Like the average student, when Meg Mackay graduated from St. Thomas University four years ago, she thought she’d be getting a job in her field. But the 27-year-old former Aquinian features editor says life had different plans and she is on her way to becoming professional stand-up comedian.
“I’ve never found anything I could do that I was good at that I really like until now,” says Mackay.
After graduation, Mackay started freelancing at Fredericton’s The Daily Gleaner [newspaper] as a journalist. A few months later, everything changed. Mackay hit a wall – it was mentally and personally draining.
A breakup with her long-term boyfriend was soon to follow. Walking around downtown Fredericton and freshly bummed out, Mackay passed by a poster looking for stand-up comedians to perform at a local bar.
“I didn’t think I had the gusto,” she said, but she tried out anyway.
Mackay had also been writing a humour column/blog for The Aquinian’s website online titled ‘An interesting diversion’ while working for the paper, and had some material up her sleeve.
“It wasn’t anything remotely close to stand-up, so I moved to Halifax to try and do some stand-up there, but everyone told me Toronto was the spot,” she said.
Mackay packed everything up and headed to the big city. Once there, she slept on couches and worked odd jobs to “support this weird addiction that is stand-up comedy.”
Soon after that she met Robin Duke, a former Saturday Night Live cast member. She’d taken a class from Duke on sketch-writing. They hit it off, and Duke asked Mackay to intern for her at the Canadian Screen Awards. Mackay worked mostly on ‘bumpers’ – short, one-liner jokes prepared for the host of the awards ceremony to say between commercial breaks.
“It was interesting being there in a creative capacity,” said Mackay, comparing the experience to that of a newsroom for newscast. “You’re in a room thinking of ideas and everyone’s laughing with people there to reel in this one idea.”
Mackay knew she had a lot of growing to do at this point, but credits her journalistic background for her courage.
“I spent five years turning into a writer [at STU] and a journalist and that’s not what I wanted to do. Journalism has taught me to be balls-y. You take it for granted when you’re in the middle of it,” she says.
Mackay’s method is simple when preparing to hit the stage. It’s akin to cold-calling an interviewee over the phone, a skill not acquired without a little shake to the dignity.
Mackay has worked crowds who haven’t even acknowledged her, let alone her jokes. To the budding comic, it’s all part of the process.
“In order to be good you have to create a relationship with the crowd. If you’re too in your head about what you’ve written the crowd can sense that, and smell it– you’re performing at them and not to them,” she said.
“The crowd is your improv[isation] partner, you feed off what they want.”
Mackay now runs a monthly show at a comedy bar in Toronto titled Reverse Late Night Show with some other stand-up comedians.
She worked the Screen Awards again this year and will be performing at the Halifax Pop Explosion music festival in a few weeks. The SheDot festival – a comedy event featuring only female performances, is also coming up in Toronto, something Mackay will be a big part of.
The comedian said even though she’s not yet making national waves on the comedy scene, she has found her place in life.
“I’ve never found anything I could do that I was good at that I really like until now. It’s like any life story – nothing is going to be exactly the same way for everybody – you’ve gotta try everything. In your life or in comedy, all of a sudden the cliches you’ve heard before kind of click into your brain and then you start living that way.”
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