Behind the Clown Nose

Taken during my time in the Comedy Program
Taken during my time in the Comedy Program

On the first day of my Humber College Comedy Writing and Performance Program, our Mentor told us, “If you are here, there is something seriously wrong with you.” I remember thinking he was joking. He had to be. I was sitting in a room full of amazing people who only wanted to make other people laugh. What a beautiful thing. But every day that has passed since then, I can see exactly what he meant.

I remember one of the first assignments for Stand-up class. We had to write two minutes of jokes on pain. I was too vulnerable to write about my own pain. So I first wrote two minutes about the pain of someone else. I was ashamed of myself, because I had pain. It was a demon I have been fighting as long as I can remember. In fact I wrote about it once before here on Blonde. It was about my childhood battle with Scoliosis. Though I have learned to cope with my insecurities on the subject, I know it affects me still. I always forget about it until I find myself getting close to anyone.

Although Robin Williams passed away a few months ago now, I find myself thinking of him lately in the context of my own experiences dealing with pain through comedy. What many people construe as comedic charm is actually an armour of humour. That’s what we need to take from Robin’s Death. He was known as once of the funniest and kindest people in the entertainment world, but he killed himself. How? I am sure non-coms (non-comedians) think he had everything and his death was, though sad, very foolish. What Robin has done has reminded this generation that comics are not happy people. This message was delivered once before by another great comic by the name of Lenny Bruce. In Lenny’s final days, he struggled emotionally and legally over the censorship of material. Not many people today know his story unless you were a comic. I remember being told the Lenny was the Jesus stand-up, because he died for our sins. Lenny Bruce changed the rules of stand-up for the future. Before him… comedy was clean. Now, comedy is a place where issues can be addressed and in my opinion stand-up is the one place where no subject is off the table. Thank God for that.

People Like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin all said something to the world with their stand-up. Lucille Ball said something to world with Desilu Productions. Robin William said something to the world with everything he did, but in his lifetime we didn’t really see it. He did stand-up, he acted in great heartwarming hilarious films and it took him dying to remind us how important it is to realize how much of a silent killer depression really is.

My first year in Comedy School I was dumped. Oh I was dumped BAD. I was destroyed. Luckily, at that time I was assigned a stand-up piece addressing anger. That’s when I came up with this angry comedic poem about everything that happened. I have never been that vulnerable before. Doing it terrified me. Still, I got up on stage and performed it. Looking back at it, I hate that set. It was uncomfortable and painful, but it was so freeing. It was one of my first performances that I ever did. It was also the first time I turned to the stage to deal with something. By doing it, I made myself laugh. People were enjoying themselves and that was my payment for opening up and dealing with an inner struggle in a very public way. To be honest, I thought it was kind of… well, it was twisted. Strangely, I felt better and it helped me to overcome my personal tragedy. That was when I began to understand what my mentor was saying.

We had a class called Physical Comedy. It was because of this class that I truly began to see and understand the people I was working with. There were about 30 people in it and only three others were girls. Naturally, many of the guys became my best friends. One day, our regular teacher was away and filling in was the former Physical Comedy teacher. We did this activity were we had to list of the names of the chapters in our life. This may not mean anything to you, but when you get that specific and share the intimate details of where we are from and what we have been through with a group of people you begin to really see how beautiful and broken people can be. It was this day that I fell in love with every person in that room. I wanted to hug them, protect them and be there for them. I knew that comedians were not like other people. They were delicate and fierce all at the same time.

To me Robin Williams was always a symbol of strength and comfort. I knew of his fight with addiction, but as a fan I only knew him as a symbol of happiness and hilarity. I sometimes forget about the first words said to me in Comedy School. There is something wrong with all of us. There has to be. To know that our best way to deal with things is to get up make fun of our problems and leave with an adrenaline rush. The more I think about my life the more I remember how safe and secure these people made me feel. I also remember when I graduated thinking that I would never again know the love and comfort that I felt in this place. I was wrong, because after the program when I got a day job I began seeing the same comics who I would see in the stand-up world, but they weren’t stand-ups. They were bartenders, store clerks and working at the Apple Store. Comics are different, but we gotta live like we are not.

Robin Williams was a man who had accomplished everything that any comic dreams of, but still he was not okay. He wore that suit of humour with pride and brought joy to millions of people. His death is a permanent reminder that we need to remember that not just comedians, but people in general are suffering and sometimes it is really hard to tell. We need to see his death as a very important reminder that charm doesn’t equal confidence and quite frankly that we don’t know anyone. So be kind, be understanding and no matter how well you think you understand people, remember that you only see what is shown to you… and sometimes it is just a show.

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Misfortune Cookie?

Interesting

I cracked it open with the expected curiosity one has when handed a fortune cookie. On New Year’s Day with the annual need to reinvent myself I guess I was hoping for something really inspiring to emerge from the sweet interior of that cookie and there it was. “You will always live in interesting times.” Was that a fortune or a curse? The week leading up to the cookie I was without power for five days. I lost one of the most important presences in my life, and did I mention I was made victim of a New Year’s Eve flasher. That’s right, while waiting for a designated driver to pick my friends and I up; a man approached our parked vehicle junk in hand and just stood there exposed in negative 30 degree cold. I don’t know if I was more frightened or concerned. Frost bite can happen.

I will always live in interesting times? Do I have to? Can’t I please get a resting period of normal? Normal isn’t really something I have ever experienced. To me, “normal” would be super ‘interesting.” By that I mean another person’s level of normal. My normal is abnormal.

The strange thing is I don’t know how “Interesting” happened to my life. I remember I started out normal. I remember being as young as five wanting a baby doll because when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was “A Mom.” I thought it was the best job. Taking care of a family and making sure they’re happy. I loved that. The response I got from grown-ups were along the lines of “I mean for a job.” I really thought that was an occupation. When I found out it wasn’t, I spent years deciding what I wanted to be when I grow up. In fact I am still figuring it out.

I mean things that were considered normal have all evolved past that. I really wish that wasn’t the case. Sure women are now given freedom to vote and work, but any woman who just wanted to have a family is now considered crazy, clingy and the admission of such wants mean those wants will not come to fruition and that woman in question will spend many years accumulating large number of pets to nurture, like rabbits or gerbils so she can be around come sort of babies. This result is also not normal.

I want to know why submitting to our base desires and purpose is considered shameful. We live in a world where a woman can twerk on a douchey beetlejuice impersonator and that is considered hot and the sentence dream girl can be applied to such a person, but for a woman to say I want stability, I want a real job. I someday want marriage and babies is the new taboo?

Now after reading that I assume you’re imaging matronly women psychotically planning their wedding pinterest board, but that is not the case. To have a solid idea of what they want in a certain timeline is an admirable and brave quality. I want to stop waking up and wondering where the shirt I am wearing came from. I want to not have 3 am text messages from guys named Steve asking if I have ever heard of a Cincinnati Bowtie! I want to be a good girl with a plan. I want to be proud of knowing what I want. I want people to not be afraid to say that they have had enough adventure. I’m not saying that I want to settle down right this second but I would really like to see it in the distance and know that one day this wild ride will take me down the freeway of carefree happiness with a super amazing car filled with love.

I’m not afraid to say this. It’s what I want. If you don’t like it, get out of the car. Who knew a fortune cookie could bring on such an epiphany?

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

Haunted Hearts

hauntedhearts

Ghosts and hauntings are something that have been alive in legend for centuries. The tales of being followed by an unwanted presence is enough to run a shiver down anyone’s spine, especially when you’re haunted by the thought of “Where did I go wrong?” after a date, a relationship, or hell, even just a hook-up.

I have avoided stores, bars, cafes, even entire intersections. For a while I would not go to the Annex at all. Simply, because my favourite part of the city has been peppered with disappointing reminders of the fact that guy I really wanted did not want me. This situation with the Annex changed when my beautiful friend Taylor said to me: “You avoid College and Bathurst? How do you go to Sneaky Dees?” Well my first date with a guy was across the street. What if I ran into him? Pretty unlikely. It took 23 years to meet him in the first place. Chances of seeing him again were slight. I realized she was right. No man should separate me from the Kings Crown. (If you don’t know what that is think of a fries supreme on an extreme level.)

Regardless of whether or not my fry cravings were satisfied, I have spent months reliving each conversation. Was it something I said? Was it my outfit? Did I slurp my martini back in an unsexy manner? Maybe it was because I didn’t really eat the sangria fruit, but I just don’t like mangoes! Is that why? Is it because I don’t like mangoes? The worst thought… Am I a bad kisser? Exasperated and torn you just want to know why. No matter how long or short lived a romance these thoughts can and will haunt you if you really liked the person. These thoughts stalk you quietly and strike like Jason Voorhees. Instead of a machete that brutally kills you, it’s cringe-worthy thoughts.

Also, you feel crazy. Like in any ghost story when people talk about seeing ghosts, what happens? That person is crazy. Not just crazy, the town nut. Always. I don’t care what anyone says, but after a bad heartbreak I swear to the god of above that I just “saw” him from the back, nope… not him. When did every guy start wearing glasses and plaid shirts? I work as a Barista. Do you know how many people in the world has his name? Worse, do you know how many times I have had to write that name daily? This is like trying to un-study for a high school geometry test. My brain mass is still filled with math formulas I will never use.

Try not to think about it you say? How? Let’s think about horror movies. What is the source of Freddy Kruger’s power? The fear of the children. However, you can’t be afraid of something you don’t believe in. Since this last serious haunting I have dated others, taken more chances, done more writing and spent more time with my friends. I know I won’t feel this way forever and I that is the key to helping any ghost pass on. Deal with the unfinished business and exercise that new mini skirt and stop limiting yourself. March into your favourite haunted café, restaurant or bar and if you see the ghost… Well I don’t know. Say hi? Remember, like any haunting there was a connection there in the beginning. And like anything that upsets us, it can only upset us if we care.

I wish I had the answers and I wish I was above this whole haunting thing. The fact is we all have our ghosts and sometimes we have to face them whether they are a Casper, a Poltergeist, The Headless Horsemen or Patrick Swayze. Light your ghosts a candle and remember just like everything else in the world all things come to an end. Still try to keep your coffee shop. A good café is rare to come by. Also if it didn’t work out, there is probably a good reason. I admit thoughts of what those reasons are still baffle me in some cases. The fact is that the coolest people in history have been dumped and rejected. Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, the Goblin King and Dr. Frank N Furter.

Ultimately, when I’m writing a piece I try to leave you with advice, or something to think about. This time I have nothing. I mean this is a subject just as mysterious as the paranormal. Part of me wants to tell you not to read any relationship advice books or take any relationship advice from anyone because every relationship, date and person is different. But that would be a generalization. Like Mark Twain once said. “All generalizations are false, including this one.” If after reading this you find yourself saying “Well, that wasn’t helpful.” I apologize, but I want you to know just because you’re single doesn’t mean you’re alone. There are more of the haunted out there and there will definitely be more ghosts haunting your future. I just hope they are friendly.

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

My Body is More Than A Temple, It’s Notre Dame

andrea-beforeandafter

How the seventh grade study of Notre Dame des Paris gave me the strength and understanding to overcome bullying and grow into the woman I wanted to be.

Puberty is a nightmare for everyone. Most people would agree that at times they wanted to crawl into a shell. I actually had a shell… Well, it was a back brace and I had to wear it every day. I will never forget that time in my life. See, I was wearing a brace because I had Scoliosis. For those who are unaware, Scoliosis is a deformity of the spine. It is when your spine twists into an S shape causing the rib cage to shift resulting in a back hump. I rarely discuss this part of my past, because for some reason I somehow pair this memory with shame. I realize that shame is the wrong emotion, but I want to make people realize where this shame comes from, because it is not just me. It’s not just people with scoliosis. It’s everyone.

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was recently told that the curvature of my spine was worsening, and at this point the months spent wearing my brace were pretty much futile.  Afraid to operate things were at a standstill. Regardless, of my condition I still attended school daily. My boobs were growing (no one noticed because of my brace), boys were getting Math Class induced boners and one day in French class Mr. H announced that we were going to study The Hunchback of Notre Dame aka Notre Dame Des Paris. This was a nightmare, as if I wasn’t already being teased enough.

Unfortunately, I was forced to adopt the nickname Quasimodo and it hurt. I hated my teacher for surfacing this tale to a bunch of cruel 12-year-olds. As much as I hated it, I could not help but indulge myself in it. If you haven’t read it, seen the opera, or any of the numerous film interpretations of the famous story, here is the Wikipedia synopsis:

Notre Dame Des Paris is about the Quasimodo (Disfigured bell ringer of Notre dame) who falls for a beautiful Gypsy woman named Esmeralda. Quasimodo is deceived by his adopted father (Claude Frollo) into kidnapping Esmeralda.  Quasimodo is caught and sentenced to flogging and turned on the pillory for one hour, followed by another hour’s public exposure, during which Esmeralda takes pity on him and brings him water.  Eventually, Esmeralda is framed for a crime committed by Claude Frollo.  Quasimodo goes to protect her, but In spite of his efforts she is hung and Quasimodo joins her in her tomb to die beside her.

The study of this made me horribly insecure, but at the same time I was happy to relate to these characters. In this world a 12-year-old girl who did nothing but be born into this prison of a body questioned if that body made her a monster. Rumours passed through the halls of what the other children thought scoliosis “really” was. One boy in particular told people that it also caused a mental defect. He was completely off. Due to his ignorance, his rumour induced several painful confrontations from my peers.

I remember my first dance. It was Valentine’s Day 2002 and I asked the cutest boy in school to dance. Every girl wanted to dance with him and was waiting around for him to ask, but I was a go-getter. So, I asked him. When “Cry” by Mandy Moore came on, we danced. I was so happy. I felt like a character in a Judy Bloom novel. However, I was crushed when another classmate told me he only danced with me because he felt sorry for me. I was so hurt. I really did feel like Quasimodo.

In health class I remember hearing the term “Your Body is your temple.” Not to me I thought. If anything, maybe my body was like Notre Dame: an architectural masterpiece with frightening gargoyles keeping people at a distance. The school year was coming to an end and arrangements were being made for my back to be operated on. The decision to operate was made based on the fact that my rib cage had shifted so far that my lungs and heart were in serious danger.

Eighth grade began and when November rolled around I had two surgeries. I was out of school for three months. I had to learn to walk again. My classmates so kindly sent get well cards and made paper cranes with little notes on them. Rather hypocritical I thought when getting these cranes and cards from those who bullied me. When I went back to school, I had to wear another brace. It felt like it was never ending.

May 24, 2003 was the last day of wearing my brace. I was taller. I was thinner. Now no one could tell before with my brace on, but puberty was kind to me. I was a 13 year old rocking c cups. Every day they seemed to get bigger. The boys started looking at me differently. All I could think about now were my scars. Now the hump was gone and was replaced by two scars.

It wasn’t until a writing class in May of this year that I was forced to revisit this period of my life. I came to see that in spite of my scars, my former deformity and the insecurity caused from teasing, I managed to rise up. I became the woman I wanted to be. I became a model, an actress, a comedian and a writer. In fact, I am stronger for it. However, this part of my life is like a ghost that haunts me. My inner Quasimodo is sanctioned in the bell tower within my heart with all the experience and memories from this time of my life.

new pic

Now it seems like so long ago that I was ridiculed for being different because of my back. Tables have turned, and have since come to empathize with Esmeralda. I have since lost a job for having large breasts. I once had a writing opportunity and a jealous peer told me “I didn’t deserve it, and that I have had everything handed to me for being pretty.”  This outraged me more than anything. This person did not know me at all. I have not been favoured for being pretty, and I certainly have not had everything handed to me for such things. It is easy forget that people no longer see me as someone with a deformity. As much I hate saying this, because it sounds self-indulgent, but being attractive can be just as much a plague as being unconventional in appearance.

How crazy is that? Spending so many years being trapped thinking you are a Quasimodo and then have this rapid transformation where you suddenly are Esmeralda. I have been both. I still am. On the surface I am well groomed, dolled up, with more than ample breasts, but beneath my shirt I wear a scar.

Crucified for beauty and crucified for being a beast. See in the end of Notre Dame des Paris Quasimodo crawls next to Esmeralda and dies with her.  When found together in the Vault they try to separate they bones, but can’t. What does this tell you? Like within Notre Dame, in my body I hold both a beauty and a beast. Though on the surface you now see Esmeralda, but Quasimodo is never far away.

These experiences have been difficult, painful and at times shaming. These are also the things that have enriched my life and have guided me down a creative road. They opened my mind and have given me a sense of humour. When doing character work I can write from various points of view, having experienced both sides of the discrimination coin.

Why am I writing this, you wonder? This is why. You can only see what people show you on the surface. If you have made it to the end of this piece, I want you to go into your mind and think about something negative you have said about someone based on the surface. Now I want you to revisit your opinion of them. Was it a shallow judgement based on only the top layer of who they are? Like Amanda Marshall once sang, “Everybody’s got a story that can break your heart.” Give that person another chance. Get to know them. You might be surprised to find out how much in common you have and you might be stifling yourself from having a great person in your life that truly gets you. Remember, with Genius comes insanity, with beauty comes a beast, and with something bitter can be something sweet.

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

Photography: Younger photo is a family photo,  the modelling pic was taken at the Complection’s College of Make-up Art & Design, and the colour is taken by Charlotte Klein.  

Minimum Wage With Maximum Regrets?

voodoobear

Regret, such a tragic concept.  I have never been much for regret.  I never thought I would ever truly experience the cruel sting of such a curse.  I spent many years thinking those who regret were just cowards fearing consequence.  Until I have realised that regret plays a role in every twenty-somethings life in the world of today.

Mark Twain once said “Never regret anything that makes you smile.”  The part Twain failed to mention is that many smiles can be nothing more than a prelude to tears.  Just think about the Greek Comedy and Tragedy faces.  They are always displayed side by side.  Just like in relationships–and like the Greek theatre masks–it is not without tragedy that comedy can exist.   I know this as I have studied this.  I have studied acting since I was 14, writing my entire life and more specifically comedy for the past four years or so.

I am a female comedian in Toronto.  Daily, without realising it, I am salted with the flavour of regret and “what ifs.”  I am a barista, a sales associate, and last but not least a writer. Instead of spending time on a movie set somewhere, I am here in a land of espresso beans and vanilla syrup.  I watch the clock ticking ahead and what seems further away from my dreams.

Remember that some of the world’s greatest people have had B jobs and struggled with life’s hurdles.

Do you remember what you wanted to be as a kid?  Probably wasn’t to sell coffee or moderately priced cardigans.  Chances are, if you are reading this article you are either:

A. A creative type on the up and up on what is going to be the tops of the literary and entertainment world and are reading this on break from your B job (barista, bus boy, bartender, bouncer)

B. Unemployed and stumbled upon this while procrastinating on the hunt for a B job.

C. You are looking for answers and, like myself, you’re open to uncharted ideas.

No matter what category you fall into, my question is this.  Why are you thinking about regret?  What is plaguing you, dear reader?  You see in the past year I have realised that I have fallen into the categories of A, B and C.  If you fall into any of these categories I think it’s time we all step back and take a look at the larger picture.  Remember that some of the world’s greatest people have had B jobs and struggled with life’s hurdles.

Now when I put on my apron and name tag I have two options.  I can say, “I never should have studied the arts and got a boring accounting job.” Or I can put on that apron and say, “I wear this apron so I can continue and artful life.”  In my B jobs I have freedom to follow my dreams and stay true to my ideals.  I get to be creative every day in my B jobs.  Whether it’s latte art or helping a customer put together an outfit.  I am creatively contributing to someone’s life.  I am in a subtle way making someone’s day better.  Not to mention I am closer to financial comfort.  Once I reach that, I can be more open to life’s adventures, take more risks and follow my heart.  We all know it’s easier to follow your heart places when you can pay for a train ticket.

So really, what is regret?  The wish to do it all over?  Why?  Look at who you are, what you’ve done and where you’ve come from.  You made those choices for a reason.  Sure things may have been different, but maybe not for the better.   Besides if you think you’re regretting, that is just because things are hard right now.  Remember the world takes 24 hours to fully spin; life is literally always moving.  So think about the next 24 hours and how you want it to move you forward.   Ready?  Set?  Go.

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

Photo by Sheena Lyonnais. Taken at Voodoo Child in Toronto.