Martha Chaves, laughing in the face of adversity
For the first time, the Creemore Festival of the Arts will include stand-up comedy with headliner Martha Chaves, who CBC calls the Grande Dame of Canadian comedy.
A regular on the network’s comedy shows Laugh Out Loud, The Debaters and Because News, Chaves also tours the country as a headliner for Yuk Yuk’s.
The Creemore Echo spoke to Chaves this week about stand-up comedy as an art form.
“It is an art, and I consider myself an artist,” said Chaves. “I don’t know about other people but I have never examined myself so much as I examine myself regarding my material. It is an art because we want to artistically say what we think, to express yourself.”
As the “most famous Nicaraguan- Canadian LGBTQ+ stand-up comedian in the world,” Chaves addresses some very heavy topics while making people laugh. Her material covers topics like immigration, religion, gender, sexuality, politics and aging.
“I like to talk about a lot of things and I have my predilections, if you wish,” she said. “I like to talk about being a fish-out-of-water, like I am, being ‘other’ all the time because of my ethnicity and my sexual preference… You have to have a point of view.”
Chaves grew up in Nicaragua under a dictatorship, which informs her comedy. Her strict Catholic mother sent her to Canada at the age of 17 to cure her of her “blossoming lesbianism,” says Chaves. She jokes about landing in Montreal, akin to Disney World for lesbians.
She expresses gratitude for living in Canada, first on a student visa and then as a refugee, saying it is a place where she has been able to live freely.
That is why she speaks out against shifts in ideology that threaten that freedom.
“It has to be said in a funny way or people don’t listen. That’s what comedy is, we say things in such a way that we open minds,” she said, noting that it can go the other way with certain comics who incite violence. “I take my comedy very responsibly… It’s about not instilling hatred in your crowd in such a way that it would propel them to go and hurt somebody else.”
Standup is a craft and the jokes are honed over time but when it’s done well, said Chaves, people think comics are riffing on stage. That does happen, she says, when the moment presents itself, but for the most part jokes are worked and reworked until they really work with the audience.
Over her 20-plus-year career in comedy, Chaves has performed throughout Canada and is used to playing to different audience. She has an ability to poke fun at the rural white culture, calling people out while making them laugh.
“Some people don’t like [my] jokes,” Chaves told the audience at the Icebreakers Comedy Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2020. “My jokes are like Latin parents; 90 per cent of the time they hit you, the other 10 per cent they send you to your room to wonder what you did wrong.”
She said she always tries to form relationships with her audience, no matter how different they are from her.
“At the end of the day, we are all humans,” said Chaves. “If you come to the show with a preconceived idea of what a Spanish gay person is, once we are friends… I make friends, I like to build bridges. If you antagonize people you don’t get positive results. It is my job, I find, to translate myself not only in language but in experience to people that may not know what it’s like to have my life experience, but I’m genuinely interested in their lives, too.”
Chaves was named 2018’s Stand-up Comic of the Year by the Canadian Comedy Awards after being nominated seven years in a row, and her album Chunk Salsa was included in a list of 2019’s best comedy records.
In 2022, she was asked to perform at the Stratford Festival. As a playwright, Chaves has written and acted in several successful one-woman shows. Staying Alive and In Times of Trouble were featured in the Soulo Festival and the Aluna Theatre Festival in Toronto, respectively. The Diaries of a Young Lezbo premiered at SOLOCOM in New York.
Chaves said she is happy to be joined on stage in Creemore by colleagues, Laurie Elliot and host Zabrina Douglas, saying she has toured with both of them for decades and they are both very funny. Tickets for the comedy kick-off cost $30. The show takes place at the Creemore Legion on Friday, Sept. 29. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at phahs.ca.
Featuring Laurie Elliott
Laurie Elliott is a stand-up comic, actor and television writer. She is a winner of the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award and is a four-time winner of Best Female Stand Up at The Canadian Comedy Awards.
Her stand-up credits include the Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival (where she was chosen by the late, great Joan Rivers toperform on her final Gala show), the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Comedy Factory in Rotterdam, Raw Comedy Club in Stockholm, the SheDot Comedy Festival in Toronto, and a gala run at the Cape Town International Comedy Festival in South Africa.
She has had recurring roles/ appearances on MuchMusic’s Video on Trial, CBC’s The Red Green Show (she married Harold), The Jon Dore Television Show, Match Game and The Debaters. Elliott’s voice can be heard on many animated series such as Total Drama Island, Scaredy Squirrel, and Camp Lakebottom. She was also a regular on WWF star Chris Jericho’s award winning web series, But I’m Chris Jericho.
Writing credits include five seasons of the Total Drama Series, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Rocket Monkeys, Camp Lakebottom, Fugget About It, Showcase’s Almost Heroes, Disney’s My Babysitter’s a Vampire, Hulu’s original series Mother Up starring Eva Longoria. Laurie is currently co-show running a series for YTV called, The Three Amigonauts.
Elliott recently opened for Arsenio Hall.
MC Zabrina Douglas
Born and raised in Brampton, Zabrina Douglas is a comedian that draws from her experience as a nurse, a mother, and the daughter of two Jamaican parents.
Zabrina has been a regular and headlined Kenny Robinson’s legendary Nubian Disciples All Black Comedy Revue. She created and produces her critically acclaimed show Things Black Girls Say.
She has performed in well known festivals like Just For Laughs Toronto, The Toronto Fringe Festival, Slo Comedy Festival in California and The Women’s Comedy Festival in Boston. Her work can be seen on Teletoon, The Comedy Network and CBC. She has shared the stage with well known comedians Gilbert Godfrey, Cocoa Brown and Luenell.