Comedian Megan McDowell likes to tickle her audience with cat jokes and nerdiness.
McDowell, who performs monthly at Halifax’s Menz Bar, first made a name for herself after she was cast on Second City’s Next Comedy Legend, a reality talent show that aired on CBC in 2007.
“If comedy is a language, I’d say being queer is a dialect,” McDowell says. “It gives my stories and my observations and my life that particular lens of being queer in addition to being in my 30s, being a redhead, a cat lady and a nerd.”
McDowell won the talent show — which was judged by Second City alumnus Dave Thomas, comedian Elvira Kurt and Mick Napier, founder of the Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre — and joined the Second City Tour Company.
“For six months I travelled Canada with an established group of Second City performers,” she says. “It was incredibly challenging but remains one of the greatest learning experiences of my career.”
These days, McDowell finds inspiration in standup and sketch comedy, frequently collaborating with other Halifax performers Margot Durling and Krista Davis. The creative collective performs in an annual holiday show, Hot Nog, as well as during Halifax Pride.
“Over the years I’ve continued to do standup mostly, though in the last two years I’ve found a group of friends with whom I’ve been delving back into sketch,” McDowell says. “It’s been great because as much as I do love the rawness and vulnerability of standup, there’s nothing like dressing up and becoming a completely different person on a stage with kindred spirits.”
McDowell considers Halifax integral to her process. If it weren’t for opportunities with local events like the Queer Acts Comedy Show and weekly talent nights at Menz Bar, she says, she would have given in to her insecurities.
“There is always the thought of ‘What if they don’t like me?'” she says. “But that’s a risk I’m more willing to take as I get older. Comedy is worth it. There is a strange sense of empowerment that comes with being able to make a group of people laugh.”
McDowell is in good funny company in Halifax. Cheryl Hann, former member of the renowned comedy troupe Picnicface, which created Picnicface TV, a series that aired on the Comedy Network, is now taking her solo career in stride.
“We are always interested in working together, and often still do, but not under the Picnicface name. We were very fortunate to have the break we did,” she says. “And I feel we did the best we could have done with it. It sucks not working on comedy with your besties anymore, but flying solo does give you complete freedom to do whatever you want.”
Hann says she finds comedic inspiration in everything: conversations, people watching, film, television, novels and songs. She recently formed a feminist comedy collective – its mission statement is to ensure a safe, fun and supportive environment for female comedians.
“So far we’re called the Brickhouse Collective, but only because no one wanted to accept my suggestion of calling the group Spice Girls 2,” Hann says.
Hann’s been honing her standup set just in time for an all-female, pre-Valentine’s show.
“There is so much out there that is universal, shared experiences between people, regardless of gender,” she says. “But being a woman influences and shapes my perspective on the world, and it’s nice to be able to impart that perspective and my experiences on people who may or may not share them.
“That being said, I hope that people don’t watch my set and think, ‘Wow, she’s funny for a girl.’ I hope they think, ‘Wow, she’s funny.’ Full stop.”