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Just For Laughs: Talking about She the People; talking with Dave Merheje

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For the all-female conceived, written and performed sketch show “She the People”, its co-writer and director Carly Heffernan believes that it’s so much more than your average comedy sketch revue.

“She the People is different because it takes a rock concert approach with a group of women who represent authentic voices, in which audiences are ready to laugh, yell and scream their approval,” she said during a recent phone interview.

The show, will have an eight performance run at the Centaur Theatre from July 22 to 27, as part of the 37th edition of the Just For Laughs comedy festival, which runs from July 10 to 28.

It was developed at the legendary Second City in its hometown of Chicago back in 2017 and has since performed to critical and commercial success not only in Chicago, but also Washington, D.C. and Toronto. The six-member cast, who originate from the Toronto Second City troupe, are comprised of Kirsten Rasmussen, Ann Pornel, Ashley Comeau, Karen Parker, Paloma Nunez and Tricia Black; it’s a group of performers whom Ms. Heffernan proudly proclaims as “the Spice Girls of comedy”.

“The majority of the cast are Second City alumni, and they bring to the table talents in music, singing and dance as well as comedy, and that’s quite a tall order,” she said. “It was quite a rigourous process selecting the touring cast for She the People, especially who would fit into what role, and how to match them up with the sketch material and who they would perform the material with.”

That kind of rigourous process was also applied to developing, creating and writing the sketches that would make the line-up of the 90 minutes that make up “She the People”.

“We used a writers’ room process. We made up huge lists of issues and matters that were going on at the time, and see how we as Second City performers could satirize them,” said Ms. Heffernan. “We then work shopped many of the sketches we created, in which the cast tried them out in front of live audiences and see how they reacted to them. And what you will be seeing next month is the best of the best from that process.”

She added that why “She the People” has been successful is its ability to take into account what is happening in the world today and check its pulse, especially how it deals with such constantly relevant issues as reproductive rights, sexual assault and other hot button issues.

“This show is always evolving because we continue to write new material when other issues rise up. However, we always tackle recognizable situations and characters that will leave audiences with a cathartic feeling, and thanks to the satirical approach, it will open up a lot of minds,” she said.

“As well, we will have some audience participation and improv segments, so each show will be different night after night and will carry its own type of energy,” she added. “Although I cannot reveal which sketches are stand outs for me, I can say that a dinosaur will be making an appearance in one of them.”

She the People, Ms. Heffernan insists, is not just for female audiences, and encourages men (whether they be husbands, boyfriends or platonic acquaintances) to check out the show, too. “Everyone who sees the show will always take something about it with them, and that’s a great feeling,” she said. “However, it’s always a great day in theatre when you get to encourage a bit of squirming from the guys.”

Windsor-based comic Dave Merheje

Veteran Windsor-based comic Dave Merheje has been performing at Just For Laughs for almost eight years, whether it be the Homegrown Comic Competition, JFL 42, or a solo show he taped during last year’s festival as part of the “Comedians of the World” series that aired on Netflix.

Next month, Merheje will perform for the first time at the enormously popular Ethnic Show, which will run for 19 performances from July 10 to 25 at Club Soda and the MTELUS, where he will perform alongside host Cristela Alonzo, plus Robby Hoffman, Anthony DeVito, Rafinha “Rafi” Bastos and Gina Yashere.

“This is the first time I am doing the Ethnic Show, and it’s one of the Just For Laughs shows that I have always wanted to appear in,” he said during a recent interview. “I have always been labeled as a Lebanese-Canadian and I don’t want to be. But I am not offended by it because I always talk about the Lebanese culture I was raised in; I do that all the time.”

Both of Merheje’s parents were born in Lebanon, but met and married in Canada, and he admits that his large family are naturally “funny beings” who always enjoyed telling jokes and doing their own thing in a humourous way.

“My dad is now 78 and is still quite an active person. He’s a natural handy man and it’s not unusual for him to go to my brother’s house at 7 in the morning to borrow a hammer. He also likes to hang out at his buddy’s auto mechanic shop, where he can be seen working out deals for any member of his family who stops by the shop,” he said.

Merheje admits that with the growing prejudice, racism and xenophobia that is rapidly becoming part of today’s world, it has become increasingly important for comedians to step up to the plate and express the absurdity of it through their stand-up routines. “When you talk about such vitally important issues like that on stage, you realize how absurd they are,” he said. “You end up breaking ethnic stereotypes and shedding a positive light on matters that you hear or do not hear on the news.”

Besides touring with his stand-up act, Merheje has enjoyed success as a cast member on the CBC hit sitcom “Mr. D”, a two-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee, and a recent Juno Award winner for his comedy album “Good Friend Bad Grammar”. He is also slated to appear at JFL 42 in Toronto this September with two shows, as well as film season two of the Hulu series “Ramy”, where he portrays Ahmed, the title character’s best friend.

“Ahmed is devoted to his faith and is trying to find his way at the same time, and he practices his Muslim faith in a positive way.” He said. “You don’t have to be a Muslim to appreciate the family or relationship situations that are portrayed in ‘Ramy’; you realize that we are all going through the same thing.”

Information on Just For Laughs

For more information – or to purchase tickets – for She the People, The Ethnic Show or any other Just For Laughs show, go to www.hahaha.com.

By: Stuart Nulman – info@mtltimes.ca

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Trevor Noah returns to Just For Laughs with solo show

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