Toronto’s comedy scene is about to get a lot less funny.
Standup and sketch comic Steph Tolev, 30, is hitting the road in the hopes of making it big on the U.S. comedy scene.
Tolev says Toronto’s comedy scene is full to the brim with talent but isn’t willing to take risks in supporting emerging talent.
It was 10 years ago when Tolev, wide-eyed and bushy tailed, entered Toronto’s comedy scene after graduating from Humber’s Comedy Writing and Performance program.
Tolev proudly shares she is able to fully support herself living off of the income she generates from her craft.
Tolev is one half of the sketch comedy duo LadyStache with fellow Humber alumna Allison Hogg.
It was during Tolev’s time at Humber she fell in love with the art of sketch and physical comedy as well as the art of clowning.
Tolev says the city’s standup scene is of a high caliber in comparison to other cities.
“Standup in Toronto has more story telling,” she said.
But Tolev also said show producers are not willing to bankroll comedians to broaden their horizons: “Toronto plays it too safe, or maybe our demographics are just too wide spread.”
Tolev is of course not the only Toronto-based comedian flocking to the U.S. in pursuit of the Canadian dream.
Humber alum Chris Robinson, who graduated from the comedy program in 2009, said he believes he can’t succeed in Canada.
“I think you have to move to the States if your main goal is to be as successful as possible. Toronto is one of the best training grounds for standup. But it is very rare to get national or international exposure staying in Canada,” Robinson said.
Robinson feels that a lack of diversity in Toronto’s comedy scene is a roadblock to success.
“The majority of Canadian awards and festivals centre around white males. As a black comic, going to the States, where there are more black people in the entertainment industry, is very enticing,” said Robinson.
Fellow Humber alumnus James Hammond has a lot of opinions on the industry of comedy.
Like Tolev, Hammond declares through comedy gigs he has recently been able to start paying more than half of his monthly bills with the money he makes from performing.
Hammond has dual citizenship from Canada and the U.S. but disagrees with Robinson and Tolev’s more critical views on Toronto’s comedy prospects.
“There are tons of opportunities in Toronto. You just have to make them happen yourself,” said Hammond.
Despite the challenges she’s experienced in Toronto, Tolev remains ambitious and manages to keep laughing.
“Laughing is important. It’s the only thing that can change your mood instantly. It’s a getaway,” she said.