The Universal Right to Laughter
Abby Stonehouse was not headed for a career as a comedian. It was only in her mid-20s that the Montrealer became seduced by the art form, which allows her to offer audiences an instant escape by sharing the funny moments of her life. A CALQ grant recipient in creation, she released a podcast that she intends to make completely accessible, so that everyone can laugh together, regardless of their condition.
Humour has always been part of Abby Stonehouse’s life; she loves making people laugh. But the idea of making it a career didn’t germinate until the native of Howick in the Montérégie moved to Montréal as a young adult.
Listening to the podcast by American comedian Pete Holmes and seeing him at the Just for Laughs festival she fell under the spell of comedy shows. “I started writing down my own jokes,” she says. “But at the time, it was really just for me, and I really didn’t have any intention of telling them to anyone.”
Starting to toy with the idea of a career in comedy, Abby finally signed up for her first open mic night. Gradually, her participation in these events grew. “I like so many different parts of it,” she says. “I like the writing part and I like the creative process of it. I am just living my life and I am able to find these funny moments in my life. Then, I can make the effort to write them down, translate that into a set and perform it on stage.”
Comedy nights quickly led to other projects, including an initial appearance at the OFF-JFL/Zoofest in 2018.
At the beginning of the pandemic, while performance venues were closed, Abby wanted to find a way for her and her comedian colleagues to keep working, while providing entertainment, which was sorely needed. She and a friend created the Lawn Laughs initiative, enabling audiences to hire a comedian for a short backyard performance.
Making culture accessible
In the early years of her career, Abby Stonehouse started wearing hearing aids because of significant hearing loss related to a genetic condition. This created its share of challenges, but never stopped her from pursuing her goal; quite the opposite: it was the source of ideas.
Having a disability herself, Abby Stonehouse realizes how much access to culture, particularly humour, can be difficult for some people.
In starting her career, she made it a point of pride to try to reach all audiences with her art. In 2019, she helped organize a fully accessible comedy evening: using subtitles, with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, guides for audience members with visual limitations, and a fully accessible room for people with reduced mobility. Everything was thought through to remove as many obstacles as possible.
“It was great to see people of different disabilities being able to enjoy and absorb this art form,” Abby says.
The event was particularly moving for Abby, because someone very important in her life was in the audience: her father, who suffers from severe hearing loss. “At that show, he was able to hear me perform for the first time,” Abby says.
A fully accessible podcast
Continuing in her concern for accessibility, Abby Stonehouse developed a fully accessible podcast project, a nod to the medium that introduced her to the world of comedy.
Entitled House of Stone, the podcast features several episodes, opening with a monologue by Abby, followed by an interview with a comedian, in which they discuss the surprises life reserves for us.
The cost of accessibility is a considerable obstacle to access to culture, and Abby’s project are proof of this.
“I have had this dream of starting a podcast for a long time,” she says. “However, it was important to me to make it accessible. In order to make it accessible, I needed the funding behind it.”
Each episode of House of Stone will be soon available in a video version with ASL interpretation. Subtitles will be added professionally.
In addition to the creation grant from the CALQ, the comedian received supplementary aid that supports artists with disabilities or partners with disabilities working on their project.
Last September, Abby Stonehouse also organized a second accessible comedy night. Her hope is that her example inspires colleagues in the industry to think about accessibility in developing their projects.
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