Canada’s comedy industry compares to America’s a lot like the CFL compares to the NFL. NFL players have the potential to make millions of dollars and reach international levels of fame. Most CFL players have second jobs. The guy who kicks the game-winning field goal for the Grey Cup on Sunday could be doing your taxes on Monday. The CFL is nice and we all love twenty-yard end zones, but if a player has the talent, the NFL is clearly the better career choice. Rebecca Kohler is ready for four-down comedy.
“She’s a flawless standup,” explains Ben Miner. As the Senior Producer, Programmer and host at SiriusXM, not to mention successful comic in his own right, Miner is one of the more respected voices in Canadian comedy. “She’s highly intelligent but can dip into dirty jokes,” he adds. “She can do ‘important’ bits and be irreverent in the next breath. There’s no show you can put Rebecca on that she won’t shine. One of the absolute best.”
With a resume that includes several appearances at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, multiple national TV performances and a lengthy list of writing and onscreen credits in Canadian television, Kohler is undoubtedly one of the top comedians in Canada.
But much like the Canadian dollar, comedy credits from Canada have little to no value in the U.S. For the past two years, Kohler has been splitting her time between Toronto and Los Angeles with the ladder proving to be grind which harkens her back to the days of open mics and drink tickets.
Of course, no respected comedian who moves to Los Angeles, expects instant success; particularly one as humble as Kohler. However, to go from the top of your field after a decade and a half of work to complete anonymity can be a shock to even the most modest of performers.
While this shot to the ego could break some comedians, Kohler has managed to find the positive in a challenging situation.
Her long-awaited debut album, In Living Kohler was released today on Comedy Records. The Interrobang sat down with Rebecca to discuss her road to the top of the Canadian comedy industry and adjusting to essentially starting over in LA.
Interrobang: When did you start performing stand up comedy?
Rebecca Kohler: I started doing stand-up about 15 years ago in Montreal, Canada. My first set was at the Comedy Nest. My goal was to get ONE laugh, but I think I got, like, seven; I was having so much fun, I went two minutes over my time. I thought I was amazing and that I was going to be famous in three weeks. I killed a couple more shows and then BOMBED like no one’s ever bombed for my fourth set. And that’s when I understood the pure shame and self-hatred that can come with being a stand-up comic.
Interrobang: What’s being a successful comedian in Canada like?
Rebecca Kohler: Being a successful comic in Canada can feel frustrating — it’s a small-ish industry and opportunities are sparser than in the U.S. — but now that I’ve been away for awhile, I realize how GOOD it is…in some ways. If you’re a good comic and you put your time in, you’ll end up being able to piece together a living through stand-up and/or related fields (like, you don’t have a pool, but you have food). It’s a doable thing, which is amazing.
Interrobang: What inspired the move to Los Angeles?
Rebecca Kohler: As I said above, because the industry in Canada is smaller than in the States, you get to a point where you’re like, “I think I’ve DONE Canada.” You can keep on keepin’ on, but life starts to feel like Groundhog Day: same comedy rooms, same people, same frustrations. I started to feel like if I stayed, I could see what my future would look like and that gave me the creeps. Sure, I’d probably have a pretty comfy existence as a TV writer, maybe later a showrunner etc., but I can count the TV networks in Canada on one hand…I moved because I wanted both professional and personal adventures.
Interrobang: What are your work goals that you’ve set for LA?
Rebecca Kohler: My work goals are pretty straightforward: to be respected by other LA comics and thought of as a GOOD COMIC (If that leads to stand-up work opportunities, then great, but my first care is always to be respected by my peers, because if they think I suck, then why bother?) and to get work writing on a show.
Interrobang: What have been the biggest challenges since moving to LA?
Rebecca Kohler: It’s weird because in Canada I’m known and established and well-respected (I think!)…But in LA, I am NOBODY. It’s a total reset. It’s like going back to the beginning and while the beginning was once fun, it’s less fun a second time because you’ve already been there. It’s hard to get spots on shows in LA. You email people, half the time they don’t respond, you email them again, then maybe they’ll write you back two weeks later, offering you a spot in three months. I have a spreadsheet of all the shows and when I last wrote them etc. It’s like a part-time job. And it’s weird having people treat me like, “Who the hell are you?” But hey, I keep emailing them because what else am I going to do?
Interrobang: Geographically we’re close, but why do you think there’s such a separation between the U.S. and Canadian comedy scenes?
Rebecca Kohler: Easy. Money, paperwork, and power. Like, Canadians would flock to the States if it were easier to do so legally, seeking more opportunity and money. I don’t know that U.S. comics would flock to Canada…I mean, why would they? Sure, Canada has “free healthcare”, but it also has less money and less power. I think American comics enjoy playing clubs in Canada and doing festivals there, but I think when they do so, they’re like, “This is nice. Canada is nice.” I don’t think any of them think that that’s where they’re going to get their big break.
Interrobang: What motivates you to continue in comedy?
Rebecca Kohler: WHAT ELSE WOULD I DO? Please tell me and I’ll do it. Save me from this hell I live every day. No, but seriously, I think it’s kind of addictive and I’m chasing the dragon. Picturing my life without stand up makes me feel dark and useless. I love it. Essentially having to start over can be discouraging and it really makes you humble, but there’s also a rush that comes with being anonymous. It kind of makes you dig deep to remember why you like doing what you do.