When wielded just so, humour can be a powerful tool: Few understand this sentiment better than Carly Heffernan, the director of comedy club Second City’s boundary-pushing production She the People, does. Having enjoyed a successful four-month run in Toronto in 2018, Second City’s all-female show will make its Montreal premiere at Just for Laughs on July 22 at the Centaur Theatre. In anticipation of opening night, The McGill Tribune spoke with Heffernan about male allies, collaborative creation, and the art of ‘clapping back’ gracefully.
Comprised entirely of sketches written, acted, and directed by women, She the People is a timely and apt examination of both the politics and minutiae of being a woman in the 21st century; in a series of pithy, side-splitting skits, the production tackles everything from sexual violence to the humiliation of being broken up with via text message.
“This is a show that the audience talks about a lot, because we’re dealing with issues that are so relevant right now,” Heffernan said. “They’re also issues that have this sense of comedic catharsis to them.”
Heffernan cites the Second City emphasis on collaboration as a rewarding aspect of directing for one of North America’s most beloved comedy clubs. The company’s mandate to improve inclusivity and diversity in comedy is a breath of fresh air in the entertainment industry. In the case of She the People, Heffernan made every effort to extend this philosophy to the writing process, which she described as cooperative.
“We always want to make sure that [our actors] feel like they’re telling the stories super authentically,” Heffernan said.“For me, it goes back all the way to the creation of those sketches and making sure the points of view that were written out were coming from an authentic place.”
For Heffernan, authenticity is of the utmost importance in a revue like She the People. To distill something as vast and complex as the diverse experiences of women into a 72-minute show is no easy task. However, Heffernan insists that privileging the unique stories that emerged throughout the writing process allowed Heffernan and her team to explore the more universal themes that rose to the surface in a way that felt both honest and inclusive.
“I’ve often described this show as ‘by women, for everyone,’” Heffernan explained. “So often in comedy, we’re dealing with universal truths. We’re getting to the root and the heart of these issues that are bothering us […] and there’s this comedic catharsis that just comes out and it really opens up minds.”
While the primary impetus of She the People was always to celebrate women, Heffernan reports that the show has received support from all ends of the gender spectrum.
“For sure, I hypothesized that I’d get a lot of social media messages from people being like, ‘Where’s He the People?’ and I would have to direct them to the rest of the North American canon of art and culture for the last few centuries, […but] I’m very fortunate that we’ve had many great male allies.”
Indeed, Heffernan says that the overwhelmingly positive response to She the People has instilled in her hope for the comedy industry as a whole.
“I think comedy’s taking a turn, and it’s a really positive turn. It’s looking to take stories from people who have been marginalized […] and it’s shining a light on them [….] Even if there’s a little bit of fear there, once we get over that and see the actual art itself and the stories being told, then we open up, and it’s a really beautiful thing.”