The Canadian Association of Stand-up Comedians is on Parliament Hill this week lobbying for formal recognition as artists, government funding, and help making a smoother entry into the United States when working on shows.
This is not a laughing matter because, right now, comedians aren’t eligible for government funding through the Canada Council for the Arts’ six granting programs. In 2015-2016, the council provided $144.8 million in grants to Canadian artists.
Sandra Battaglini, a stand-up comedian and actress, is one of the key forces behind the association, which opened its doors in 2017 to push for change. She said the council’s definition of comedy is far too restrictive, as it only includes comedic theatre artists as eligible recipients.
“To me, stand-up is the most immediate theatre there is. It reveals or tells a story about Canadian culture and identity in a real-time, intimate way, sometimes more than other art forms.”
She said the reality of comedy in this country is that many of her colleagues have to head south of the border to find more and better paying gigs. And that’s no joke.
“When you’re a comic in Canada, once you head to the club and do Just For Laughs, there’s nowhere else to go. The difference in the U.K. or the U.S. is that there’s a trajectory.”
But making the move involves the rigorous and expensive process of getting a working visa. While fee structures vary, on average they range from about $5,000 to $10,000 for a period of up to three years working in the U.S. It’s an issue she’s brought to the attention of Andrew Leslie, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister in charge of Canada-U.S. relations, with the hope he can raise it during NAFTA discussions.