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Shout-Outs to Julia Bruce

January 12, 2011

Today’s Shout-Out features a Toronto comic, and, in fact, the first female to be featured on my up-until-now sexist blog.  And what better comic to break the trend of male-dominated Shout-Outs than the very funny

Julia Bruce

Photo by Callback Headshots

I first met Julia when I performed at a show she was organizing with fellow comic Marco Bernardi at a coffee shop at Church and Wellesley.  I was pretty green at that point, and bombed my way through a set, but I remember admiring Julia’s style.  She had a kind of dry sarcasm that lent itself well to her material, and she wasn’t afraid to take on charged topics.  Since then, I have had the pleasure of performing with her a few more times, once at the excellent Geoff Hendry and Associates show, (which is SOLID.  Go see it).  And also once I was able to return the favour and invite her to perform on one of my shows, “The Big Faddy.”

I recently had a chance to pick Julia’s brain about what it’s like to be a female comic, and some of her experiences as a member of the Yuk Yuk’s Comics roster.


An Interview with Julia Bruce

What made you decide to start performing  stand-up comedy?

I’ve always known I wanted to be involved in comedy and after going to acting school and being told I’m not very good at that I figured stand up was the way to go. Also my great uncle made a living as a sketch comedian so working in comedy always seemed like a natural career choice in my family.

Can you name a couple of comics you look up to and why you admire them?

I admire Ellen DeGeneres for being so successful as a clean comic. Being clean and funny is the hardest thing!  I’m also really into George Carlin right now. I love his stuff later in life where he had such strong viewpoints in his jokes. His jokes about religion and abortions are amazing.

One word answer: What do you consider the hardest part of performing stand-up comedy?

Showing up (kind of one word)

One word answer: What do you consider the best part of performing stand-up comedy?


What is the worst/funniest experience you have had while performing at a comedy show?

I had a guy offer to go down on me once while I was on stage, but he was pretty old so I guess that makes it a “worst” experience.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Besides just do it and do it as much as possible, be someone people like to be around. Be nice and lovable and network as much as possible. There are a lot of  people who are working because they are good at networking (not to say they aren’t funny but don’t underestimate the power of networking!).

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

I did a show at a family restaurant that was having a fundraiser for a pilot who was dying of cancer. Everyone there was over 50 and very conservative and they had sent me and a couple other young, edgy comics to entertain them. They did not like us. I had a joke about wishing I could be injured so I could spend a few days in the hospital. They all looked at the guy with cancer in horror when I said this.

I also did a show for 80 year old cow farmers who killed themselves when I made fun of the cream for the coffee that had gone bad.

What kind of humour bores you?

Family friendly. I don’t connect to humour about raising kids or living in small towns. Life isn’t G rated so I don’t think commenting on it should be  G rated either. But unfortunately for me there is a huge audience for that so I have to study it and learn how to tap into those people while holding onto what I find funny.

Do you have any topics that you consider off-limits in your act?

I used to but it annoyed me to have limits on what I could and couldn’t say so now I don’t censor myself. If it’s funny and rings true to me, I will talk about it.

You often perform edgy material that clashes with your fairly un-threatening appearance.  Have there been any benefits or consequences to creating this juxtaposition onstage?

I think I can get away with more because I seem “sweet”. It also allows me to say things that so many women think but don’t talk about publicly because it goes against the social norms (especially marriage and children). But if I cross the line for someone it doesn’t matter what I look like, they will turn on me!

As a Yuk Yuk’s comic, you spend a fair amount of time travelling to different cities.  What is it like being a female on the road?  Are smaller towns a lot different than Toronto performance-wise?

I have found that audiences don’t care who you are or what you look like as long as you’re funny. However I have found that older comics and older bookers sometimes have issues with the fact that I’m female. I think sometimes Yuks puts me forward but older bookers will choose a guy over me (I’m just going on the fact that male comics whom I have sort of grown with seem to get booked more often than I do but I don’t blame Yuks, I think it’s the people booking comics who have an out of date opinion of female comedians). Older comics are more likely to introduce me as “a female comedian!?” but I really don’t feel like I stand out because of my gender. Performance wise I find that people want you to talk to them more in small towns. They come to the club for a party and want you to make fun of the person they are celebrating.

You are an aspiring actress as well as a stand-up.  Do you find any useful skills cross-over between these two vocations?

They are both very different I find. When you’re doing stand up you have to fill the room with your energy whereas acting for tv is about being as small as you can. The one thing that I find useful is that they both make you more confident to do the other. The big difference is that comedians comment on life and actors feel life so you have to be able to go back and forth.

I’ve noticed (and appreciated) that you tend to avoid cliché premises about being a woman in your act.  Instead you seem to focus on broader topics like work and and pet peeves.  Did you make a conscious decision to avoid those topics, or is it just the way your style evolved?

Really? I talk about tits, vaginas, periods, and blow jobs. Those are pretty cliché, aren’t they!? When I first started I consciously said I didn’t want to talk about periods but then one day I was thinking about how I didn’t want to talk about it and how many people had told me not to talk about it and it made me angry so I wrote a “fuck you, I’ll talk about periods if I want to” joke. That was a huge moment for me when I realized I need to talk about what gets to me in life regardless of topic. I also made the decision to never victimize women in my stand up. There used to be more female comics in town who would talk about being used by married men or giving blow jobs to strangers to feel loved and I just didn’t connect with that and figured there were lots of women in the audience who felt that way too. So now I focus on writing whatever I connect to. If something makes me angry I take note of it but there has to be some sort of truth in my jokes in order for them to go over. I play with the reality of the situation all the time but the truer they are to me, the better they go over I find.

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