On the occasion of Just for Laughs and Zoofest, Rover profiles Montreal comics. The third in the series: Kate Conner.
When Kate Conner left home at 19 to escape the ultra-religious cult her parents had brought the family into, she had no idea that she would soon be using it for her comedian byline: ‘Kate Conner: stand-up comic, writer, entrepreneur, cult survivor, political junkie, hobby proctologist, loving mom and devoted wife.’
In her mid-30s, Conner, a lifetime “comedy nerd,” was working as a mother to her four children and with her husband at the small software company they own. She figured she would one day become a patron of the comedic arts, perhaps achieve success in the business world, maybe open a comedy club. Roaming her Quartier Latin neighbourhood during Juste Pour Rire/Just For Laughs one summer she thought, “I want to be part of that community. If money didn’t matter, what would I really be doing with my life?”
The answer was of course comedy, and so she began to pursue it directly. In the summer of 2011, she went to the Women in Comedy Festival in Boston, where she met many of her heroes, like Maria Bamford. She told herself she would not go back the next year without having gotten on stage herself.
A month later, she did just that at the Comedy Nest’s Open Mic night. She opened with her bit about how the progression of stand-up comedy – “from sucking hard to less and less”— is a lot like her marriage. She felt good about her first set and, excited by her successful debut, continued to hit Montreal stages. Then, “I got sick of my material and arrogantly thought I could write a whole new 7-minute set.” She bombed a few times, which then triggered a lapse of self-doubt: “Why am I doing this? I’m way too old, it’s a stupid pipe dream,” etc.
But Conner had crossed the line and there was no going back, something she jokingly cautions comedy lovers about. “Don’t ruin it for yourself!” She chiselled her material down to three minutes; heeding the advice another female comic once gave her. ‘You have 30 seconds to get the audience to like you, but if you’re an attractive woman, you only have 15.”
The advice helped her shift from a more story-telling style, to asking herself, ‘Where is the laugh here?’ and trying to get one every 30 seconds. “It made me kind of a neurotic writer” she laughs. In late 2011, she performed her new set at the Segal Centre’s Laugh Pack Late Show, opening for Deanne Smith. From then on, she has been steadily performing in comedy shows in Montreal and in festivals across the country (SheDot Festival in Toronto, and most recently, the Border City Comedy Fest in Windsor), and long ago reached the point where she feels “OK with having a bad set, and just growing from it.”
Most comedians spend years struggling to find their voice, audience, and niche. Conner, having found her way to comedy at the age of 36, has the disadvantage of starting later in life than most of her peers, but the advantage of already having a niche.
Of the most active female comics in Montreal, none are mothers. With the exception of Kate Davis, motherhood as told from a fresh, honest perspective is not something Canadian comedy audiences are often exposed to. On her children learning to speak, Conner tells audiences: “My third-born said to me, ‘Momma, you stupid.’ So I corrected her: ‘ Momma, you ARE stupid, and you’re right - I should have stopped at two.’ ”
She stays away from joking about her family of origin, although the irony of leaving an oppressive cult for the freedom to pursue her own life, then having 4 children, is not lost on her. She has family members who are still hurt by her leaving, and it’s the type of story better suited to a one-woman, longer show.
For now, mining her life with her husband and kids for material, and pushing through the fear, doubt, and uncertainty keeps her going. “It can be fucking scary to not have money… to think, ‘What the hell am I doing? I’ve put myself in a terrible position,’ but a big part of it (success) is going the distance... it’s like those old Road Runner cartoons. You run off a cliff and it’s not until you look down that you fall. It’s the ones who don’t look down that make it to the other side.”
Catch Kate Conner, along with fellow up-and-coming Montreal comics Guido Cocomello, Jason Hatrick, Mike Meo, Scott Carter, and host Darren Henwood at ‘My First Time’ on July 16th and 27th at Théâtre Ste. Catherine.
Natalie Willett is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and lover of comedy