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Full disclosure here: I’ve taken classes at Blind Tiger Comedy myself, I could even be considered an up-and-coming up-and-comer in the local comedy scene, and I am a proud member of an all-Asian stage-fighting improv team. Read: I know how rare and valuable spaces for BIPOC comedians are. Also: I’m pretty good at (fake) ass-kicking.
Comedy organizations around the world are being called out and called in for more diversity in leadership, in performers, and in jokes. It’s something BIPOC performers (that is, the BIPOC individuals who manage to make it past the systemic barriers that prevent them from setting foot on stage in the first place) have known for, well, ever. “A lot of the experiences that are shared on stage fall into the same sort of topics,” says Ronald Dario, co-diversity coordinator at Blind Tiger Comedy. “And that’s what comedy has been defined as.”
And a lot of those topics and experiences are just—brace yourself—not funny. That white bearded stand-up’s “make me a sandwich” joke isn’t funny, unless it’s a sexism sandwich and it’s made by squishing him between two other unfunny white male comedians. See? Humour! Even women can do it!
In an effort to make classes more accessible for BIPOC, Blind Tiger has announced free online comedy classes for new BIPOC-identifying students in the Vancouver area. It’s not the organization’s first effort to diversify their classes (they also have diversity scholarships, financial aid, and Women-Trans-Femme and POC Nights) but it is perhaps their loudest welcome yet.
Dario says that he and his co-diversity coordinator, Ese Atawo, have both found themselves steering away from their personal experiences while on stage in order to cater to local (white) audiences. “Vancouver audiences tend to shy away from anything that will challenge them,” Dario says. He believes that having more diversity in the community will make the comedy stronger. “People want to laugh, they do relate, even if it’s not their personal experience.”
Making the classes free of charge breaks down a financial barrier that many BIPOC Vancouverites face. After all, comedy classes aren’t typically seen as a necessity—you try telling your dad that improv is an essential service (and if it works, please email me your exact words). Dario and Atawo hope that the free classes will provide lots of locals with an opportunity that may otherwise have been out of reach. Some of the classes will be BIPOC only. “I think it’s important to have a place where we don’t feel like we might be judged, or like people might not understand what we’re talking about,” says Dario, “a place where we all feel like we can grow.”
You can find out more about the classes on Blind Tiger’s website. If you’re thinking about registering, I say do it. Then you say yes—that’s the first rule of improv, baby.