Ahead of the Crackup Comedy Festival, I was able to sit down with Rachelle Elie, the festival’s 2017 comic-in-residence. Elie is partaking in various aspects of the festivities, organizing some of their shows, and performing her own brand of humour on several stages throughout the schedule.
Rachelle Elie will host the competition finals on February 7 at Absolute Comedy (412 Preston St.) and February 8 at Yuk Yuk’s (292 Elgin St.), as well as the Queen Bee Cabaret on February 10 at the Rideau Carleton Raceway (4837 Albion Rd.).
I was able to meet up with Elie after a show at Absolute Comedy and gathered some background on standup comedy and the Crackup festival as a whole. Being comic-in-residence means she is not only involved in performing, but producing several events for the festival.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: Thank you for taking the time to sit and chat. What got you started in standup?
Rachelle Elie: I started as an actress in theatre school and when I did serious roles people would laugh their rear ends off, even when I didn’t want them to. Then it just started to dawn on me that there might be something there. I actually studied for 7 and half years in theatre school and university, trying to be a serious actress and as people kept on laughing at roles I played – that were intended to be serious – I realized I wanted to be a comedian. It actually peaked towards the end of university when I would be the funniest person at parties and would sometimes even do things that others considered inappropriate… I realized that I had a strong desire to make people laugh and should do something about it.
What did you do?
So I started to go to open mic shows, to perform. My first show was back in 1996. I quickly began getting regular spots at comedy clubs, but, then I got pregnant and had to stop. Unfortunately, at that time, smoking was allowed in clubs and I couldn’t expose myself to the dangers of secondhand smoke. So I had to cut my comedy career short and started creating one woman shows. I started touring with these shows as well.
How many one woman shows did you create? And when did you get back into stand-up?
I wrote five one woman shows. I started doing character shows like Joe: the Perfect Man, Even Idiots Have Dreams, Sticks and Bones, and Big Girls Don’t Cry. Six years ago I got back into standup comedy and moved back to Ottawa. About a year ago, I became the comedian-in-residence at the Crackup Festival.
Three years ago I was doing a semi-autobiographical show and I was playing myself in between all the other characters and I noticed that I couldn’t play myself, couldn’t figure out who I was. I could play all the other characters no problem, but I couldn’t find myself.
Did you find your experience in theatre helped you with stand up comedy?
You know what, ironically enough, when I first started standup, people were telling me to tone it down, you’re way over the top, you’re too theatrical. In theatre, it’s fantastic. When I was doing the one woman shows, nobody was telling me to tone it down. But in standup, definitely the opposite.
It’s taken me almost six years to really start to find myself, to find my comfort level, to be myself. That is the person you see now on stage. Three years ago I was doing a semi-autobiographical show and I was playing myself in between all the other characters and I noticed that I couldn’t play myself, couldn’t figure out who I was. I could play all the other characters no problem, but I couldn’t find myself. So that is when I began ramping up my standup to find myself. It’s funny how I could play all these wacky characters, but had trouble playing myself. Over the past three years, standup has helped me figure that out.
Tell me more about the Queen Bee Cabaret.
I came up with the lineup because I love cabaret. I have always adored that type of performance. I find it also a good way to bring all forms of theatre to the Crackup Festival. The lineup has a lot of funny people and boasts a diverse pool of talents. I look forward to hosting the show.
What do you find are your biggest influences in comedy?
There’s a lot of things that influence my comedy. My family features prominently in my standup. I also listen to comedy every single day because I like to listen to people who have found their voices on stage and hope to do the same.
The 13th Crackup Comedy Festival runs from February 7–18 at venues around town. Show tickets are available online at crackup.ca for $13–50.