Steph Tolev is an award winning sketch and stand up comedian who just moved to LA from Toronto. She was selected from a national showcase by NBC to shoot a pilot for a sketch show and has appeared at Just For Laughs multiple times. Her debut album, Hot N’ Hungry comes out today, January 22. The LP features the award winning comedian performing her brutally honest, all-in comedy to a sold out Social Capital Theatre on the Danforth.
Along with lumber and strong beer, one of Canada’s top exports to America is comedians. Steph Tolev is the latest comic to make the move from Toronto to Los Angeles. With the 2015 Canadian Comedy Award for Best Female Comedian, multiple appearances at Just For Laughs in Montreal and the release of her debut standup album, Hot N’ Hungry, Tolev is one of the finest to come out of the Toronto comedy scene. As she adjusts to living in California she’s noticed a few differences between performing in her hometown and Los Angeles and compiled a list of the most noticeable 5.
Everyone told me “you can’t bike in LA” and I refused to believe them. Now I realize you really can’t, mostly because LA is so spread out but also because cars don’t care about you and no one knows how to drive beside you.
You definitely need a car in LA to be able to fully immerse yourself into this vast scene. Unless your roommate is an Uber driver, which they almost certainly are. In Toronto the public transit is so great that you can jump on the subway and hit three shows in one night and maybe even see a homeless man’s bits. Or jump on your bike – assuming the snow isn’t all the way up to your tits. The majority of shows in Toronto are in the downtown core, with a few about a twenty-minute or shorter drive away. LA, on the other hand, has pockets of scenes like Santa Monica, Echo Park, Pasadena and many more that can sometimes take upwards of an hour to drive to.
It’s weird being the only person arriving to these shows on a bike, covered in sweat and wearing shorts in a city where everyone is beautiful and dry and wearing a scarf because its “winter”. No one trusts the only person in a room sweating. I actually ran over the tip of a dead possums nose on my bike the other day. I thought it was a dead palm leaf. I shouldn’t be biking.
Home to the biggest comedy scene in Canada, Toronto is a hub much like LA or New York, where comics have moved from all over the country to the big city to follow their dreams. Although Toronto is the largest comedy market in the country it still only has as many comedians as a single state here in the U.S. I would estimate Toronto has about a thousand “comedians” and maybe two hundred of them are actually doing comedy, the rest are doing one set a month and calling themselves a comedian on Tinder. In the City of Angels it seems like a thousand people are actively doing comedy. LA has so many faces you can go a month without seeing the same comic twice. In Toronto I see the same dumb idiots at least three times a week, even a few times a night and it’s always the ones you don’t want to see. Since Toronto only has a handful of comedy specific venues you’re always hanging out at the same places, doing the same inside jokes and making fun of the same people.
I’ve found every comic here to be so nice and polite and everyone I meet says, “welcome” in such a pleasant way. Anytime I meet a comic who moves to “the Six” (Toronto’s cool new nick name courtesy of our Global Ambassador, Drake) I would say “Oh great another fucking comic in MY city”. But here they genuinely seem pleased to have Canadians. I can’t tell if they’re actually excited or they think I’ll fizzle out in a year. Either way, I paid too much for my green card to even think about giving up. I could have used that money for other important things, like a bed made of chips.
Celebrities just drop by and are booked on shows in LA and no one seems to really care. I was standing beside Kevin Nealon last week and I almost peed, but instead gave him a casual nod while smirking like an idiot. He left soon after probably because I wouldn’t stop creepily staring at him with my mouth wide open.
Every night of the week a special guest just drops by a show and kills, that’s still crazy to me and keeps me going out to shows even when I’m not on. Any big comics that come to Toronto are booked on their own headlining shows and you only really talk to them if you’re booked as their openers or are finding them weed. David Koechner was shooting something in Toronto recently and would just show up to random shows and people were losing their minds. It literally blew their minds that someone from the TV was on a show with them. Every single comedian in Toronto took a selfie with him and ninety percent of them are now using it as a credit. The most famous person I ever saw at a show in Toronto was Michelle Fairley, (Catelyn Stark from Game of Thrones). I massaged her during a bit not knowing who she was and she came up to me after saying it was a very aggressive massage, and I said “You should see when I have sex”. I get embarrassed every time I think about it. Bragging to my friends back home about all the famous comics I get to see nightly is going to become my new hobby.
This is something Canadians take no part in and something I actually had no idea existed. In Toronto you can go to any mic, either booked or put your name in a bucket and sit like a freeloader for hours drinking all the water you want with no dirty looks. In LA there are mics where you either have a one or two drink minimum, which sounds reasonable until you hit four mics in a night and still have to drive home. On top of it all the Canadian dollar is so bad right now that a five-dollar PBR in LA ends up costing roughly two-thousand dollars Canadian, depending on the exchange rate.
Another aspect we don’t see in Toronto are the bringer shows where you have to bring a certain amount of audience members just to perform. I’ve already invited everyone one I know so now I’m setting up multiple Tinder and Plenty of Fish dates just to get sets. From a business perspective I understand why they need comics to pony up, but the idea to pay for performing is still something I have to wrap my head around. Maybe if more Canadian business owners knew about this they would hop on the bandwagon as well, but who are we kidding, we’re just too nice*.
*Not actually true I find more Americans to be way more kind and friendly
Most open mics and showcase spots out here have three-minute sets. For the majority of Toronto spots you get at least five minutes, and no one is a real clock-Nazi about it. Any booked show is normally seven to ten minutes or more depending on your standing in the city. The majority of comics in Canada waste a few minutes riffing off the top. I like to talk to the crowd or talk about something insane that happened to me that day. Getting your stuff out in a small window of time is very hard, especially in a room full of Uber drivers, I mean comics.
I’m not a three-minute comic. People don’t understand that I’m a gross weirdo up until at least the five-minute mark and are still very hesitant. I am sure this is where one-liners really shine, and stories or longer bits don’t hit as hard. This is a skill I find all American comics have already mastered and I still need to learn.
Overall I am excited and terrified to start again in a new scene. You learn quickly the things you accomplished Canada mean very little here. You’re starting from the bottom, but Drake did it so maybe I can too.
Get Steph’s debut album, Hot N’ Hungry now, on iTunes.