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Thursday, September 18, 2014

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Comic faces some difficult career choices

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Amanda Day

Amanda Day, 29, an up-and-coming standup comic on the Toronto comedy scene, is pretty confident you’ll dig her style if you’re open to a “smart, silly, and very, very dirty” kind of show.

Day, who called her style “loose but conversational,” said she writes new material every week for her Thursday night gigs at Hotbox Café in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

She said performing each week keeps her current because she’s constantly writing new jokes.

“It’s good because it makes you say yes to a lot of ideas. Normally, I’d be like, ‘No, that’s stupid,’ and I’d talk myself out of it. If you had to come up with new material every week, you better just try it.”

Day has been doing standup for the past five years, but supplements her income with a day job at a printing company.

“The thing that is so encouraging about standup is that when you look at your idols, like Patton Oswald, or Louis CK, you see what a long game it is, and they’re like, ‘Oh I’ve been doing this for 16, 20 years,’” Day said.

“There’s this new comic named Kyle Kinane… and he was recently talking about having a day job forever, and being so afraid to give up that day job and health benefits… I want to take that leap, but I just want to make sure I won’t be destitute a month later.”

Although Day has been succeeding in lining up regular gigs – she hosts a monthly show called Comedy Machine at the Crown and Tiger bar every third Saturday night of the month in addition to her weekly spot at Hotbox – she knows she’s going to have to make that leap if she ever wants a chance at becoming a household name.

“I have a real barrier right now. At some point within the next couple years, I’m really going to have to chose between becoming completely freelance with the comedy and acting and just go from there, or just stick with the day job and do this at night. It’s a hard choice to make,” she said.

But trying her hand in the comedy scene was a choice Day had made years ago, when she was still a teenager.

“I was always a performative kid growing up. I was always drawn to artistic things, whether it was acting, or drawing.”

She said she completed a bachelor’s degree at York University in visual arts before she enrolled at Humber College in its comedy writing and performance program.

“When I started doing standup and stopped being scared of doing standup, I was really taken by it,” she said.

“I would say it becomes an addictive thing that you have to get up on stage. Luckily, there are a lot of places to do that around here.”

She said while the Humber program helped her make connections with other aspiring comedians, few students ever make the sacrifices necessary to make a name for themselves.

“I have a nice little chunk of people from my year who are still doing standup and sketch comedy, but we’re talking about 60 people who were in my course, and maybe 10 people who are still doing it.”

Day spoke of her mother, a lawyer, who she called “semi-supportive” of her decision to pursue a career in comedy.

“It’s kind of a weird dynamic where she wants to be supportive and accepting as much as possible, but then she’ll say, ‘If you should become a lawyer or doctor…’ you know, like a typical Jewish mom,” she said.

Day added that she also gets a lot of support from other members of the comedian community, as well as her audiences.

“There are a lot of all-female shows in the city, so when I’m playing for a female audience I definitely feel more support, but I think I play very well in front of men, just because of how dirty I can get. Everyone likes a good dick joke,” she said with a laugh.

“It’s not hard being an attractive lady up on stage talking about stuff like that.”

Although most of her on-stage experiences have been positive – “I’m pretty lucky that I’ve never been heckled,” she said – Day recalls one gig that wouldn’t necessarily make her highlight reel.

“One of my friends used to run an open mic night, and one day he was all excited because the manager of the bar told him they had booked a party and said he’d have a really good audience,” she said.

“It turns out that the party the manager had booked was for a deaf group, and the weird thing about it was that they wanted music – I don’t know if they wanted to feel the bass or whatever – so there was this deaf dance party going on while we were trying to do this show,” she said, laughing.

But as a standup comic, Day’s learned to roll with the punches, because it’s the successes that keep her motivated to press on.

One of the highlights of her career came last year, when she opened for Maria Bamford, the first female comic to have two half-hour Comedy Central Presents specials.  

She’s also made her rounds on the late-night circuit, having appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“She is very much a comedy idol of mine,” Day said.

“I was very excited when I got the opportunity to open for her… I had a really good set. There are people who still recognize me from that set.”

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