With overnight temperatures expected to be as cold as a pro-Trump crowd’s reception of a Jim Carrey painting exhibit, Toronto officials are taking steps to ensure that the city’s large population of homeless stand-up comedians will be able to stay warm this evening while waiting for their agent to get back to them about that sweet gig.
“We started doing it a few years ago,” says Mitch Hedberg, a volunteer co-ordinator for “Whose Bench Is It Anyway?” – one of Toronto’s outreach programs for the many comics who sleep rough. “At first we just drove around in a van, offering hot soup and appreciative laughter to any hard-living humourists we came across. But as the need grew, we expanded into a full shelter. Now anyone who wants can come in and get a good night’s rest and a test audience in the morning.”
Experts estimate as many as 18,000 comedians live on the streets of Toronto, with an additional 12,000 residing along its avenues and roads.
“It’s an absolute tragedy,” said Mayor John Tory, reflecting on the prevalence of funny people who live in his city without housing security.
“These are men and women who have made huge sacrifices to bring humour into people’s lives, and provide eviscerations of anyone who sits in the front row of their shows. That they can’t even afford to feed themselves, much less use their own Netflix password to check out what their better paid American counterparts are up to, is a national disgrace.”
Tory did later admit it has been at least a decade since he last attended a live comedy show.
“We don’t want your applause,” said one comic, hunched in an alleyway, and madly scribbling new material onto the back of an expired TTC transfer to stay warm. “We want your socks.”
“It’s been a tough month for sure,” said another comedian, a few blocks away, taking time out of digging through dumpsters for contacts to provide some insight into what a day in the life of a Canadian entertainer looks like. “Other than the twenty bucks Aziz Ansari gave me to leave him alone, and an old Trudeau joke Rick Mercer said he didn’t need anymore, lately I’ve mostly just been getting old guys telling me to get a real job, and office types letting me know how lucky I am.”
With tonight’s steep drop in the temperature being just the first blast of winter, comics’ rights advocates like Hedberg say that as we proceed into the colder months, it is up to everyone to keep an eye out for our vulnerable joke-makers.
“So if you see someone hanging around outside of the liquor store, looking for a ride to the closest Yuk-Yuks, stop and ask yourself: do I like laughing? And then act accordingly.”