Ten years ago an unapologetic boozehound of a woman in a Hawaiian lei and shades first strutted to the fore of an alt-comedy show in Toronto.
After she was done delighting and offending as only Louise can, she crawled back into Kirsten Van Ritzen’s mind, a fertile ground from which punchlines and projects flow. The comic, actor, writer and producer’s latest undertaking: Launching Victoria’s first Funny Women Festival, a chance to host professional female comics from across western Canada, while highlighting the women of Victoria’s burgeoning comedy community. It’s a scene Van Ritzen has played a key role in building since she moved to Victoria with her partner Ian Ferguson in 2009. At that time there were just two monthly shows open to amateurs.
“Now I’ve lost count of everyone who’s joined the scene,” she said, estimating the shows at about 10 a month. “Every time you get up, you learn something and you gain that experience. They say your first hundred shows don’t count, so you really hustle to get your stage time. That opportunity really is here now and it wasn’t four years ago.”
Van Ritzen has watched the growth from all angles, as a professional performer and a motivator to a growing contingent of amateurs who have taken her standup workshops.
“For some it’s a bucket list thing and for others, it’s the start of an addiction. You want to do it again and again. That’s certainly been my career. I like to do dramas every once and a while, but it’s not quite as satisfying to make people cry as it is to make people laugh.”
Some of those former students were among the 32 emerging and established female performers she worked with last year as executive producer of She Kills Me, a 13-episode series of comedy specials now airing on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. The series was taped in front of a live studio audience over five days at The Metro Theatre last February and featured Van Ritzen as host.
“That had a bit of a festival quality to it even though the main criteria was a need to capture the live performance for the TV cameras,” said Van Ritzen, who brought Louise to stage for the event.
She dreams of seeing Funny Women evolve into a multi-platform festival, where some shows could be recorded for television or radio. The possibility of a conference or set of workshops is also appealing – so is the idea behind this year’s networking brunch – and underscores Van Ritzen’s hopes to secure sponsorship in years to come.
Her initial motivation behind both projects was to provide more opportunities for women in a typically male-dominated arena. Asking why festival organizers tend to book just one or two women alongside a lineup of men, when women in comedy have never been stronger, is a question Van Ritzen is willing to pose. But she prefers to answer it with action.
“I really like the idea of giving the women
who live here and have been building the
community a chance to shine, even if it’s just a five-minute set.