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Jessica Holmes is an Ottawa native, comic, and actress. She garnered nationwide fame through her work with the Royal Canadian Air Farce, after gaining traction through her series, The Holmes Show.
She graduated Canterbury High School and subsequently moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson University. While there, she got involved with comedy and credits her family for her funniest material. She has enjoyed working with comedy heavyweights like Ellen Degeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, and Leslie Nielsen. She has also hosted events for Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins, and enjoyed a run of performances with Second City and Just for Laughs.
Jessica is known for her humourous impersonations of Céline Dion, Liza Minnelli, Geri Halliwell, Michael Jackson, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Jim Carrey, as well as various Canadian politicians. As if that wasn’t enough, she even had time to publish a memoir titled I Love Your Laugh: Finding the Light in My Screwball Life.
Ben Miner, David Merry, and Jessica Holmes will be gracing the stage on December 31 at the Shenkman Arts Centre for the 7th Annual New Year’s Eve Comedy Night. Ahead of her show, Apt613 was able to sit down with Jessica and talk about life, comedy and what keeps her driven.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: While at Ryerson University, what made you get involved with comedy?
Jessica Holmes: I loved comedy growing up, but had no idea that it would be something that I would ever do. Then I went to Ryerson, where we were part of the Sketch Comedy Troupe and dared each other to do standup. Four of us prepared our material for six months, which may sound like a really long time, but that’s how long it took me to come up with seven minutes of comedy. We all went together and did an amateur night at The Laugh Resort. They did well, but I would say I was the only one with the stomach for it. Sometimes that’s all that separates comedians from non-comedians. It’s just, you know, how much are you willing to go for this lifestyle. Sometimes it’s gut wrenching and sometimes it’s very rewarding.
What is your fondest memories in stand-up?
I’ve performed a few times with the same people and it just always depends on the room and the audience. Some nights, I’ll be the biggest crowd pleaser and on other nights, I might bomb and they might be the crowd favourite. You sort of never know. I’ve been doing comedy for twenty years and it’s fairly unpredictable.
Sometimes you get a crowd… where they’re so appreciative and listening to every word and they’re having a great time… The only reason I do what I do is to make the world a happier place and to express myself…
…I would also say, maybe one out of ten shows might be cringy with how awkward the setup is, but then nine out of ten shows… I’d have a great time and the audience had fun. (Comedy) can be unpredictable, I mean, I’ve done comedy in a school gym where there was an actual basketball game taking place during my comedy set… I’ve performed poolside… you never know. Like I’ve said, if someone has hired me, I will be there because I was a starving artist for far too long to ever say no to a gig.
Canada is the only place where you can have four different careers in the arts, but still not have a full time job.
Over the years, how have you balanced family, career, and personal time?
It’s a work in progress. I’m usually hired evenings and weekends. It’s tough because my heart is at home, but my heart is also on stage. It’s a lot of trying to make up for lost time with my kids. Like, if I am touring for a week, then I make sure for the next three weeks I’m picking them up every day at school and having major quality time with them.
I’ve learned a lot about mindfulness, because it used to be that I would do a show, do my work, and then I would be around the kids, but still part of my brain would be thinking about my job and about writing. Now, when I’m with them, we put the phones in the other room and we’re a hundred percent dedicated to being with them.
What keeps you going after accomplishing so much in television and live performances?
I’ve always said that my inner most muse is some crazy toothless man that yells out absurdities at me. I don’t know why I’m driven so hard, but I do have a voice inside me that just feels like: “Oh I have to get on stage, or I have to say this, or I have to write this down.” For example, I have a book coming out called Depression the Comedy, and I’ve dealt with depression before and what I think I want, what my brain wants is to always just be a better stand-up comic. But I think what my heart wants is to communicate something a little deeper and so, when my brain says I should be writing jokes, my heart says: “no, let’s write another book and lets make it semi-heartfelt.” So I just feel like when I learn something new about the human experience, the first thing I want to do is share it with the whole country. That’s what drives me.
You are also a life and career coach, what does that entail?
I’m trained as a coach, but the reason I got that certification was so that I can use it when I do motivational speaking. I wouldn’t call it traditional motivational speaking… I would call myself a motivational comedienne when I get hired to do keynotes. Like one keynote is called Depression the Comedy, one is called Laugh it off and bring it on. They’re sort of keynotes that are half motivating and heartfeldt and half comedy and those are really fulfilling and really validating… The beautiful thing about being in Canada… I used to say that Canada is the only place where you can have four different careers in the arts, but still not have a full time job. And I used to think that was a curse, but now I feel like that is such a blessing because no two days are alike for me.
Visit shenkmanarts.ca for more information on the 7th Annual New Year’s Eve Comedy Night and to purchase tickets.