The truth is, I acknowledge the role of luck. Nevertheless, being adequately prepared cannot be watered down or downplayed. Pick that one thing you have interests in or desire and develop skills necessary in that area. Be intentional about your goals.
– Praise Mbanali (When opportunity meets preparation: The 10,000 hours principle)
Nothing will be put in your path that you are not equipped to handle. I can’t just jump to that point without writing about the year and the events that led up to one of the most defining and incredible moments of my comedy career so far.
I wish I wrote more often. I had the best intentions of documenting the cool and not-so-cool things as they occurred but, alas, that did not happen. It is on the list for 2023.
2021 ended badly and 2022 started on a sour note too. I got COVID in mid-December and missed Christmas with my family. I was so sick I ended up in the hospital. An important friendship came to an end. I was still dealing with the fallout from the abuse and bullying that occurred after I won the Yuk Yuk’s competition a few months earlier. Also, despite my best efforts, I got played. I was hurt, pissed off, and very embarrassed. How did I not see any of his bullshit??
Despite all that disappointment, I kept performing. I wanted to keep improving. I have a strong work ethic and love to perform. I did both online and live shows.
Ontario was locked down from the end of December 2021 until about mid-February 2022. Then the convoy “freedom fighters” occupied downtown Ottawa for a few weeks. One of the city’s comedy clubs was kept dark because they were located literally at ground zero during the protests. They could not reopen until March when the occupation retreated.
In March 2022 I made my comedy festival debut at “Crack Up Ottawa”. It was so much fun! A spot in this festival was part of my prize for winning the Yuk Yuk’s competition. I knew that in 2022 I wanted to do more festivals. I applied to many and got into 2…Cleveland, OH and Portland, Maine. Both were in August. I dropped out of the Cleveland festival but went to the one in Maine. Both festivals marked major turning points in my comedy career.
In April I recorded a comedy album with some talented Ottawa women comics. In early May, I was selected to showcase for Just for Laughs. At the end of May, I went to Toronto for a week of shows. It was a busy and fun week.
At this point, I was doing 3-5 shows a week in Ottawa, Cornwall, Alexandria, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto. It was a crazy schedule, I was so busy, but I loved every minute of it. I was performing all over the place and having fun. I knew that with all this stage time and the variety of crowds, shows, and venues, I had to be getting better. I was becoming more confident on stage, and I was starting to get recognized outside of the comedy clubs.
At the end of July, while in Montreal for shows, I decided to withdraw from the Cleveland festival. It was too expensive to attend both. A few hours after making that decision, I was notified that I had been selected to compete in the “Prove You’re a Comic” competition run by Absolute Comedy Ottawa. I had applied to the competition not expecting to be selected. 36 comics were selected to compete over 4 weeks starting August 9. Each week, 9 comics competed on a Tuesday, whittled down to 5 by judges’ votes. Those 5 competed on Wednesday and Thursday for audience votes. Whoever had the lowest cumulative score at the end of the week won the week. The winner of each week went on to the finals. I was part of week one. I won that week and made it to the finals. I had to wait 4 more weeks for the finals to start. I was the only woman to make it to the finals. I, the 3 other weekly winners, and a wildcard selection performed 8 shows over 6 nights. It was grueling, intense, and a blast! Whoever had the lowest cumulative score at the end of the 8 shows, won.
I won the competition. I was the first woman to win it in its history. When it was announced that I had won, I burst into tears. I was so happy. I cried mainly because I felt vindicated. It meant that anyone who had said that I didn’t deserve to win Yuk Yuk’s or felt that I didn’t deserve any of the success I had achieved had to now sit down and shut the fuck up once and for all. No way was I going to let someone try to take that victory away from me again. Fuck that.
Two quick side notes:
- What the haters didn’t realize is that with every dig and attack against me, I got stronger, better, and more determined to succeed. The cruel behaviour had the unintended result of creating a force to be reckoned with.
- I’m leaving “being the bigger person” behind in 2022. Being the bigger person did not help me at all. It intensified my isolation, depression, and anxiety, it forced me to swallow my anger, and it prevented me from defending myself. In 2023, I will still pick my battles, but, if someone wants to come for me for any reason, fuck around and find out. I will not back down. I will fight back.
Ok, back to it…
After winning both competitions, I did get more work from clubs as well as gigs at festivals, independent shows, breweries, etc.- places that had not been available to me before. Would I have gotten those opportunities without winning and just through hard work? Eventually? Maybe? I don’t know. Back-to-back competition wins may have been what put me on people’s radar. Who knows? That’s why I work so hard.
At the end of August, I went to Portland, Maine for the Portland Maine Comedy Festival (PMCF). I went with my good friend Dan and his wife Céline. We drove down and shared an Airbnb. We each performed at 3 shows. Mark Normand was closing out the festival. We were stoked and got tickets to the show. By the time the festival arrived, Mark had announced a show date in Ottawa in October. I got a ticket to that show too.
Mark was brilliant. We laughed so hard. I’d been a fan of his for years. As we were leaving the show, we saw him in the lobby. We waited and were able to get a picture with him. I told him that I was visiting from Canada and that I got tickets to his show in Ottawa. I asked him to sign my festival pass. When he saw it, he said, “Oh you’re a comic?” I said yes. Dan, Céline, and I left the venue excited and happy after meeting and interacting with one of the best comics on the planet.
I was invited to perform at the Canadian North Arctic Comedy Festival in Iqaluit, Nunavut. I was honoured and so excited to go! I left for the festival on Friday, October 7 for a gala show on Saturday, October 8. It was a unique and amazing experience. I hope to be invited back in 2023.
The day before I left for Nunavut, I went to Mark’s show in Ottawa. I went with my good friend Christie. A series of events happened once we arrived at the venue. While we were waiting for the show to start, I was recognized and approached a few times by people who had seen me perform. One time was while we were sitting outside enjoying the mild weather. The other times happened once we went inside. I’m still not used to people recognizing me in the wild. It always feels good when someone tells you that you’re good at something and that they enjoy what you do. I will never tire of that! Christie was thrilled for me. I felt good too.
The show was amazing as expected. Christie and I hoped that Mark would do a meet and greet after the show. I had told her about how I had met him in August and how sweet, humble, and kind he was. As we left the theatre, we saw him in the lobby area. There was a lineup of people to meet him. We joined the line. As we got closer to the front, we exchanged phones so that we could take each other’s pictures with him. She went up first to greet him. I took pictures. When it was my turn, as I walked up, recognition flashed across his face…he remembered me!! I did not expect him to remember me at all as it had been 2 months since that brief encounter in Maine and how many people had he met between then and now? We shook hands and he spoke to me like a peer which blew my mind. A comic friend who was also in line said, “Hey Mark! She’s one of the best in the city. She should open for you!” (Thank you forever Mark Vincent!!!) Mark Normand looked at me and said, “I heard that…what are you doing tomorrow? I’m in Toronto.” I replied that I would love to but that I was leaving for a comedy festival the next morning. He said no worries that he’d be back in Canada and to keep in touch with him. I said I would. We shook hands. People in the line were cheering for me. It was surreal. As Christie and I walked back to the car, all I could say was “Did that just happen???” She was like “YES, BITCH, IT DID!! OMG!!!”
A few days later, I messaged Mark from Iqaluit. I said how nice it was to see him again and how much I enjoyed the show. I also thanked him for the opportunity. I then gave him a brief overview of my comedy career so far. He replied saying that I had some great credits and to keep doing what I’m doing.
A few weeks later while scrolling through Instagram, Mark had a story that said he was returning to Toronto on December 7. I stopped dead in my tracks. Should I ask if I could open for him? I sat on it for a few hours. I ultimately decided to ask…the worst he could say was “no”. I messaged him and asked, “Is the offer to open for you still on the table? I would love open for you when you are back in Toronto in December.” He replied that he’d be in touch. I followed up a few weeks later and he said “yes” and that I could do 10 minutes. I offered to send clips, references, etc….whatever he needed or wanted to vet me. Remember- he didn’t know me and had never seen me perform. He replied with, “Nahhh. Just kill it sister!”
I sat on the news until mid-November. Only Christie and a few close friends knew. Christie was coming with me for sure as she had been there when it had all gone down. I’m sure I drove her insane every time I asked, “That did happen right??? You SAW that, right???” She assured me that she had, lol.
I was nervous to publicize it nonetheless. I had been so badly traumatized by the events after the Yuk Yuks win the year before that I was so afraid of the potential backlash. After talking to a respected, pro comic about it, he told me that people will be quick to hate no matter what and not publicizing great opportunities only hinders me for other great opportunities and lets them win at silencing me. So, I made the news public. Most were really excited for me! If anyone was mad, I didn’t hear about it. Maybe they made a 16-minute video on why I didn’t deserve it…who knows?
I practiced, edited, and reviewed my 10-minute set over and over and over and over. I was fortunate to have lots of stage time to practice it in front of a live audience. I made edits right up until the day of.
Finally, the day arrived. Christie and I took the train to Toronto with our friend Peter who boarded the train in Kingston. I was so nervous. I didn’t sleep the night before as I was too nervous. They did their best to keep me calm.
We arrived in Toronto around 3pm and got to our Airbnb around 4pm. We had just enough time to eat, get ready, then head to the venue for 7pm. I felt sick. I remember at one point Peter hugged me and I started crying. He was like, “OMG” and just held me to calm me down.
Once we got to the venue, one of Mark’s people met me outside and whisked me through a back entrance. There was a dressing room with my name and the other comic’s name on the door. Rob has been touring with Mark and we had met when I was in Toronto back in May. There was also a call sheet pinned to the wall. It had me up first, then Rob, then Mark. I could not believe that this was really happening. I sat by myself in the room. Rob’s stuff was there but I didn’t know where he was. Mark was not there yet.
Mark arrived a few minutes later and I was like, “OMG this is it!!” He greeted me warmly then went to his dressing room. Moments before the show started, I had peeked from the stage to see where Christie and Peter were sitting. I found them and waved. They had great seats…looking out from the stage, they were on the right-hand side about 5 or 6 rows back.
As I stood in the wings before the show started, Mark gave me words of encouragement. As I walked out to applause after my name was called, I couldn’t see anyone or anything from the stage, but I could feel the heat and the energy from the crowd. I could barely make out the first row and I couldn’t see Peter or Christie at all. But as soon as I walked out, the nerves melted away. “I can do this! I’m ready!” I told myself. When I got to the mic, I took a deep breath before I removed it from the stand. “Hi everyone!” and I got started.
I had the set of my life. It could not have gone any better. That first laugh nearly knocked me over! 1500 people laughing at once is an experience. It was wild. I had them laughing the whole time. I even had a few applause breaks! When I finished my set, the applause was thunderous. I know I was beaming from ear to ear because my face hurt. I introduced Rob, waved, then left the stage. Mark was in the wings smiling with his arms outstretched. He gave me a big hug. “You KILLED it!!” I kept saying thank you over and over. I was on top of the world! He thanked me. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Thank YOU for doing this for me!”. We chatted for a bit before he went back to his dressing room. I stood there not knowing what to do with myself. I was too excited to sit still. I watched Rob perform then sat and watched Mark perform from the wings.
After the show I was in his dressing room. He knew that I had brought some friends with me so he gave me 2 wristbands and told me to bring them back. I texted Christie then brought her and Peter backstage to meet Mark. A bit later Mark went out to the lobby to meet some other people and came back with 2 more of my friends who had been at the show. Erin told me that after she had taken a picture with him, she told him that she was waiting for me. He said, “Simone’s in the back with me…come on!” and brought them to the dressing room. He was so nice to all of us. We hung out in his dressing room for a while. He asked us about the comedy scenes where we live, etc. At one point I was sitting on the couch, and he was standing in front of me talking to some people. I stood up, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Thank you so much. I can’t thank you enough for his opportunity.” We hugged and he said, “Good thing you killed.”
He was a guest judge at another show, so we all went there after. I didn’t get to see him during that show, but I did get to see him before he left the bar for the night. We hugged and thanked each other. I don’t know why he thanked me but that’s just how awesome he is.
We stayed on and closed the bar down. I was running on pure adrenaline. I didn’t sleep again that night.
All of that to say that every show, every set, every experience, every set back, every victory, every interaction, literally everything I did in the name of comedy prepared me for that moment. Even though I was scared and imposter syndrome would set in, I had to repeatedly tell myself, “You are ready for this. You have earned this. None of this would be happening if you were not prepared and ready.”
“Keep doing what you’re doing.”