Light in the Dark

Stef Curran on letting comedy and community guide the way.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

Between the rising cost of living, climate change, and daylight savings – these are dark days, figuratively and literally. In search of some light, the St. John’s Status of Women Council reached out to Mom’s Girls, a local female and non-binary comedy troupe, for a Q&A about their experiences and insights gained from doing feminist comedy in St. John’s. Below  are the highlights from Bridget Clarke’s heartfelt and illuminating chat with Mom’s Girls member Stef Curran as they discuss making space for joy through comedy, and healing through community-building.

Bridget Clarke: What has your experience been like in the local arts community, especially as a comedian?

Stef Curran: My whole life has been encompassed by the arts. There’s a lot of challenges being a plus- size queer woman, a queer artist, because there aren’t many roles. You know, there’s a lot of fatphobia in the arts. And I have tattoos because I like to express myself that way. Doing comedy was a way for me to be who I am, and actually more than that, to use who I am as a catalyst for my art. When you do acting or musicals, you’re playing a character. You are playing a character when you do sketch comedy too, but everyone knows that it’s you, right? You have a five minute skit about this character, but no one knows what this character is about. We’re not in it for the long haul, but you can use your personal experiences and your personal physique to kind of play into that. Comedy as an art form itself is so inclusive. Not the community that it exists in, but as the structured art form. Comedy has so much accessibility because anyone can be funny.  You don’t have to check any boxes to be a certain character, you don’t have to sound a certain way. In comedy there’s always going to be a place for you, in theory.

Stef Curran is one of four members of the Mom’s Girls comedy troupe. Submitted photo.

BC: That really resonates with me. Before doing the work I do now, I spent years doing outreach work in the community with people, mostly women, who were in some of the hardest spots that you can imagine when you think about people struggling. Even in some terrible, difficult moments, they would always crack me and each other up, always nail it with the one-liners.

There are a lot of harmful stereotypes that not only reduce our power and put us in harm’s way, but also chip away at our pleasure and joy. I often think about the “feminist killjoy” trope:  how there’s this mainstream narrative about women and feminists being no fun when, in fact, some of the funniest people I know are women or non-binary. I’m wondering what you make of that?

SC: Yeah. I am very strong in my opinion around the idea in comedy these days that “no one can laugh at anything anymore,” “nothing can be a joke anymore.” It’s so ridiculous and childish. It’s a gateway to allow hate to brew. It gets the responsibility off the backs of people who make the jokes. Inherently, anyone can be funny because comedy is rooted in relativity. Comedy is built and bred from relativity and finding connections between humans. We live in a real world, and if you’re not the person being the butt of the joke or what you’re saying – and it’s a minority group who gets attacked on the regular – if you can’t see how that’s upsetting in your art then you shouldn’t be doing it. That goes for anything, not just comedy. The last thing we want at Mom’s Girls is for someone to come to a show and feel like they’re hurt. That’s not what our shows are. That’s not what comedy is, nor should it be.

Especially, you know, in feminism and feminist groups. How many times do we get shot down by men? How many times do we get scolded by people who don’t know what they’re talking about? That’s all trauma that we can put back into comedy. The four of us [in the troupe] come from different backgrounds. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves: “is this too far?” When you’re a comedian crafting material, you can’t be afraid to do work that scares you or that you’re unsure of. It’s hard to throw your opinions around, because oftentimes men in the room don’t get the joke if they’re pointed towards the relevancy of women’s lives or queer experiences. We still have to fight in the work that we do to be able to make that connection with people. So, I don’t care who comes to our shows. I don’t care what your background is. As long as I know that you leave and you’re happy.

Stef Curran (left) with fellow Mom’s Girls‘ member Andie Bulman (right). Submitted photo.

BC: Something you said earlier around relativity is sticking with me. I think sharing joy through relativity and connection of shared experiences is one way to build trust in a group of people.

SC: Absolutely. Oh yeah. With Mom’s Girls, when I look out at our audience, it’s a lot of people who we see coming over and over again. You know, our audience, we’ve created trust with them. There’s no room for hatred in our shows. We literally only have time scheduled to be silly. Being women and non-binary performers, in a field that is dominated by men, even though we have struggled and have struggles, we still love our male comedian friends. We think they’re wonderful, but what we do is healing for the four of us as well, working together in a community that can work against us.

BC: With that in mind, what can you speak to about the significance of comedy, more specifically the importance of laughter and joy, for marginalized people?

SC: My background in comedy comes from my father leaving me when I was three years old. I was an angry child until I learned how to make people laugh. The first time I can remember, I think I was probably at the dinner table with my brother, who I think is the funniest person in the world. He has shaped how I deliver my comedy. He would never consider himself a comedian but I think he’s my favourite comedian. I used to laugh at the dinner table. The way that he was, he was just being truthful. He was being true and the way he was saying it was just funny. The way I took that through life was making “dad leaving” jokes. People would hear them and say “oh…” And I would say, “no, it’s funny!” Because it happened to me! And people who also had that experience would think, oh it is funny and I’m not alone.

You need those moments of relief. We are living in a society where humans get no relief. It is pressure after pressure, life event after life event, wars, government stuff, political stuff. You know, we are jammed with it 24/7. That’s what’s so beautiful about art. You can enter a space or a vibe, if you’re watching something at home or listening to a podcast. You are free of the stress and the strain, and the people who are performing are also free of that because they’re hearing you laugh. 

Especially marginalized groups who have to go through sticking up for themselves, time after time after time, trying to prove themselves. You know, the Indigenous people of this province fighting in the North Coast for adequate supports. Queer people who are afraid to go downtown because there have been so many attacks […]. We have people in the community who are openly transphobic. All of these groups of people, when they’re together in a room witnessing something that’s funny – you know – the pressures never go away, but they melt. It becomes lighter on your shoulders. It will never erase the trauma that people go through. I’m not cured of my father leaving me as a kid, but it has helped me significantly with my own way of dealing with my emotions and trauma because it’s a way to make myself feel better. I think comedy is a medicine.

Stef Curran (she/they) is an artist from Newfoundland and Labrador, primarily a member of female/non-binary comedy group Mom’s Girls. Bridget Clarke (she/her) is Advocacy Coordinator with the St. John’s Status of Women Council.

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