With her brash humour and dogged determination, Ardell Brophy Fitzpatrick is often described as “feisty” by those who love her best.
The lesbian comedian was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal Jan 22 for her work in comedy and her commitment to helping local charities.
“Ardell is a selfless helper. She just loves people. She’s just a fiery, don’t-cross-her type of woman,” says her wife of six years, Lee Ann Keple.
“Ardell is pleased to have received the medal,” Keple says. “It’s hard for her to get praise. Her inclination is to turn it back around onto others.”
A professional comic for 20 years, Brophy Fitzpatrick, 56, is the founder and producer of Laff Riot Girls, a local comedy troupe started in 1997 to help established and aspiring female comics get noticed.
“When Ardell started, there was still a lot of sexism in the industry,” Keple tells Xtra. “She was told by managers that they would book her but they already had a woman for their club.”
Feeling discriminated against, Brophy Fitzpatrick decided to start her own show, first at Lafflines, then at other comedy clubs and locations.
Today Brophy Fitzpatrick has produced and appeared in close to 600 comedy shows across Western Canada. She has mentored countless up-and-coming comics and raised money for charities such as Charlford recovery house for women in Burnaby, the Food Bank, the United Way and various Pride organizations.
The Queen’s medal is not her first recognition; Brophy Fitzpatrick has also received the Xtra West Queer Hero Award, the New Westminster and District Labour Council Service Award, the Royal City Pride Rainbow Award (2012) and the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (2010).
“Ardell has personally helped god knows how many people,” says Celeste Redman, a former Burnaby city councillor and part of the medal selection committee. “She’s upbeat and she’s a fighter. She’s done so much for so many causes.”
“She’s everything to this community. I can’t think of anyone more deserving,” Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart, who presented the medal, tells Xtra by phone.
“She’s overlapping in her activism,” he says, explaining that Brophy Fitzpatrick has forged connections between the queer community, women’s groups and Burnaby residents through her philanthropy and comedy shows.
“She ties everyone together, and that’s what we need to build more inclusive communities,” he says. “She’s raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity over the years.”
“She’s a ball of fire,” he laughs. “Once you’ve met her you will never forget that you’ve met her.”
“Ardell is very feisty,” agrees her older brother, Randey Brophy. “She’s never been the one to take any injustice. She’s just got a great sense of right and wrong, and she would always go to bat for other people.”
Because of serious health issues, Brophy Fitzpatrick could not attend the medal ceremony. Her brother accepted the medal on her behalf.
Brophy Fitzpatrick was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2008 and was hospitalized last summer when she underwent a double lung transplant on Pride weekend.
“The operation itself was a success,” Keple says, “but she was in such a weakened state that her recovery has been a roller coaster of progress and setbacks.”
Brophy Fitzpatrick suffered a stroke in January after having spent six months in the hospital. Despite the many challenges she’s faced, the feisty, barely 5-foot-tall comedian remains a fighter.
The doctors said they’d “never seen someone as resilient and determined as her — bouncing back from one challenge after another,” Keple says. “That’s just because they don’t know her like so many others who have been touched by her big heart, kind mentorship and tough persistence.”