On the occasion of Just for Laughs and Zoofest, Rover profiles Montreal comics. Second in the series: Jess Salomon.
The Charter of Values. Stephen Harper. Mattress ads. Dating women. If you’ve seen Jess Salomon’s stand-up, you know she’s got opinions. Her hilarious send-up of the PQ’s proposed Charter of Values, an infographic with pictures under the headings of “Things I like To See” and “Things That Make Me Uncomfortable,” went viral earlier this year. It seems only natural that the lawyer-turned-comedian has combined stand-up comedy, storytelling, and news headlines into a one-hour, one-woman show, In My Opinion (IMO) at this year’s Fringe Fest.
A former UN war crimes prosecutor, Salomon left law to pursue comedy (on her website she describes herself as a “family disappointment”). It was intended to be a sabbatical – she had come to realize law was not her passion – to explore writing and comedy, something she had always loved. “It seemed like funny things were always happening to me. I don’t know if that was the case, or if I just saw the world in a funny way.” Growing up, Salomon “wasn’t the class clown, but I did enjoy pranks, like taking the toilet paper out of all the bathroom stalls and then listening to people awkwardly ask each other for it.”
She came back to Montreal, enrolled in Joey Elias’s comedy class, and decided to try comedy and writing for a year or two. She figured if she didn’t like it or it didn’t work out, she would return to law. That was five years ago. Now, even if she wanted to, “I don’t think the legal community would have me back!”
Salomon doesn’t miss law, though she does miss her colleagues at the The Hague, “the funniest people ever,” she says, “the darkest sense of humour.” Luckily, Montreal has no shortage of smart, funny people and Salomon soon found herself befriending and collaborating with local comics like DeAnne Smith and Eman el-Husseini, both of whom were opening acts at her IMO shows last weekend.
Along with el-Husseini, Salomon has been making frequent trips to New York City, where she likes doing comedy most. “It’s definitely a grind, it’s really challenging, but stylistically I think it’s the place for me. Both because I really just enjoy the stand-up I see there – I think, ‘Oh my God, these people are mind-blowing and I could learn so much here,’ but also I feel that, as much as I’m from here, Montreal is not the place where my stand-up works the best.”
As for why her comedy works better in New York, Ottawa, and Toronto, Salomon jokes that her new theory is to “blame it on multiculturalism.”
“Montreal is so multicultural. People speak their own culture and their own language. It’s one of the things I love most about the city, but it can be challenging for comedy unless you can tap into all those different groups. If you have that material it’s amazing, and I wish I had more. I talk a little bit about my mom being from Peru (the red-haired freckled Salomon speaks Spanish, and was raised Jewish by her Peruvian mother and Egyptian father), but I’m not really Latino.”
As much as she loves Montreal, she feels its limitations on her career. “It’s very small, there’s not a lot of support, not really an industry. It’s different for French comics. There’s a star system in Québec that anglo Québec and the rest of Canada could learn something from.”
The Montreal anglo comedy scene is “really good now, as good as it’s been in a while. There are so many good new comics, but most experienced comics will say that Montreal is a good base. If you travel a lot and come back here, then it’s okay, it works. In general, comics have to travel a lot – stand-up is meant to be done on the road.”
In the fall, Salomon will be hitting the road to New York City. She plans on staying for “a good chunk of time, five or six months or however long the tourist visa lets me, so that I can really have a picture of how hard it would actually be.”
“I feel like after all these shows here it will be good for me to get out of town,” she laughs, “so that when I come back, people will be excited to see me again.”
Catch In My Opinion at Théâtre Ste. Catherine Friday June 20, Saturday June 21st and Sunday June 22nd. Info and tickets here.
Natalie Willett is a Montreal-based freelance writer.