’s debut comedy album and a culmination of over ten years of working as a stand-up comic. Beginning with the name, Katie-Ellen describes the title of her album as “glamourous, but it’s sweet. And it’s like a little bit queer,” deeming it a fitting representation of her current act. Mixing newer and older material, she spans topics including the enigma that is Say Yes to the Dress, the merits of three-foot-long hot dogs and the poetry of minor league baseball. On the latter point, Katie-Ellen says she “feels a real kinship with minor league baseball players,” due to the difficulties athletes and performers are faced with when trying to pursue their craft. Reflecting on her career, she sees similar ups and downs, struggles brought on by the global pandemic, and the long hours of unseen work they put in just to be ready for any opportunity. Katie-Ellen describes a point a few years ago as the lowest she had ever felt, and a time in which she found herself in a “downward spiral of doubt” questioning her career path. But much like the passion that fuels minor league players, she came to the realization that “I’d be doing this, even if nothing comes from it,” because she simply loves comedy. This clarity helped her see that all of the goals she made for herself in an attempt to define “success”, were just a means to facilitate the act of doing more comedy. Ladyfinger is the tangible product of all of the work Katie-Ellen has put into comedy, from starting out at Atomic Vaudeville, co-founding The Lady Show, making a name for herself at The Debaters, creating Horny OFF MAIN, and all of the highs and lows of the grind along the way. When I asked Katie-Ellen what having an album meant to her, she instead posed the question to herself from ten years ago. Katie-Ellen says that if you told this open-micer that one day she would have her very own comedy album, she “would not have been surprised because she was wildly arrogant. But she would be fucking thrilled” as well.
In closing, Katie-Ellen shared a story from before she ever stepped foot on a stage. She was nineteen, and at a bar with her brother and one of his friends. Over the course of this night, this friend confessed to her that he really wanted to try stand-up comedy, prompting Katie-Ellen to vocalize for the first time that she wanted to as well. Following this exchange of two people who (to be clear) had never done stand up, he replied, “Oh my gosh, you totally should. You can open for me”. Gross. Katie-Ellen says that when she heard this, “in my brain, I say bitch you can open for me,” again acknowledging that at this point neither of them has any experience. This moment has stuck with her and served as fuel for the extraordinary career I have tried to do justice to in a five-minute article. Katie-Ellen says that “the point of that story is that I am completely driven by spite,” but hey. Not to keep score, but I’ve never heard of this other guy’s album.
Ladyfinger is available worldwide on October 20th, make sure to listen in here. Katie-Ellen is hosting an in-person release event at the Kino Cafe at 8pm also on the 20th, as well as an online release event on Saturday, October 24th at 7pm. Both of these events will feature some of Katie-Ellen’s favourite artists and you can find details for them here. Listen to Horny Off Main, with new episodes released every week, follow The Lady Show and check out Katie-Ellen’s website for all of the information that I couldn’t fit into our chat.
And don’t forget to check out last week’s interview with circus artist, Santé Fortunato.