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Candy and Smiley premiered on March 1, and most of the buzz around it revels in the idea that it’s a comedy special unlike any other. Local comedian Ed Hill performs his hour-ish long set in front of a small audience (six people, to be exact) made up of his family, friends and coworkers. You could say that it’s an intimate set, nothing like other stand-up specials you’ll see—there’s no huge crowd, no deafening laughter or applause, and not even a microphone in sight. The comedian sits level with the audience.
It may not be anything like your average TV comedy special. But here’s the thing: it is a lot like an actual local comedy show. For folks who have only ever seen stand-up on Just for Laughs or watched a John Mulaney special, a small, intimate audience seems alien. For local comedians, it’s a reality—it’s not “The Dream,” of course, but it’s to be expected.
That’s what I loved about Candy and Smiley. Comedy shows are what I miss most about pre-COVID times, and it’s not just the sold-out, fire-hazardy ones. I miss the shows that you go to because a friend or a friend of a friend is performing, when the audience is small and laughing feels a little awkward. When most of the crowd is family and friends. And when you leave the show feeling like you were part of the experience.
Watching Ed Hill feels like listening to your funny friend tell all their best stories. Much of his humour is inspired by his parents (named Candy and Smiley) and growing up Taiwanese-Canadian. He’s also deeply introspective, and shares fears both funny (ghosts) and serious (having kids).
“I think there’s comedy in everything,” says Hill. “There’s comedy in tragedy, in everyday life, in the mundane, in the dramatic.”
True to his word, Hill finds the fun in everything from the death of his pet turtle to fixing a broken washing machine. That’s especially important in COVID—and even more so when you’re Asian. “In a time like this, when there is so much pain and so much loss, being able to laugh really gives you the strength and acceptance that you need to get through it,” says Hill. Anti-Asian racism isn’t new, but it’s certainly more visible now, which makes Asian, human stories all the more important. “I think being able to tell my story—and other Asians being able to tell their story—creates a sense of normalcy,” he shares.
“Being normal”—or the inability to be normal—comes up a lot in Candy and Smiley. Hill talks about Asians eating “weird” food, which he looks at as more of a survival technique. He uses durian (a fruit that smells truly horrible) as an example. “You’d be venturing out and eating other things too, if your fruit smelled like that. We’re not weird people—we are people of strength trying to survive.”
Just like a real-life comedy show, the special has its interruptions—two of Hill’s guests show up partway through the set (with cheeky subtitles: “the cousin who is always late” and “the brother who is always busy”). It really feels like a casual peek into someone else’s world—but it’s a world that’s relatable to everyone.
That’s what Hill says has been the most rewarding part of his career so far: despite telling very personal stories, his audiences still find him relatable. “It’s happened in the middle of Asia, in a small town in the US, in Alberta, and in Vancouver,” says Hill. “People come up to me and say, ‘Your story is also my story, and thank you for telling it.’”
Next up for Hill is a new comedy series called The Best Laugh, which he’s working on with another local writer and comedian, Aidan Parker. “It’s stand-up with improv and education and competition— we’re putting everything together in a fun package, and incorporating all walks of life into these forms.”
Be on the lookout for The Best Laugh—and catch Candy and Smiley on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.